Marijuana: William Breathes outed as late New York Times restaurant critic?
By 9 a.m. today I had received at least three e-mails asking how I felt about my "real identity" as Craig Claiborne being outed in a New York Times opinion piece today by Frank Bruni. Last I checked, though, I'm not a long-dead Times food critic. Or am I? Nudge nudge, wink wink.
The confusion stemmed from this quirkily worded paragraph from Bruni's piece, "Colorado's Marijuana Muddle" It reads: "Certainly, there will be a bigger workload for Denver's Craig Claiborne of cannabis, who began reviewing Colorado's medical marijuana dispensaries for the alternative newspaper Westword in 2009. Last month, the critic, who writes under the pseudonym William Breathes, added a weekly advice column called 'Ask a Stoner.'"
Even I had to take pause and Google Claiborne, and I'm not alone: Out of eight reporters our newsroom this morning, six were in the same boat.
Not knowing who Claiborne was is probably the first sign that I'm not him. But then again, if I was Claiborne, I would be 91 years old if I hadn't died in the year 2000 -- which he did. And plenty of 91-year-olds have no clue who they are.
Anyway, it turns out that Claiborne is known as one of the most important food critics in American journalism. He's credited with changing the newspaper food column from a toss-away intended only for housewives to what it is today: a snapshot not only of the food, but of the atmosphere and culture restaurants bring to their cities. He was a major advocate for ethnic and regional foods like Mexican fare and true, Deep South soul food.
In comparison, I'm not that important in the world of cannabis; I would say people like Jack Herer and Ed Rosenthal take that distinction. But I am the first medical marijuana dispensary critic to be hired by a newspaper in this country -- or any other as far as we can tell. And while pot news before was limited to the occasional bust or arrest, our coverage currently includes everything from pot politics to paraphernalia reviews. I've also introduced readers to our own cannabis-related regional delights. Like Essential Extracts hash, the Colorado-bred genetics of Rare Dankness and New House Seeds, and fine glassware from Colorado glass galleries like Heady and Illluzions.
Okay, I'll admit that discovering an oil rig isn't as profound as discovering a love for fajitas -- but the two can be equally as euphoria-educing when done right.
Perhaps Claiborne's biggest accomplishment was in 1975, when he raked up a $4,000 bill at a French restaurant, consuming some 31 courses, including foi gras, lobster, caviar and buckets of vintage wines. Not only did he not eat just a few bites from each of the dishes (sounds like me when my stomach is acting up): Claiborne eventually wrote a mediocre review of the place. More notable was the amount of hate mail Claiborne received from a few humorless readers upset over the extravagance of the whole thing.
Meanwhile, the most controversial thing I've written is "Ask a Stoner" -- and I'm not racking up $4,000 bills of OG Kush, shatter oil and cannabis cake. However, I do still manage to get a few comments from humorless readers.
And that's about where the (very thin) connections end. Most importantly: Claiborne was paid to eat and I can barely muster an appetite on some days thanks to a Crohn's disease-like stomach condition.
Even so: Is it possible Claiborne didn't die a dozen years ago? Maybe his/my dream was to eventually fake his/my own death so that he could write not about food in the nation's most bustling city but about his secret passion: cannabis in Colorado.
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