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As we've said before, we hope The Buffalo News fixes itself instead of continuing to wither away - it desperately needs new writers (again, not us) and smarter thinking. Unfortunately, while its circulation declines and the world around it evolves, our hometown paper has decided to double down on dumb. Since one useless restaurant column from Janice Okun wasn't enough for The News, it created "Ask Janice," a weekly advice column filled with the same nonsense - now without the pesky need to actually visit any of the featured restaurants. We're not going to link to the Ask Janice columns, since they're filled with bad advice. Really bad advice.1 Instead, we want to use them as a reminder to sign our petition to replace The News's food writers. Over 150 people have already signed the petition, and your support would truly be appreciated.
What bothers us about this column isn't the part we expected - more myopic thinking on well-worn topics - but rather, its use of space to steer people towards mediocre dining experiences. Sure, this isn't the first time The News has done that; the paper previously told people to visit the terrible Gramma Mora's for Mexican food, amongst many other crimes against good taste. But this new column is almost encouraging ignorance. Two weeks ago, several readers wrote to Ask Janice for help finding authentic Mexican food around here. For whatever reason, she didn't bother to point them to the best local option - La Tolteca. Instead, she used the column to talk about her son in Texas, note how expensive Rick Bayless's Mexican restaurants out of town are, and share the story of how she once visited a Mexican place in central California that Julia Child had recommended back in 1985. Great, right? She could have just stopped there. But then she added several of the stupidest things we've read in the paper in years:
* "Blaming Western New York for not having good Mexican restaurants is like blaming an apple for not being an orange."
* Her advice to people seeking authenticity? Just try one of the places serving Mexican-inspired food instead - don't worry, they've reformulated it for local tastes. You don't even need to visit an actual Mexican restaurant. Or one that's opened yet for business.
* Or, she suggested in a follow-up the next week, you could just skip Mexican altogether and eat at a locally-owned, non-chain restaurant. "Why worry?," she quoted a reader as saying, "If you really miss [Mexican food], ship it in via the Internet and go out and support what you got before it's gone."
If it wasn't for, well, history, we'd be amazed that a newspaper could print this sort of astonishingly moronic advice in response to such a simple question. There were several clear possible answers to the questions readers asked - preferably, a discussion of what actual Mexican food is like, a list of local Mexican restaurants that come closest to that standard, and perhaps some guidance as to where to look immediately outside of Buffalo to more fully satisfy these cravings. Ask Janice did none of these things. At the end of two columns, the reader seeking authentic Mexican food is left with the polar opposite of sage advice: you'd probably be better off eating at a mom and pop Italian restaurant, anyway.
Okun doesn't get it. This isn't an "apples and oranges" situation. It's not a blame game. This is a clear sign that Western New Yorkers have developed a taste for something better, and want help finding it or bringing it here from outside. What's needed is smarter thinking, an objective analysis of what's available and not available here, and a willingness to embrace - probably even advocate for - the changes necessary to make today's desires become tomorrow's reality.
Forget about oranges. The Big Apple wasn't always the Big Apple. Sure, Western New York might never be that big, but there's no good reason we can't do better - and more - than we're doing today. Myopic columns like "Ask Janice" send readers in the wrong direction. It's time that we come together as a community to turn things around.
Please sign our petition to fix The Buffalo News. Thanks.
1 Do not, under any circumstances, follow her advice to visit the terrible Peking Garden for dim sum. Also, french fries are not small dish dining. Et cetera.