An observation of the occasional lack of civility on food blogs and a recipe for a pickled compote of dried fruits.
Years ago, my grandmother scolded me for my less than prompt thank-you notes and I can still remember her horror when I yawned in public without covering my mouth. I was punished, and felt she was totally over-reacting.
Last week, a question was raised on one of the recipe sites I frequent about the definition of a specific type of measurement used in one of the recipes. The phrasing of the question was a bit terse, suggesting frustration bordering on anger, and quickly drew a flurry of additional views and comments. Several visitors to the site answered the question in a straightforward way; but then someone challenged the tone used in the question, and faster than you can say Hiroshima, the questioner exploded with insults and a full-scale retaliation. I was as startled by the capitalized vehemence on my computer screen as my grandmother must have been by that long-ago yawn. And a bit stunned by the sudden force of emotion over a seemingly innocent word.
I tweet, friend, pin, stumble, and buzz. I avidly visit food blogs, recipe sharing sites, and joined two tribes last week, for which it appears I earned 100 bones, whatever that means. But I’m conflicted about social media, to be honest, and the impact it has on society in general.
This new media has exposed me to new ideas, informed me on subjects not covered by my local paper, and allowed me to form new supportive friendships with like-minded people I’ve never met. But there’s a flip side to all this connecting, and I don’t mean the addictive behavior that can make me forget the passing of time, forget about making dinner, forget I never made it to the store that day so there’s no food for dinner anyway. That’s an entirely different issue.
I mean the anonymity of the internet, and the open door it provides anyone with access to a computer to log in with a rant because they’re having a bad day. Or a bad decade. Behind the protection of a computer screen, it’s disturbingly easy to write things you wouldn’t dream of actually saying in person. This has been a problem with email for years, but with the rapidly expanding ways to connect, it’s worsening. Now it’s not just the guy up on the 10th floor sounding off because he didn’t get that promotion and ‘just can’t take it anymore’. It’s anybody with a grudge, suddenly surfacing, under an assumed name, to strike.
In the last year, I’ve witnessed electronic assaults directed at a chef for changing up a classic recipe, and shockingly cutting accusations in comments on food blog published by someone who recently lost her husband. There are excellent web sites and blogs dedicated to providing well-thought out, bulleted lists of correct internet behavior (netiquette), but this issue goes beyond what lessons in etiquette are designed to address. This is about people with anger and life management issues now having a forum to rage. And my larger fear: that although we may be initially shocked, that slowly over time a new “normal” emerges for what’s deemed acceptable behavior. And we forget that anger is contagious, and that virtual on-line chats have the power to inflict very real pain.
I’ve felt a little helpless, I confess, in coming up with viable solutions. As bloggers, we can choose to moderate comments before they’re published; but once we read them, the damage is done. We’ve been hit, it’s filed away in the memory banks, the seeds of fear and anger planted. Or we can decide not to extend ourselves, our knowledge, our resources, huddling behind our computers reluctant to type anything into a public forum; but this isn’t a real solution either.
Last week’s scuffle over the objection to a single word in a recipe reinvigorated this dilemma for me anew. But as I sat in my chair, feeling unsettled by the argument taking place on the screen in front of me, I began to see an ad hoc neighborhood watch committee from this online community assemble from all corners of the country, and the world, to stand as a unified front for respect and civility. While I acknowledge that any neighborhood watch team needs to ensure it doesn’t morph into a SWAT team, it was liberating to lend my voice and support for a more civil space where we can all feel safe, and not accept insults as a new norm. I suddenly didn’t feel so helpless, and the situation didn’t feel so hopeless.
I’m still of mixed minds on social media, but I know it’s here to stay; and for better or worse, I’ve chosen to dive into the deep end. I’m sure I’ll see more personal attacks out there in cyberspace, but this incident showed me that only by participating, and stepping up to be a voice for moderation without getting caught up in the drama, can we all take a stand for how we treat each other. And I was reminded of the importance of having a community of like-minded people from whom I can draw strength, and with whom I can stand for what I believe in.
I finish this post with an invitation for you to share how you feel about civility on the internet, and to offer this apt recipe for a pickled relish. It’s full of the contrasting elements of life: sweet from the dried fruit and sugar, sass from the vinegar, and a dose of heat from the red pepper flakes. They all come together in a perfect dance to balance either other, and should always be allowed to cool before consuming. My grandmother would have loved it.
- 1/2 cup dried fruit apricots, golden raisins, dried cherries, currants
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Juice of 1/2 navel orange
- 1/3 cup sweet onion
- 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- Combine all of the ingredients into a small pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat just enough to maintain a gentle, constant simmer. Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes.
- Allow to cool before consuming.