You might not be familiar with a certain gastronomic website, The Passionate Foodie. If you do know it, you probably go to it for excellent advice about food and drink, as well as interesting articles about the history of food and drink. You probably do not go to it for advice on the epistemology of what you learn from journalists and other writers.
But that’s exactly what we have in this case: an excellent article in The Passionate Foodie that’s not about food or drink but about whether you can trust what you read online! There are some people, such as the gentleman pictured here, whom you know right away that you cannot trust—but more generally who do you believe?
Richard Auffrey, the eponymous passionate foodie, does make one reference in that article to claims about food and drink, but mostly he’s writing more generally about whether to believe what you read. He even delves briefly into linguistics! The entire article, which is very short, is most definitely worth reading. Here is one paragraph:
The key to discerning an accurate source, to determine what to believe, is to question everything. Question motivations, knowledge levels, biases and more. Don’t accept anything at face value. Yes, it takes more time to do this, but it pays off in the end by providing you better and more accurate answers. That questioning can help you trust your source more. For example, the longer you follow a writer, the better you will understand them, and the better you can assess their biases, preferences, and knowledge level. That will lead to a better bond of trust.
Yes, that may perhaps sound a bit extreme, but when you read it in context you’ll see that it’s not extreme at all. It’s merely sensible.
Yesterday I had a slightly odd conversation on a closely related subject. I was at a farmers market, patiently waiting at a stall while the vendor was chatting with a customer. When I said that I had taught at Weston High School—you don’t need to know how that topic came up, except that it was closely related to a discussion of food and restaurants!—it turned out that the vendor had gone to Weston and the customer had gone to a yeshiva (I didn’t ask which one), where a rabbi had criticized him for asking too many questions. I was surprised and remarked that I had always believed that we Jews are encouraged to ask questions, and not just at the Seder! Said customer agreed but said that apparently he had been asking “the wrong questions.”
So go read Auffrey’s article, and ask the right questions.