The Food Network got energetic in January. A TV special, “Top Five Food Fads,” carried off the idea that beer is up to something entirely new. Gimme a break! Fad, according to my dictionary, is “a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal—Craze.” I suppose I shouldn’t complain; they actually did a fairly good job.
If it weren’t for the existence of craft beer, all Western Hemisphere beer would taste the same.
First “fad” on the program, the 10-minute craft beer portion (number 5 of 5) was quite good, but while host Bobby Rivers had the good sense to get our Oregon Beer Goddess, Lisa Morrison, to be his resident “expert,” he was careful not to overdo the guest expert bit lest we conclude that there might indeed be a lot more to beer than he had anticipated. To his credit, he acknowledged (totally new to the food media) homebrewers as instrumental in powering the micro or craft brewing phenomenon to its ever-growing status.
Usually, when these Food Channel guys get going, they reveal no understanding of the significance of craft beer, or that it is a “western US phenomenon.” They invariably stay east of the Allegheny Mountains. This was one of the few times that one of them ventured out to our area, where a full 10 percent of the beer consumed is craft beer and another 3 percent is import beer. At least part of the show was videotaped at the Rogue Brewery on the Oregon Coast. One of the signs they let the audience read: “Wine is not better with food than beer.” Now there’s a message one never sees in the food media!
The Travel Channel also entered the realm of good beer. Well, almost. Host Michael Lomonaco of the “Epicurious” visited the Otter Creek Brewery in Vermont. He was smart to invite our Garrett Oliver to appear on his show, whose presence saved it from being only so-so. Oliver makes anything work, but Lomonaco approached it as a “who knew—there’s actually more than one kind of beer out there” discovery. Good for Lomonaco, even if he is 20 years late with his discovery.
In a major article last year, the Columbia Journalism Review featured a very good piece by Molly O’Neill, titled “Food Porn” (CJR, Sept-October 2003; www.cjr.org). She pointed out “some of the most significant stories today are about food (and by our extension, beer). But you won’t find them in the food section, where journalism has been supplanted by fantasy.” Think mad cow (or was it dead cow?) disease. Ms. O’Neill, a food columnist for the New York Times and the author of several cookbooks, took food writers to task for their failure to document the food industry and its flaws.