“Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow.”
It is one of the first sentences I memorized from Shakespeare’s plays. I memorized not because of any examination; I memorized because the line is beautiful. The line conjures an image of a flower, resplendent to the world, but deep within, under the earth, the roots are writhing with agony and suffering. The line conjures an image of a tiny plant, perhaps a small tree, so tiny you think you could easily uproot it and you try and you can’t–the sound of the word “pluck” suggests strength of uprooting and discordance from inability to fulfill the aim–because the roots go further than you think; You can’t even fathom the depth of your own sorrow. So sorrow may be a beautiful flower but has deep roots. Isn’t it an epic sentence?
When a professor asked why we study Shakespeare, I replied, “Because the lines are beautiful.”
He said, “But beauty is subjective. Different cultures have different notions of beauty.”
This was the moment I lost respect for him.
At a university level, you question and think about general assumptions and axioms. You cannot sprout platitudes because knowledge is found when you examine assumptions.
“Beauty is subjective” is an assumption but it cannot be always true. During two great catastrophes, 9/11 and Japan Tsunami, I was at a public setting with a bunch of strangers and we, gaping, stood in front of the public television to watch the tragedies unfold. It may be callous to say this but this is also the truth: The devastation is sublime; there is a terrible beauty in the destruction. The point is: if beauty is subjective, why was a group of strangers of different backgrounds fixated on the images? Another example: movies are shown across the world but why do audience from different countries find scenes beautiful if beauty is subjected to cultural influence? Surely there are some things we all find beautiful. Like we find kindness in a person beautiful.
From my analogy of beauty, ”taste is subjective” is an assumption. If taste is subjective, then how do experts agree on books and movies that are classics? How do people judge art pieces or good/bad writing? If taste is subjective, then all art pieces should cost the same. Why do people collectively agree on liking one restaurant and hating the other?
What we are trying to say is although taste is subjective and individualized, there is an objective way to look at things. A movie, for example: you may hate the style but you can objectively state that the director has a unique style that pushes the boundaries of art (Blair Witch Project for example); you can hate and admire it at the same time. The same goes for food. You may dislike sweet food, but objectively you can see how well prepared, well thought-out and how well the ingredients complement each other. In other words, there is criteria for judging food objectively. Is it too oily? Too salty? Is it too jerlat? Is it complex or overly complicated? Does the cooking bring out the essence of the ingredients? The individual parts of the dish may fail but is the dish better as a whole than sum of its parts?
For any food writer, this is, ironically, the ultimate aim of food writing: to be able to maintain a distance from the food, to judge it objectively without bringing in one’s own prejudices, without saying “I like this because..”, without bringing in the ego. The ultimate aim of food writing is thus to efface the self, the “I,” fusing the food writer with the readers into one, making reviews as objective as possible, thus gaining as much accuracy as possible–it is impossible to be 100% accurate on taste–and allowing readers to pass judgement based on the objective reviews. Trust the readers.
So to answer the question if food reviews are reliable, you have to read into the style of writing of the food reviews. If the food reviewer uses many “I”s or writes in an overbearing way that tries to show off his/her personality more than the food, then the review can’t be very accurate because s/he is too subjective. But if the reviewer takes a back seat and presents the eatery as it is, then you can trust the review.
(That being said, we at RERG try but still find it it difficult to avoid saying “We like this because..”)