Bipartisan sautéed scallops? Photo illustration by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Last election, I put up a big “Vote Obama” post in light of what I considered to be eight disastrous years of Bush, unnecessary war, and an economy that was going to take well more than four years to fix. I was at first surprised by some of the angry comments I got. A reader named Art wrote, “You’re a consommate [sic] chef. Leave it at that. Keep your friggin’ political opinions to yourself,” followed two minutes later by Joe: “Because you can cook, you can tell me for whom I’m to cast my vote? I don’t think so. Keep it in the kitchen—not the voting booth.”

My response was more or less, “This site is my fucking yard and I can put up whatever sign I want.” And this led to more comments, pro and con, but all in all it developed into a fascinating, useful conversation.

One of the things I love most about this blog is the people who read and comment on it. Passionate discussion—I love it. I never take down comments unless they’re gratuitously harmful. I welcome dissent, even when it’s anonymous (something I very much discourage because it so easily leads to meanness; I understand that some people must remain anonymous for one reason or another, but in this Internet age anonymity encourages snipers).

So I put this question to you, much-beloved readers: Is it justifiable for me, known and read primarily for writing about food, cooking, and the work of the professional kitchen, to voice my opinion on a matter unrelated to food? (Although now that I put it that way, I wonder is there anything unrelated to food?)

UPDATE 11/6/12: AND THE WINNERS ARE!

Thank you all for the comments; as always they are uncommonly thoughtful and that is the biggest generosity of all. I’ve decided to give two books away because I couldn’t decide and it seemed more bipartisan that way. I have no idea who’s winning today’s presidential election, but the following have won a copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty:

A.S. November 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Asking others if it is “Justifiable” is an odd way of thinking about it. You of course have every right to express your non-food opinions here and anywhere else. But you have to realize that by doing so you can alienate some perhaps large proportion of your fans and loyal readers. Is it worth it? We readers can’t answer that; we don’t know how important these issues are to you, nor do we know how important we fans are to you. Maybe you feel so strongly about the issues that it doesn’t matter to you if you alienate half of us. Or maybe you couldn’t care less about the half of your fans that you alienate. Those are balances that you have to weigh – we can’t do it for you. You have the great fortune to be able to have your thoughts read by many thousands of people. The flip side is that you can chase some of those people away – do you care if you do just to tell us who you think we should vote for? It’s not a question we can answer for you.

 Terry Simpson November 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Political opinions, like food, need to be well seasoned. The opinion should provide balance and not be distasteful. The opinion should have texture and depth, and not leave a bitter aftertaste. The opinion should be presented well – so it appeals to the eye. It should not have too much spice, or too much sweetness. It should not be overcooked. Political opinions, like foods, can never appeal to everyone’s taste – but one can respect the care that the author/cook took in preparation and the thoughtfulness of them

 

Honorable Mentions:

Paul Post November 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Freedom

leaming2956 November 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Freedom of speech is a guaranteed right under the Constitution. That certainly includes what you express on your website. Readers are equally free to ignore, agree or disagree with your opinion. As you point out, there is a great deal at stake in this year’s election. So in addition, to your urging us to “pay attention and vote”, I would also add, “stay informed”. Ignorance is a dangerous thing in these complex times.

Mary November 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Your site, your voice. Sure…. But in addition, you graciously share your site and let other voices speak too — guest posts and comments for example. That you choose most often to give voice to matters of food is your fault not a blogosphere rule to be policed. That you occasionally voice matters regarding alcoholic beverages is charming. That you less occasionally give voice to broader issues like writing, travel, and politics… well, you initiated the blog, you spend the time writing the posts, you decide. Is this blog yours? Not entirely since you share it. It is in many ways a co-created site between you, your s.o. (nice photos!), and each of your readers all together. I think you do anticipate us readers on occasion and so we make our way into your thoughts and your prose. But does that mean one person can walk onto the site and dictate that “Only shall food matters be writ about here!”? Well, that is a tad silly. A point which I believe the above scallops make admirably.

end of update: my original post resumes here:

I now think I was wrong four years ago to title the post as I did. No one should tell you who to vote for, or how to live your life. It should be your choice. But you do have to act in order to keep it that way.

I also believe it’s fair for me to express my opinion about political issues, generally—you can read them or not. Importantly, Proposition 37 in California is a no-brainer. Do you want to know what’s in your food? Or do you want big companies who, let’s be honest, don’t really care about your health, to prevent you from knowing what you’re eating? Vote Yes on Prop. 37. It’s not just an important food issue, and it’s not about whether GMOs are good or bad (on which the verdict may be out for decades to come). It’s an issue of our democracy, establishing a transparent food system.

I believe that no matter who wins the presidential election, the economy will get better because America is a growing country, an open, productive society. Therefore, the issues I care about are these. Please stop reading here if all you are interested in is the above sautéed scallops (plenty of oil, high heat, season just before sautéing, goes beautifully with asparagus … or hmm, how about butternut squash?).

I believe that our government needs to encourage and help small businesses innovate and grow (speaking as one myself).

I am for less war (and less money spent on making it).

I am outraged by anyone who believes they can tell any woman what she should do with her body. I don’t even think people should legislate what you eat, let alone decree on more permanent, um, issues. (As a woman near and dear to me put it, tell them they have to pay for the child support and see how they vote.)

I am appalled by the intransigent Republicans in the House of Representatives who have prevented important issues such as the Farm Bill from moving forward. That the Speaker is from Ohio just adds salt to the wound.

Obama has not done all that I’d hoped he’d be able to do, though he said from the beginning he had an 8-year not a 4-year plan. He is not the smooth negotiator Clinton and Reagan were, nor the bully that LBJ was. But, if it matters to anyone, I’m voting for Obama, and am praying that my state of Ohio, which on Wednesday at last returns to “flyover” status, carries him. He’s doing the right things and surely four years of experience as President of the United States will make him better at it than he has been (and he’s done much good—ending a war, cutting taxes for my family and other middle income folks, working toward affordable health care, to name a few small matters).

Romney has shown that he will say just about whatever he has to in order to gain votes, and I simply don’t trust what he says. He hasn’t convinced me that he possesses the wisdom required to lead a country of this size and power. If I owned a Fortune 500 company, or even a company that did $100 million in sales, or if I personally were extremely wealthy, I might be inclined to vote Republican (in which case I, personally, would have to admit to having a corrupt soul). That said, two of my dearest friends are solidly middle class, one of them a small business owner himself, and they will be voting for Romney, Lord knows why. My Boston-based copy-editor Karen notes that her state, which elected Romney governor, will surely trounce him in the election. That means something to me.

Here’s what I will tell readers and feel justifiably content in doing so: pay attention, and vote. And then think about how lucky you are to live in a country where this, along with free speech, is not only allowed but encouraged.

Again, it will be my honor to sign and send a copy of my cookbook Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, a Cook’s Manifesto to the best comment (pro or con) on whether a food writer should voice non-food-related political opinions the way other non-food people do (e.g., Eastwood and Springsteen, who have just a teensy bit bigger audience than I do).

Why am I giving away a cookbook? Because this I know: the world is better when we cook food for the people we love.

Vote.

Other links you may like:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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244 Wonderful responses to “Vote! (a question to readers
& a free signed Ruhlman’s 20)”

  • Tim W

    When I think of food, I think of family. When I think about arguing about politics, I also think about family. To me, discussions about philosophies, politics, jobs, and lord knows what else were always discussed over the dinner table. They’ve always felt rather hand in hand to me so you absolutely have my vote.

  • Larry Allin

    During presidential election season we are inundated with political messages; from TV to print ads, junk mail to junk phone calls. Your blog offers, or at least says it does, a pleasant diversion from all that political messaging. I think your political opinions are not what the typical reader would be expecting when you label it “Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen”.

    My suggestion would be to put your political perspective in a secondary page and add a simple link to it, perhaps “For Michael’s perspective on the election”. Those who visit your blog to simply enjoy learning of “the Chef’s Craft” and escape the non-stop electioneering may do so. Those who may be interested in learning your thoughts on the election may do so by following the link, just as they might to learn more about your books

    While I greatly appreciate your efforts on our behalf, count me among those who long ago overdosed on political news/opining/analysis/etc.

  • Vicki

    Well for all of you who voted for Obama, you should take a look at your 401K today. The Dow just lost 2% after election day or around 300 points. More to come I’m afraid as the fiscal cliff looms — the money guys thought that Romney would better handle the economy, oh well….

    • Tommy

      Considering the the Dow was up 65% during Obama’s first term, I am not worried. Your post is spreading false fears. No real substance to see here readers. Move along.

      (Numbers originally from Neil Degrasse Tyson tweet)
      Change in DJIA during Pres. terms: Carter: -1%; Reagan 1: +37%, Reagan 2: +77% GHBush: +50%; Clinton1: +100%; Clinton2: +60%; GWBush1: -3%; GWBush2: -22%; Obama: +65%

      • Vicki

        Predictions are that the dow could drop as much as 90% — also it has dropped over 5% in the few weeks since Obama has been reelected.
        Hang on to your hats democrats or should I say your 401 K’s and also your bank accounts since he is sure to raise taxes…..

    • Darcie

      The Dow was at 8k when Obama took office and now is at the 13k mark, so it can’t be fear of Obama driving the fall. Wall Street has a real Chicken Little streak, and right now the sky falling issue is the “fiscal cliff.” I’m confident this downward trend is a blip (one that I expected, actually) and once a compromise is reached, the Dow will rebound. (The Dow is likely to rebound, at least temporarily, before then as the vultures come in for the pickings as share prices drop.)

      Now if the obstructionists in Congress continue to be recalcitrant, all bets are off. But I believe that the people have spoken and there is real motivation for a compromise to be reached.

    • Nanci Courtney

      Check it out Vicki – I believe ‘the money guys’ got us where we are today. Anyone who thinks food is not political is beyond naive.

  • John LaRosa

    Hi Michael, I missed your original post, but in my opinion, it is your right to express your political opinions when and how you choose. Personally, I like it when people mix social discourse with their work. It shows that they are multi-dimensional, not just mindless worker bees.

    In addition, and maybe this is because I was schooled in the Cleveland area, I think your assessments of Romney and Obama are spot on. Today, I’m very proud of my old Ohio home for sticking with the President. Ditto for my new home in Virginia (although I’m still stuck with Boehner’s little buddy, Eric Cantor).

    As for the economy, well, it’s anyone’s guess. Countless economists have showered us with their wholly inaccurate wisdom. I’ll put my faith in hard work, solid ethics, and that “level playing field” Obama talks about. FYI, as someone who owned a small business during the Reagan/GHW Bush years, current business owners have nothing to complain about. My taxes were far higher than they are today.

  • Katie G

    I’m in the “It’s your blog, write what you want” camp. However, I read political news on other sites and come here for food related commentary.
    It would be ideal if your did express your political views through a link on your site. Then a full discussion could be had.
    Your winner expressed it best in my opinion.

  • Phineas

    Michael,

    Wish I’d seen your question earlier, not that I’d give myself a chance at the prize, but because timely comments always carry more weight.

    Absolutely you should post whatever you like on your site. Surely your readers have certain expectations about what they’ll likely see, and you can always temper your content based upon feedback and your own judgement and desires.

    Only Hugo Black and William O. Douglas are more absolutist than I when it comes to freedom of speech, censorship, and the like.

    After all, the right to express ourselves is our most important right–as it is the one via which we can get all the others. I believe it was Martin Garbus who said that.

    Love your blog, love your commenters (absolutely marveled at the caramelization/Maillard effect debate in a recent post–nice considering Maillard was revealed as such 100 years ago this year!). Bright people, always thoughtful. Few blogs have as thoughtful as commenters as you do.

    Nice going.

  • Bob

    Frankly, while I don’t come here for the political content, it’s Michael’s blog. And it *does* matter what political issues are important to him as a chef (for example, I’d sooner take his insight on Prop 37 in California than I would some flack from Monsanto).

    The important thing is to be respectful of everyone’s opinions (though, as the author/owner, Michael’s got the green light to call b.s. whenever he wants) – we’re too polarized as a nation, too zero-sum in our thinking. It’s right or left, conservative or liberal, right or wrong … when the best work is done when people can tap other people for insight and viewpoints.

    It’s called learning.

    Michael was already a capable writer, but his experience at CIA, his adventure in learning, transformed his life. It introduced him to new friends (Chef Pardus, Thomas Keller, Brian Polcyn, among others) and we’re enjoying the fruits of those labors through Michael’s continued writing in the culinary arena.

  • Darcie

    Dang, wish I would have checked in sooner, I would have loved to get a copy of Twenty. I like it when people that I do business with or follow put their political ideals out there. The free exchange of ideas is the essence of democracy, and even if I don’t agree with your position, I will respect you. (I think it was wrong of mayors to attempt to exclude Chick-Fil-A; let the consumers decide).
    I am very proud of the state of Minnesota, where I live, for not only supporting Obama, but also rejecting constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and requiring disenfranchising voter ID. Not only that, but we now have a DFL (Democrat-Farm-Laborer) House AND Senate, which was unexpected. The only downside is that Michelle “Crazy Eyes” Bachmann kept her seat. However, the very slim margin that she won by in the most conservative district in the state was telling. All in all a good result.

  • Chip Desormeaux

    I say you should just stick to food and noble causes (as related to food).

  • Wanda

    Michael, I support your right to express your opinion, obviously. But . . . I just bought your book, The Making of a Chef, because I love two of your books that I already owned. I love getting down to an understanding of food techniques and the chemistry behind ingredient interaction. (I am a retired chemistry teacher.) I enthusiastically checked out your website and was jarred by your political opinion. I stand strongly on the other side because i have grandchildren and cannot understand how we can keep spending money we don’t have by the trillions!!! I am somewhat socially liberal but we can’t have anything if we don’t have economic solvency. It reminds me of children who want to be happy and just don’t get that we don’t have any money! So now when I look at my books I can’t simply be excited about my cooking adventures. I am now reminded that we are continuing to become more and more in debt in this country by the trillions because I am aware of your political opinion which differs from mine in a really crucial way.Now using your books will bring politics into my kitchen. It makes me sad.

  • Micah Bedwell

    Post your opinions on anything – as if one couldn’t read your political leanings in your cooking. Let the ostriches keep their heads in the sand. I have “20…” already. Fantastic.

  • Randy Martinez

    Hi Mike, I simply cannot believe that people want to shut you up. Just the same thing happened when you blogged on vitamins. First, a democratic society depends on people expressing their ideas and thoughts. You have the right to express your ideas in whatever forum you choose. They have the right to disagree but to try to tell you that you do not have the right to post your thoughts is simply undemocratic. If someone would say to you “Hey Mike, this is where I think you are wrong” and express an opinion, that is fine. However, what they are saying to you is at its essence is this: you are a food blogger and you know nothing about politics, so shut up”. Just amazing! We constantly hear about the lack of math and science education in the US…its not that…its the lack of Civics education and the denigration of thorough and respectful debate on the issues that affect us all.

  • Gael N

    Just wanted to get a late comment on this. While I am supportive of your thoughts in food and politics I think the best way to think about this is to flip this the other way. The best I can think of is Joel Salatin. He has many views I disagree with but he’s so engaging and ingenious that I’m hooked to everything he says. Charlie Trotter is a noted Libertarian and even though he campaigned against foie gras, I would still read everything he says. I also feel like a lot of that philosophy for both translates to the way they run their businesses so it’s worth paying attention to.

    Then again I am also perfectly comfortable with boycotting Chick-fil-A. For me the tipping point wasn’t just political opinion but action. The organization was directly funding anti-gay groups. Knowing that the dollar I would be spending on my sandwich could also be a dollar funding those campaigns was too much for me.

    But really from what I’ve read is that there are a lot of problems with food and cooking culture in the USA. A lot of that is that directly due to the farm bill and tactics of large corporations which is pretty blatantly supported by Republicans. I almost wonder how anyone can talk about such an issue without addressing politics at all? Michael Pollan was the best at showing how closely tied organic and factory farming are to politics. If these are issues that you’re passionate about then you MUST take a serious interest in politics. Anyone surprised by your political views seriously hasn’t read any of your blog.

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