The Incredible Shrinking Chowhound: censorship at work again?

Yucatasiacuttingboard_1

image credit: Photobiker

I was browsing Chowhound last night while waiting for you know who to
come home when I came upon a series of very curious looking posts, by
someone who called himself ‘Photobiker’. This Photobiker dude
apparently lives above the popular Yucatan-Vietnamese restaurant
Yucatasia -quite beloved amongst the Chow set.

Mr.Photobiker is apparently so sick and tired of the unsatinary
practices he’s observed from his windows above the restaurant’s
courtyard, he took a bunch of photos to expose those practices and
posted them on Chowhound. The photos were damning -if they indeed came
from the courtyard of said restaurant- showing workers cutting meat on
the cement floor with only a tiny piece of wood or a piece of cardboard
box as the cutting board, and cooking right next to the overflowing
garbage -complete with rats-on-wings pecking happily at the refuse.

The tenacious Mr.Photobiker tracked down all the threads in CH that
mentioned Yucatasia, and posted a message and a link back to his
website. I poked around at the Photobiker’s website, and he seems legit
enough, a French photographer on a mission to take photographs around
the world on his motorbike. There was nothing there to make me suspect
that he might be a restaurant owner jealous of Yucatasia’s success. Not
that I can verify that, but you check out his website yourself and see
if you think he’s legit too.

Miraculously, by the time David came home and I tried to pull up the posts on Chowhound to
show him, they’ve all disappeared, with no note or notation to tell
us where they’ve all gone to.

How odd was that? Now, I know that Chowhound has garnered more a few passionate critiques among the food blogs, but not from me. One of my dearest friends –and my Chowhound front- Malik is quite active on it, and has passed on more than a wisdom or two he’s unearthed there to me. I think Chowhound –at least the Bay Area forum- is unmatched when it comes to ethnic and cheap to mid-range eats in the area. The Chronicle can go on making fun of Michelin and how they didn’t get ethnic food until they are blue in the face, but if I want me some goat curry I’m going chowing with the hounds and surely not in the company of the grand old lady that’s the Chron.

Chowhound claims a reputation of putting the diners’ interest first and and foremost. They have been quick to delete anything with a remote appearance of coming from a restaurant, be it a shill or a retort. That’s fair enough. Theirs is a site for diners, and if they are not interested in hearing another point of view, they’ve got the rights to do so. Not that I’ve ever been deleted there or anything. I know enough to steer clear from any topic regarding Manresa, I’ve hardly even said much about the restaurant on my own blog since David and I began our relationship.

But now that Chowhound is more than an outgrowth of a man’s vision -having been acquired and now run by the web giant CNet, which also owns Chow magazine– perhaps more transparency in the running of the forum is in order? They can start by explaining the deletion of these posts. I, for one, am quite curious to hear their reason for that.

Meanwhile, I’m not going for Bahnmi Carnitas any time soon.

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30 Responses to “The Incredible Shrinking Chowhound: censorship at work again?

  • pitofmystomach said:
    October 13th, 2006 at 2:15pm

    Has Yucatasia become Yuckatasia?
    http://www.pitofmystomach.typepad.com

  • Smari said:
    October 13th, 2006 at 3:22pm

    I subscribe to the RSS feeds for Chowhound Boston and New England and occasionally there are posts on my feeder that then show up as having been removed when I click on them. The RSS reader allows me to read the first sentence or two and I’ve yet to figure out the reason for deletion. Even if it’s just a question on whether the food is good or not. What’s even more curious is that every post that mention Craigie St. Bistrot, a great restaurant here in Cambridge, seems to get deleted. I’d love to know why as well and it makes me somewhat suspicious that the posts are deleted without explanation.

  • Gluten Free By The Bay said:
    October 13th, 2006 at 4:10pm

    One of my favorite free webtools is http://jkn.com/. You can sign up and any time you want to take a screen snapshot of a post you think might be taken down (or just want to safe for posterity) you just go to the website, enter the URL, and it takes a picture of it and saves it for you in a private place only you can access. I’ve found this useful on several occasions.
    As for me, I have only recently discovered Chowhound… But the sense I get is that when any site goes corporate, it starts censoring more and explaining less.

  • Pierre Saslawsky said:
    October 13th, 2006 at 6:48pm

    Hi, I’m the guy who took the pictures and I keep getting kicked out of Chowhound.
    Instead of copy/pasting the same message on all the threads referring to Yucatasia, like I did, and which resulted in my account being blocked, maybe some of you guys will want to post their own warnings on just 1 or 2 of these threads, with possibly a link to my picture page at http://www.photobiker.com/dirtyrestaurant/
    This page contains the following explanations now too:
    ————–
    I live just above the backyard of the Yucatasia restaurant. These guys are absolutely disgusting. THEY CUT THE MEAT ON THE GROUND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GARBAGE! YUCK!!!
    I filed a complaint with the San Francisco Department of Public Health on September 28th, 2006.
    I’m perfectly legit. My name is Pierre Saslawsky, I’m a dual citizen French/American and, above all, a proud San Franciscan. My email address is available on the Contact page of my web site at http://www.photobiker.com and the name and phone number of the Department of Public Health investigator in charge of the case are available upon request.
    After having seen what I saw, I wish that if I was eating at such a restaurant and some neighbors knew what the owners and the cooks were doing in the backyard, they would also report them to Health Services and expose their practices. Customers have the right to know.
    ————–
    So, if you want to spread some love on my behalf on Chowhound.com, you’re most welcome.
    Cheers,
    Pierre

  • Bangkok Expat Mama said:
    October 14th, 2006 at 8:21am

    Frankly, I’ve always found that chopping gizzards on cardboard — especially in proximity to rubbish — adds a certain transcendant “je ne sais quoi” to one’s meals. And a cup of brackish khlong water stirred into one’s tom yum? Simply divine! NOT.
    So, thank you for acting as consumer advocates, Pim and Pierre.

  • CheeseMonger said:
    October 15th, 2006 at 1:02pm

    Hi,
    First, I wanted to thank Pierre for taking and sharing these photos.
    But so far, there’s nothing on the ‘violations” page of the health department about these specific problems, although there are some other “moderate” and “low” risk violations.
    Here’s the link:
    http://www.dph.sf.ca.us/eh/Violations/Loc_CurrentViol.asp?LocationID=18514
    Again, thanks for bringing this to attention.

  • Adam E. said:
    October 15th, 2006 at 7:11pm

    Nothing to see … move along.
    This sort of censorship has been SOP for Chowhound for months and months, if not longer.
    Good work Pim & Pierre!

  • Dianka said:
    October 16th, 2006 at 11:33am

    Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that, Pim! Thanks for posting this.. makes me want to be more careful when choosing restaurants such as these!

  • Barbara Fisher said:
    October 16th, 2006 at 1:56pm

    I used to write and read a lot over at Chowhound. Not so anymore.
    I don’t care for the SOP that has come into play there.
    That said–Pim, Pierre–you two keep up the good work on getting the word out on this less than sanitary restaurant!

  • shuna fish lydon said:
    October 16th, 2006 at 7:07pm

    Pierre and Pim,
    this is more than a little enlightening, on many many fronts. I hate to burst everyone’s bubble– you know, the one where you think your food is always handled safely, but most places I’ve worked have some pretty strange practices. Perhaps few as obvious and photographable as this sordid environment, but still.
    I hope we all hear the outcome.
    As for Chowhound, well it seems to me that they aren’t doing anything they have not always done. Can anyone say “doublespeak”?

  • Choyoyo said:
    October 17th, 2006 at 9:14am

    For all those cynical people out there about Chowhound, I should suspect that copy pasting the SAME comment on all posts mentioning Yucatasia would constitute spam, regardless of whether you consider the content true or not. I don’t know if Chowhound has an automated checker deletion system, but it seems easy enough.
    In addition, I was just at Pierre’s site, and he mentions that if you copy paste the same comment in Chowhound more than 4 times, then it gets deleted. I don’t know- this seems to be a practical control for a forum based website to me. Just my two cents.

  • Bux said:
    October 17th, 2006 at 11:23am

    I’ve seen censorship from the position of a manager and a poster on discussion sites. I left chowhound years ago because I found their perspective far too limiting and I resigned from senior management at eGullet because I found their flexible suit-the-situation agreements and protect-the-director-at-all-cost policies disingenuous. As little as I agreed with Jim Leff on editorial policy, at least he was consistent and principled, perhaps to a fault. I can’t say the same for anyone at the top at eGullet. Nevertheless, I have to side with Choyoyo. Spamming is intolerable. No memeber should ever post the same message more than once. If chowhound actually allows a member to post the same comment (or photo) four times, it actually has a very liberal policy. Pierre’s attempts to subvert the policy is unreasonable and would lead me to question his motives. I hope he understands my viewpoint on this.

  • alb said:
    October 17th, 2006 at 6:01pm

    Aside from censorship, another issue here of course is using the street as one’s kitchen. God forbid someone starts taking pictures of my favorite hawker vendors.

  • T said:
    October 21st, 2006 at 12:24pm

    I cook professionally in San Francisco and have several friends running there own restaurants now. One of the said friends is frequently contacting Chowhound and having them remove negative posts about his restaurant. From what I have seen, most of the posts weren’t all that outrageous, rather, typically unhappy guests with legitimate gripes about food, service, etc… It’s unfortunate, but Chowhound is just another forum purporting itself as a place for open discussion. The reality is quite the opposite.

  • Kimo Thoman said:
    October 22nd, 2006 at 12:45am

    As a military brat, I have lived around the world and seen some more than unsavory food preperation.
    As you all know, the whole point of cooking anything is to kill the bacteria that might be lurking on said food. The pictures you see are pre-cooking.
    The most ‘real’ food is cooked in very pedestrian conditions (see every time I hve eaten fish/deer/elk that my grandfather has prepared at our cabin without anything but running water).
    I have never gotten sick, nor has anyone else in my family in the 25 years we have been engaged in this ‘clandestine’ activity. Nor have I, or anyone I know ever gotten sick by eating at some strange foreign food stall/outlet/stand.
    Is it possible, and I’m not saying the pictures are not disturbing on some level, that there are those being a bit prude about the whole business?
    Preparing food is dirty, living is rather dirty, all in all. As it turns out, there is fecal matter in every mammal that could potentially contaminate the meat at critical juntures.
    That is without mentioning thatyou could be absolutely Pasteurian about pre-cooking preperation, not wash you hands after using the bathroom, and still contribute more e-coli to the finished product than someone who cuts raw ribs on cardboard and then grills them.
    Devil’s advocate?
    This is just to say I also love the fact that a foodie blog lapped up and recommended a place that is clearly not a reputable establishment. Sometimes dirty, delicious as it may be, is just dirty.

  • emily said:
    October 25th, 2006 at 12:27am

    In response to Kimo Thoman above- all I can say is you have a stronger stomach than I do, when I was living in Vietnam I probably got food poisoning about once a fortnight (and I have a strong stomach in general)from unhygenic food handling practices. At a guess, if the people in these photographs are not savvy enough to cut their meat on a chopping board away from garbage then they are probably not going to be washing their hands either.
    Sure, I agree, street hawkers can have some pretty grotty practices but they are quite upfront about it and will charge very little for their food. These people in the photos are probably making quite a lot of money from selling their food, due to their popularity. As suchthey should therefore should be able to invest in a plastic chopping board and a kitchen bench of some description. And if they are selling their food really cheaply then I am sure their customers wouldn’t mind paying a bit more if it means that their food will not be prepared next to a garbage can. I know that I eat street food at my own risk when I am travelling but I would expect that a restaurant in the US charging any reasonable price would be hygenic. Maybe I’m a bit naive but that is my two cents.

  • Dr. Biggles said:
    October 25th, 2006 at 2:32pm

    Hey,
    I wish I’d kept it. But I must be the only human that received an email from Chowhound very nicely telling me why my post had been removed. I’d told about how a local hamburger joint had given me food poisoning and my co-worker the same, 5 times. Why he keeps going back is beyond me.
    In any case CH explained to me that if there is a health issue with a local restaurant, that’s for the local authorities and not a public bulletin board to deal with. They’re the professionals and can actually DO something about it. While I believe Yucatasia needs more than a talking to, I also believe they deserve a chance to make it right and learn.
    That being said, DAAAMN. I’d never do that to meat.
    Biggles

  • Mgmax said:
    October 27th, 2006 at 8:53pm

    There are legal issues with posting a health violation– which is, basically, alleging that someone has broken the law– that don’t enter the picture when you merely say food is lousy. At LTHForum.com we often have to pull these kinds of posts, though as Chowhound refugees ourselves, we ALWAYS send explanatory emails, it’s only courteous to your members. If there’s any way to salvage part of the message, we send it back to the person and tell them what they need to do to make it acceptable, too.
    Not to hijack Chez Pim but this brings up another issue– we’ve built up a pretty successful Chicago-based site around the dual purposes of talking about food online (like Chowhound) and eating it together in a group (unlike Chowhound, which discourages event planning pretty strongly). There are a lot of things you can do on our board that you can’t really do very well on CH, either (photo essays, that kind of thing). Anyway, it seems to us that it would be interesting to branch out more to other cities (for purely non-profit, this-is-cool motives), develop a parallel community in another place which could use the board to plan events and talk about their own local scene in detail. Anyway, if anyone’s annoyed with the limitations of CH and would like to explore an alternative, look at how our community works for Chicago and feel free to contact me about the possibilities. (Again, unlike the gambling and nudie sites, this is not for any commercial reason– just looking to help and share good info with foodites in other cities.)
    Mike G of LTHForum.com

  • Dax said:
    November 1st, 2006 at 12:59pm

    in response to the comment that chowhound “discourages event planning pretty strongly,” after about 4 years of posting on the Boston area board, I have not found this to be the case. The moderators only request that one person post a message about an event, dinner, etc. and request that other posters email that person privately about the gatherings. Bandwidth isn’t cheap and personally I don’t want to read a long thread about who is or isn’t going to some event. Just my two cents

  • Chubbypanda said:
    December 15th, 2006 at 2:36am

    Hi Pim,
    Looks like I’m a little late to the party, but I hope you’ll give me credit for showing up. I was just kicked off of Chowhound for “shilling” about a local sushi restaurant, the details of which I’ve posted on my blog.
    My feelings about Chowhound are mixed. While I truly love the people there, the actions of the Chowhound moderators seem capricious and often illogical. In the end, I decided I’d just be better off saying what I wanted to on my blog and not worrying about whether one of my posts was going to get deleted. Still, given the widespread move away from Chowhound by the food blogging community, who are amongst the most motivated and engaged of Chowhound’s target market, I’m not sure how they’re planning to survive or keep their content fresh. It’s already beginning to stagnate. How many “Best of” posts or “In city X for one night and need reccs” do they need?
    Just wanted to add my experiences into the discussion.
    – Chubbypanda
    http://www.chubbypanda.com

  • amanda said:
    February 21st, 2007 at 10:58am

    I have been deleted on chowhound too! It sucks! My first deletions were around my favorite sushi place in LA, Hiko on Sawtelle and National. Everytime I mentioned Hiko, it got deleted! I figured that they did not like Hiko for some reason or another. And then yesterday, I posted a topic on Not about food called–The 10 most obnoxious things dinner guests do —which was turning into a hilarious thread and then there it goes…deleted! today, everytime my instincts take me to chowhound, I make myself turn back, looking for other less uncensored food boards!

  • dolores said:
    February 27th, 2007 at 12:02pm

    Thank you all for confirming that chowhound is indeed one of the most heavily censored boards on the Internet today.

  • Siviyo said:
    June 7th, 2007 at 6:45am

    That could really come back to bite them in the @ss. The Communications Decency Act shield website owners from liability for defamatory or otherwise harmful statements posted on their sites. If however, the site owner is censoring posts they may be practising enough editorial control to themselves be liable for defamation.
    And isn’t just unfair not to allow the restaurant to respond?

  • zemilideias said:
    August 15th, 2007 at 7:44am

    Chowhound? Ha! I’ve been kicked off the board for saying that a certain small restaurant owner in NYC “hustles” diners by bringing them expensive (plastic) bottled water when they ask for water and quickly popping off the tops on the way to the table. I’m the guy’ neighbor. I used to eat in his restaurant. Most people agree he hustles. Nothing about health issues, just service. Chowhound can’t take it. They rot.

  • Craig Hunt said:
    September 5th, 2007 at 1:44pm

    Chowhound is only for happy talk between people named “Maxine” or “Dolores” about “Did you try the sea bass?” and so forth.

  • el ceballo said:
    December 3rd, 2007 at 8:32am

    I was removed for complaining about the deletion of my response posting about a disgusting experience I had with the chocolates at Whole Foods, which really pales in context to the seriously important work done by Photobiker.
    It’s sad, but it took this for me to realize that between the co-opting of content and the authoritarian moderators, I don’t need to waste my time creating free content for a for-profit site.

  • Americanhotshot said:
    February 7th, 2011 at 4:56am

    I’ve heard Chowhound admins are very racist as well.

  • Zanches-12@hotmail.com said:
    April 2nd, 2012 at 4:09pm

    Omg!!! This is too bad!!!! Eso no lo savia hasta ahora lo veo! Ya no voy jamas a ese lugar. Never.! Sorry!!

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