Jumping the Snark: Marilyn Hagerty and the Food Media

As more or less all of the Internet knows by now, yesterday a restaurant critic in North Dakota named Marilyn Hagerty published a very positive review of the Olive Garden in the Grand Forks Herald. Titled "Long-Awaited Olive Garden Receives Warm Welcome," Hagerty's review deemed the place "impressive," described the chicken Alfredo as "warm and comforting," and concluded that "it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks."

In short, Hagerty's review was far less remarkable than the reaction it inspired. It quickly racked up more than 100,000 views and became a Facebook sensation, shared widely by people in semi-disgusted awe of Hagerty's straightforward, overwhelmingly positive assessment. Eater predictably took the opportunity to ladle some snark all over the review, while some wondered if the 85-year-old critic was a creation of The Onion. Just as quickly, various tweeters of note jumped to Hagerty's defense. "Very much enjoying watching Internet sensation Marilyn Hagerty triumph over the snarkologists (myself included)," tweeted Anthony Bourdain. "Good for her, I say," wrote the Chicago Tribune's Kevin Pang. "She wrote honestly from her viewpoint. And isn't that the job of all of us?"

Hagerty herself seemed a bit bewildered, if unfazed, by it all, telling the Village Voice, "I don't get it," and adding, for good measure, "I don't have time to sit here and twit over whether some self-styled food expert likes, or does not like, my column."

And that's perhaps the greater takeaway from her review: It said a lot more about the divide between urban food snobs and the rest of the country than it did about Olive Garden. It's easy for us to forget, trapped in our towers tiled with slices of Tartine Bakery levain and thatched with pine needle essence, that there are people who don't know or care who Thomas Keller is or fret over whether smoked hay still has something to say or is hopelessly 2011.

Among those who do care are undoubtedly at least one Food Network producer who's likely already dreaming up a show to pitch around the feisty old reporter or wooing her for a judging stint on Iron Chef. Just as Olive Garden couldn't have picked a better spokesperson, the food media couldn't have dreamed up a more perfect cause célèbre: The only thing more fashionable than trashing someone for their tastes is rushing to defend them.

Image source: Olive Garden’s fettuccine Alfredo by Flickr member chapstickaddict under Creative Commons

Rebecca Flint Marx eats and writes in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.