Maybe it was the lack of coffee, maybe it's because I skipped yoga this morning, but when I opened an email titled "St. Pete: Not a good city for food lovers" I got, understandably I think, a little angry. It's not just because I'm the food editor at Creative Loafing, or a generally agitated native. Really it's because I am tired of the numerically skewed "stories" that constantly come through my inbox, trying to prove that where I live is a shitty place on numerous fronts. I've never and will never believe that lazy, ignorant, closed-minded hype. I'm not built that way and I certainly wasn't raised that way.
"If you consider yourself a die-hard foodie, these cities will leave a bad taste in your mouth," the article declared, enticing my bitter soul.
Movoto, a real estate website, is responsible for the story that ranked St. Petersburg as a top 10 terrible food city. The "research" included the following criteria: restaurants, bakeries, food trucks, ice cream shops (how ironic that we just posted this today), candy shops, food and wine festivals, caterers, and gourmet grocery stores, all per capita. St. Petersburg ranked number seven.
"This post is about those cities where food is definitely an afterthought — the country's dead zones of cuisine, where it's tough to be a foodie," author Randy Nelson wrote.
I guess when you live in San Francisco like Randy does, it's hard to imagine how us small-town foodies survive?
Scrolling through the gallery of images used to prove just how terrible these 10 American cities are for food — alongside several dreary images of "dead-zone" chain restaurants in small towns across Texas, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Vermont — was my city, St. Petersburg.
And the photo used? The photo Movoto picked to illustrate what a travesty this town is for food? An image of none other than Mazzaro's decadent deli case. It's arguably the epicenter of St. Petersburg's foodie culture, six days a week, folks crowding in for fresh bread, coffee, cakes and sandwiches. Certainly, as a food writer in a town notorious for housing plenty of "original" chain locations (Outback, Bonefish Grill), they could've chosen a better image to prove their point. I'll move on to more pressing issues, but the caption must be noted because it too illustrates how little was put into this fine piece of "journalism."
"You're all set for deli food in St. Petersburg. Fine dining, though, isn't as convenient."
Our food critic Jon Palmer Claridge responded with similar fervor to the email with these comments.
"Seems like they're talking only St. Pete city limits and per capita numbers. So no Maritana Grille or William Dean Chocolates or any of the ethnic places in Pinellas Park? It distorts all the options available within a short drive. What about the farmer's market with quail eggs and local goat cheese? We don't have as many caterers per capita because everyone is grilling fish 12 months a year! We are not rural Texas."
Indeed, we aren't rural Texas. And for the record, I know that rural Texas has some damn good eats.
Along with their "research," Movoto went into detail about the top 10, showing just how little they know about a place they know so little about. According to them, we have the fewest bakeries. I'm writing from my office in Ybor City, which just happens to be home to a longstanding (practically ancient) lineage of Cuban bakeries. Not to mention Cafe de Paris and Mazzaro's. But that's not the point here, is it?
Making fun of Florida and St. Petersburg is a long-held tradition of SEO-hungry Internet writers, eager to get those clicks (and here I am helping them, just like they planned). We're such an easy target, even my former homegirl (yes, I said former) Lena Dunham had to jump on the bandwagon of Sunshine State hate.
All this article does is hurt places that could use a little less hurt these days. Did anyone really need to know that Detroit has the fewest amount of food and wine festivals per capita? Did anyone assume otherwise after the city filed for bankruptcy?
But Nelson, who also authored such riveting articles like What Buying A House Looks Like in Animated GIFs, and operates under the Twitter handle @DangerPenguin (in case you're interested), was just doing his job, right? That's the sickest and saddest part (and all of those other emotions associated with furrowed brows, heavy breathing, and increased heart rate). Because Internet hate breeds Internet traffic, like a fucking wildfire.
I hesitated in writing this because, really, what else did Movoto expect when they sent the link directly to us? I spend my days, nights, weekends and wee hours writing about all of the bad ass chefs, bartenders, brewers, bakers, food truckers, and farmers in the town. There's so much of it, I still only skim the top of the fucking iceberg every single week. And that's alongside several other Tampa Bay writers at various publications who are trying to do the same thing.
San Bernandino, Calif., — a city that just discovered they're also eligible for bankruptcy — topped Randy's list. I assume they probably don't have time for food and wine festivals either right now. But maybe they do. And I bet the people there love whatever unique culinary attributes their city has to offer.
But here in St. Petersburg, us tough foodies are doing just fine without you, Randy. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to head home to St. Petersburg for lunch. I'm going to take the $10 in my wallet, and go to Mazzaro's and order muffaletta sandwich on fresh baked bread. And Randy? I'm going to wash it all down with a locally-brewed Cigar City Jai Alai. It's a tough life, being a St. Petersburg foodie.