Eric Schlosser at Colorado Conservation Voters

Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation” and other books, keynoted the Colorado Conservation Voters‘ annual luncheon today. The influential author was addressing an influential audience — Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Reps. Diana Degette and Ed Perlmutter, regional EPA director Jim Martin, and a slew of state house and senate members enjoyed pork chops locally raised free range chicken and speeches in the Grand Hyatt Denver’s Imperial Ballroom. I was part of a two-table Beth Conover posse. Not sure there was a Republican in the hall, which is a shame. The biosphere knows no politics.

[Addendum, courtesy Beth: For the record, I’m pretty sure there were several Republicans in the room- including a weld county commissioner/ tea partier who spent quite awhile talking with Eric after the talk, some rancher/ land conservation folks and at least a few oil & gas reps who visibly cringed at several points (!).]

Michael Pollan writes about our relationships with food; Schlosser is about food’s relationship with the planet. While he views climate change as “a nightmarish possibility,” the storyteller recognizes a better yarn when he sees one, and urged the environmentalists in the room to move away from this “very abstract” problem and think closer to home. “Food is not abstract,” he said. “We eat three meals a day.”

Indeed, agriculture is his doorway into environmentalism. He reminded the audience that half of Colorado’s land is covered with farms and ranches. Of the farms, 100,000 acres are organic, he said. Sounds like a lot. But it’s 0.33% of the Colorado total, he said.

Schlosser said he views organic farming as embodying “a humility towards nature.” Ranchers call it “holistic resource management.” The focus is the soil because what’s in the soil is in the crops is in the animals is in the people. We are soil long before we reunite with it. Lester Brown and others have gone into great detail about the dire state of this eroding, compacting lifeblood.

Without naming names, Schlosser blasted Monsanto and its Roundup-Ready genetically modified crops. The crops give soybeans, alfalfa, corn, canola and sugarbeets superplant abilities to survive onslaughts of Roundup weed killer (active ingredient glyphosate). Farmers use eight times more of the stuff than they 10 yeras ago, he said, and despite assurance that it biodegrades, it’s showing up in soils, watersheds, even raindrops, Schlosser said.

He urged the environmental advocates to get involved with food issues. As his listeners finished hundreds of chops from feedlot-raised pigs their meals, Schlosser reminded: “We don’t need to be pure to be effective.”

Beware of Yelp

I wrote a rather dark Yelp review of an old Dearborn mainstay on Friday. My folks and I had just eaten there. As of that moment, Yelp reviewers, apparently all with multiple sensory disorders, had given Richter’s Chalet an average of four stars of five — a lofty rating. Now I’m no gourmand, but this place was so exceptionally bad, I wrote:

I grew up in Dearborn, Mich., where Richter’s has been a mainstay. Went there tonight with my folks. How the mighty have fallen.

I agree completely with the reviewers commenting on the state of the decor — deplorable. The carpet dates from the Adenauer administration and is sticky like a fraternity after a nine-kegger. Menus dog-eared and Scotch taped. At least 80 degrees in the place, possibly to accommodate the octogenarians who, taste buds eroded, still drag their descendants into this sorry establishment.

Where I disagree is with those lauding the food. I lived in Germany on two occasions in my life and have had good German food there and elsewhere, and this ain’t it. I had sauerbraten, questionably cooked, oversauced, presented like a pile of rags. My mom’s meal one would need a mass spectrometer to properly identify. Some combination of possibly reheated meat hiding under congealed gravy. She couldn’t stomach it, and neither should you.

If you’re in Michigan, try Metzger’s on Zeeb Road in Ann Arbor. In Dearborn, just eat Arabic.

OK, so harsh. One star, obviously. Then my mom did her own review because she felt strongly about it:

My appetite had already been impacted by the fact that my feet stuck to the filthy carpet as I walked to the table, and was further impeded when I was handed a shabby, food-stained menu held together with tape. Very decent coleslaw was followed by barely-warm spaetzle, the latter not a good omen. But it  was totally over for me when I received my entree, a grayish glob of lukewarm pork covered with congealed gravy. My dining companions’ meals (plates of oversauced but undercooked beef) were only slightly better. I felt sorry for our waitress–she was lovely, tried hard, and offered excellent service. But  no amount of friendliness can make up for inedible food. I will not return to this restaurant.  For the record, I have lived in the area for many years, and have dined there intermittently. The quality was declining, but it has now  reached a point of no return–literally!

Also a one-star. But not harsh, really, and nice to the waitress, whom we felt bad for.

I hopped on Yelp today and noted the absence of both reviews on the Richter’s page, and the restaurant’s rating back up to 4 stars (we had dragged it down to 3.5). Scrolling all the way to the bottom, there’s a link, in parenthesis, to “filtered reviews.” Look closely or you’ll miss it. Click in and you have to fill in one of those Captcha things. That’s to make sure you’re not a computer.

Yelp doesn’t factor these filtered reviews into their overall ranking. And  a follow-up negative review, couched in less inflammatory language tonight, also landed there instantly. Auto-filtered. In Yelp-land, you have to be human to read bad reviews, but you don’t have to be human to decide a whether a review is actually “bad,” that is, inaccurate. Just search for pessimistic keywords and ban the whole thing. Bravo, Yelp!

This is nontrivial. Yelp’s bot means the service works for restaurants — not for prospective customers — in filtering out bad reviews automatically. Which means, simply, you can’t trust Yelp to tell you if a restaurant is bad, which Richter’s truly is. Yelp, less than no help, is misleading to the very consumers whose opinions it purports to aggregate. Skip it.