Food Blogger Sent to Jail for Review: When Food Critics and Bloggers Get in Trouble

We start with a recent news story from the Taipei Times that reports that blogger “Liu” (劉) was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined NT$200,000 for criticizing a Taichung beef noodle restaurant for serving food that was too salty, being overrun with cockroaches, and having a bully for an owner – a fellow named Yang (楊).  Apparently, an investigation did not find the described unsanitary conditions and the court found that Liu had only had a single side dish. Liu has since apologized and, her appeal having been lost, is presumably on her way to a Chinese prison.

Next up is an expat Lebanese blogger living in Kuwait who writes the food blog 248am.com. He published a blog entry about his experience at the Japanese chain restaurant Benihana. Here is what he had to say:

    The chicken was very chewy (I could swear it was undercooked if not raw) and tasted terrible.

    Even the rice and the veggies that came with it tasted bad AND were under cooked.

There is no word on the current status of the lawsuit.

The third case arises from Belfast, Ireland. In that case, a newspaper critic named Caroline Workman working for the Irish News reviewed Goodfellas restaurant in Belfast. She said that the experience was “joyless,” that the squid was “reconstituted fish meat” and that the chicken marsala was too sweet and “inedible.”

The owner of Goodfellas sued for defamation and managed to get a jury to award £25,000 in damages. However, following an appeal to Her Majesty’s Court of Appeals, the verdict was overturned. The court agreed with the newspaper that the review was subject to protection under British law as “fair comment.” The day after the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, the London newspaper The Times sent a reporter to revisit the restaurant to see if things had improved. Perhaps emboldened by the ruling, he had this to say about the Chicken Marsala:

“Without the court papers to confirm what I had ordered, I’d have guessed I was eating thin strips of mole poached in Ovaltine. It is revolting. It is ill-conceived, incompetent, indescribably awful. A dish so cruel I weep not only for the animal that died to make it, but also for the mushrooms.”

Said as only a journalist for the British newspaper could put it.

A fourth case comes out of the USA, Philadelphia to be specific, and was reported in the Philadelphia Magazine. An anonymous (he hides his physical identity) food critic named Craig LaBan writing for the Philadelphia Enquirer posted just the following 44-word review of a restaurant called “Chops” in City Line, which I take is in the suburbs of Philadelphia:

“A serious power-lunch crowd makes this sunny room feel like ‘the Palm on City Line.’ A recent meal, though, was expensive and disappointing, from the soggy and sour chopped salad to a miserably tough and fatty strip steak. The crab cake, though, was excellent.”

The restaurant owner sued, claiming that the meat that they serve for dinner was USDA Prime. It turned out that the review was of the meat served for lunch (note that the short review mentioned lunch — how could he miss that?), which is not necessarily USDA Prime. But that did not stop the lawsuit. After three years of litigation the case was settled on undisclosed terms in April of 2011. I suspect that the restaurant got nothing, but that is just a guess.

So, what does a food blogger do with stories like this? First, though there are many cases involving suits against bloggers, cases against food bloggers are still fairly rare. Second, most of these stories arise from outside the USA ,which is probably the hardest country to successfully sue a blogger. Third, it helps if you take pictures of the food as you can prove that you actually ate there. Of course the Kuwaiti blogger took video of the food being prepared (check out his webpage). It appears from my review of the video that the cook knew nothing about how to cook (but what do I know?), and he still got sued.

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