Soup joint sand­bagged by a rat in a bread bowl

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - KIRK LAPOINTE Glacier Me­dia

Iam re­minded of an old joke about the restau­rant: “Waiter, what’s this fly do­ing in my soup?” “The back­stroke, I believe.” If you don’t find that funny – un­der­stand­able if not – there is a lo­cal sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion even less amus­ing.

There aren’t many bread bowls of chow­der that come served with a rat, so we should have smelled one dur­ing Christ­mas week when one of those anonymized so­cial me­dia ac­counts ran one of those con­trived videos with one of those seem­ingly shocked (but strangely sub­dued) cus­tomers scoop­ing out a ro­dent in her serv­ing at Van­cou­ver’s Crab Park Chow­dery.

The video was upon al­most ev­ery me­dia site and shared across so­cial over the hol­i­day sea­son, the ideal ironic dig­i­tal di­ver­sion at a time of year we eat more than we can di­gest. It spawned “jour­nal­ism” con­ti­nents away and oc­cu­pied Twit­ter streams, Face­book posts and In­sta­gram feeds. Tele­vi­sion news­casts warned of the “dis­turb­ing” im­agery view­ers would see, in my ex­pe­ri­ence the most ef­fec­tive way to keep peo­ple tuned.

And be­cause it hap­pened over the hol­i­days, the slug­gish re­sponse was rem­i­nis­cent of the Jonathan Swift quote: “False­hood flies, and the truth comes limp­ing af­ter it.”

The over­all episode was ridicu­lous, but be­cause for more than a few mo­ments we in me­dia fell into the froth, it served as an ob­ject les­son on the reck­less re­al­ity of to­day’s so­cial plat­forms and the haz­ards for tar­geted busi­nesses.

The Chow­dery is an emerg­ing, rus­tic Gas­town joint that was sand­bagged. Its soup kitchen was in the same build­ing as Mamie Tay­lor’s, which was also sideswiped. The ac­cuser got a re­fund at the restau­rant, scooted and hasn’t sur­faced since. My guess is that we won’t hear from her again. (I’m among dozens try­ing to get an an­swer.)

Thank­fully, the grown-ups got in the room in due course. Van­cou­ver Coastal Health Au­thor­ity didn’t jump to any con­clu­sion to pre­cip­i­tously de­scend on the sup­plier or the sup­plied, al­though it tem­po­rar­ily shut­tered the kitchen. But the restau­rant owner jumped in and spent time and money to in­ves­ti­gate how the heck some­thing like this could plau­si­bly play out.

As far as com­mon sense can tell, it couldn’t. First off, the rat was too big for the bread bowl to go un­no­ticed as it was pre­pared and served. To bor­row a line we might wish to for­get: if the ro­dent doesn’t fit, you must ac­quit.

We have been sus­cep­ti­ble to mem­o­rable hoaxes, doc­tored pho­tos and ma­nip­u­lated videos over the decades. We will believe, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause of in­suf­fi­cient me­dia lit­er­acy (al­though that helps) but be­cause of con­fir­ma­tion bias (it aligns with our be­liefs, in this case that res­tau­rants might be a bit sketchy with hy­giene) and the so­ci­o­log­i­cal strength of the wis­dom of the crowd.

The com­pound­ing headache to­day is the anonymity with which peo­ple can launch mis­chief and malev­o­lence. The dam­age aris­ing from the de­cline of per­sonal ac­count­abil­ity, par­tic­u­larly on so­cial plat­forms, is only deep­en­ing. It doesn’t help that many me­dia long since for­feited the dis­ci­pline of ver­i­fi­ca­tion; the race to be first is not al­ways the race to be best.

Wear­ing my me­dia hat, think­ing of what it would be like to wear the restau­ra­teur’s hat, I’m not sure it was wis­est to at first apol­o­gize, even if that was the po­lite Cana­dian thing to do. Bet­ter to stand your ground and take on the out­rage in the heat of the mo­ment rather than take it on the chin and jeop­ar­dize your liveli­hood.

Yes, re­spon­si­ble me­dia rea­son­ably car­ried the restau­rant’s even­tual ex­pla­na­tion of its pro­cesses and prac­tices – and the vastly more be­liev­able con­clu­sion that we’d been had. But I didn’t no­tice a pro­por­tion­ate an­ti­dote to the ini­tial in­dig­na­tion on so­cial.

I wan­dered by the Chow­dery last week and busi­ness was bustling. The owner, in aw­fully good spir­its con­sid­er­ing he could have lost it all, in­vites ev­ery­one to pretty much sit in the kitchen and scru­ti­nize the food prep. (Ap­pre­ci­ate it, but no thanks.)

Seems he has the cred­i­bil­ity to be be­lieved and sup­ported. In the odd­est pos­si­ble way, the worst pos­si­ble pub­lic­ity might have been good for busi­ness.

Kirk LaPointe is the ed­i­tor-inchief of Busi­ness in Van­cou­ver and vice-pres­i­dent of Glacier Me­dia.

First off, the rat was too big for the bread bowl to go un­no­ticed as it was pre­pared and served. To bor­row a line we might wish to for­get: if the ro­dent doesn’t fit, you must ac­quit.

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