Authenticity is the value of the moment.
Much more than a buzzword, it shapes our attitudes and our ideals. It rolls off the tongue when we speak of everything from politicians to blue jeans.
Why would we let a little thing like hygiene get in the way of the pursuit of authentic dining experiences?
Studies like Dirty, Authentic…Delicious and Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: On How Hygiene and Authenticity Shape Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants have looked at diners’ Yelp reviews and correlated them to inspection data from local departments of public health. The findings consistently demonstrate that authenticity trumps cleanliness when consumers choose and evaluate their dining experiences.
Some diners even extoll the virtues of shaky sanitation.
When they see line cooks ankle-deep in bok choi trimmings and unrefrigerated ducks strung up by their necks they double down on the Yelp review, lavishly praising the unvarnished authenticity of the meal. In cities where health inspectors assign letter grades, it’s common to joke that ‘A’ is for ‘Americanized;’ a grade that’s only earned by restaurants that pay too much attention to superficial attributes and not enough to the food.
Let’s be clear, for a variety of reasons we are primarily talking about non-European ethnic restaurants.
First, these are the establishments that are most scrutinized for their bona fides by the self-styled urban adventurers who dominate online opinion and ratings sites. These are also the restaurants that are most challenged by differences in language and cultural norms, two significant obstacles to successful health inspections. And finally, the old clichés are borne out by statistics; immigrant-owned ethnic restaurants, especially small and family-run businesses, fare poorly in health inspections when compared with similar businesses owned by native-born restaurateurs.
Go ahead and try that grubby little hole-in-the-wall.
And don’t worry; authenticity doesn’t correlate to food poisoning. A look at food-borne diseases by the Centers for Disease Control found that the inspection grades of restaurants with verified food poisoning outbreaks were no lower than those without.