Tuesday, February 11, 2014

This blog will try very hard not to get you killed.

When reading a blog it's pretty easy to come to the conclusion that the author is an expert in the blog's subject matter. That's particularly true in blogs more focused than this one. Even if the blog is about something you don't believe in or agree with one is tempted to believe that the author is at least an expert in the subject from his or own perspective. If someone wrote a whole blog about nothing but Balrogs you'd think that the person were a Balrog expert, yes? And even if you disagreed with the blog author's conclusion about whether Balrogs had wings(1)  you'd at least expect the author to be an expert on the arguments for and against his position, yes?

No.  Few blogs are written by real experts.  They exist.  Harold McGee is a real, live food and science expert whose blog you should follow and whose book you should buy. But most blogs are started by everyday people who have a layman's interest in their subject.  And those laymen are just as prone to the myths, errors, and misconceptions of their interest as anyone else.  

No where is this more apparent than cooking blogs and no where more important than on the subject of food safety.   If one goes to a proper culinary school one will get a good grounding in food safety, and if one cooks for even a very brief time one will learn about basics of sanitation and the "danger zone" between 40F and 140F at which bacteria like to reproduce.  But unfortunately it's really very easy to become an expert cook and even an expert recipe writer without learning much more than that about safety.

I'm thinking about this because I want to roast some garlic and store it.  I came across this blog which cheerily recommends that you can "(s)tore them in a jar filled with olive oil.  So basic and simple but so good, too."  You can't.  As one of her commenters points out, storing garlic in the anaerobic environment provided by an olive oil cover you're basically begging for botulism.  Botulism is actually vanishing rare among adults in the US.  There are something like 20 cases per year, one or two of which is fatal.  If you store garlic in olive oil and put the jar in the cabinet, you will probably be one of those cases.  When informed of this, the blogger breezily thanks the commenter and adjusts the storage advice to something only a little less bad.

You'll find similar errors from bloggers on other food-related subjects including potentially dangerous subjects like raw milk.  Of course you'll also find a lot of paranoia and errors on people opposed to things like raw milk.

All of this is to say that finding a blog or website which seems authoritative is not sufficient for you to conclude something.  Seek multiple sources, seek information which has been subject to peer review or other scrutiny, and most importantly seek for information which concludes something different from what you originally thought about something and see if that makes some sense.

(1) Yes.

Disclosure: Greg Miller is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This post contains a link or multiple links to Amazon with additional code for the purpose of earning a fee. 

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