Josh Ozersky died

May 5, 2015 • 10:18 am

I was absolutely shocked to read in today’s New York Times that renowned food critic Josh Ozersky had died, and at the terribly young age of 47. Lately he was the food critic for Esquire, and the encomiums for Josh are pouring in from his fellow critics and foodies. Many disagreed with him, but all recognized that here was a delightful guy with a lust not just for food, but for life.

And it was in the latter capacity that I met him, for one of the things that excited Josh was evolution. Somehow he found this website and my email address, and he’d sporadically pepper me with questions about evolution. It was clear that he’d read a great deal about it, and his questions were endless, though they’d fall on me sporadically—about once a year, and about six questions a day for two days. One of his recurrent problems was how natural selection could possibly promote the evolution of two genes at the same time, for he was under the impression that before you could “fix” one gene, you’d have to fix the other. I explained to him how several advantageous alleles could sweep through a population at once, and even sent him a simulation demonstrating that, but I was never able to overcome his intuitive feeling that this couldn’t happen.

When I was visiting New York last October for the New Yorker Cat vs. Dog debate, I emailed Josh and asked him where I should eat. He offered to take me on a tour of Chinatown’s barbecue restaurants—an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up. We had a great time stuffing ourselves at a variety of places, and on this site I wrote a post about our tour: “A ‘light’ lunch with Josh Ozersky.” That was, of course, a facetious title: I don’t think the man knew the meaning of “light.” We had a great time and bonded as fellow foodies and atheistic Jews. At the end he indulged his scientific interests by taking me to “The Evolution Store” on Spring Street, which carried a variety of fossils, skeletons, and other natural-history stuff.

Yesterday I learned that Josh was in town for the James Beard awards, for he’d left the following message on his Facebook page (and, according to the Daily News, also on Twi**er), asking about places to eat:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 10.10.28 AM

I was about to email him saying, “Hey! Why didn’t you call me?”, when I realized the message was a day old and his eating schedule was probably already full. (I had to scroll WAY back on his Facebook page to find this post, for his page is now brimming with messages of love and admiration from his friends and colleagues.) So I missed him, and now I’ll miss him for good.

The Daily News also has a video of Josh singing karaoke just hours before he died. Nobody knows yet what killed him, but I suspect it was food, and that’s okay, except that he should have lived four more decades. At least he went quickly, and after a late and bibulous night on the town.

He and I didn’t believe in an afterlife, so I can’t say he’s in a better place, but I can say that he left this planet a better place.

Here’s his obituary from Eater:

Ozersky was a trailblazer in the early digital food-media scene. In 2003, Ozersky introduced the world to his alter ego “Mr. Cutlets” in his book Meat Me in Manhattan and his 2008 book The Hamburger: A History was well-received by outlets like the Economist, and catapulted Ozersky to the top of the food writing scene. Ozersky was well known in the food internet world, too. In 2006, Ozersky launched New York Magazine’s food blog Grub Street as founding editor, operating the site until 2008 and picking up a James Beard Award for his work along the way. He had several high profile posts following his GS tenure, including as a Time columnist and as an editor-at-large forEsquire. Ozersky celebrated chefs and restaurateurs in his web series Ozersky.TV, which launched in 2010. He also founded the growing event series Meatopia and was on board to co-author a cookbook with chef John Tesar.

While he wasn’t always universally agreed with — he had a pretty famous feud with Robert Sietsema over comps at his wedding and also a well-known beef with David Chang — Ozersky’s impact on the food writing world is hard to overstate. Here are some of Ozersky’s most beloved essays.

· The Hidden Virtues of Tweezer Food [ESQ]
· Jonathan Benno: Tattooless Chef in a Food Network World [Observer]
· Found: The Incredible Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere that Nobody Knows About [ESQ]
· Solitary Man [Saveur]

And here’s Josh sharing some gelato with me at Grom last October:

THREE gelatos for two hungry Jewish boys.

Farewell, brother.

22 thoughts on “Josh Ozersky died

  1. Yet the odious never seem to keel over, to considerable irritation.

    Not that I’m a vegetarian, as PCC can attest, it was said by a friend of Stieg Larsson (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, who died at about the same age), something like “If he ever ate a vegetable, I wasn’t aware of it.”

  2. At such a young age! Very shocking.

    I was also shocked at the death of Survey Monkey CEO (and husband of the Lean In author). They were the same age: 47.

    1. He fell off a treadmill on vacation and hit his head. Just awful. I had a rough year when I was 47 – my worst year ever (or should I say, so far) in several counts – but I guess I need to put that in perspective.

  3. The issue he had with the two alleles is interesting. I don’t think it may be immediately obvious how a sweep works. As an exponential process, the frequency of an advantageous allele in the population will be low until the last few e-foldings. Before one of them reaches that state, the two alleles aren’t likely to be present in an organism at the same time.

    This also illustrates why the notion that “evolution is slow” can be misleading: the population will not show significant change until around the time the allele reaches high frequency, and then it can change rapidly. The long incubation period before that is invisible.

    1. I was wondering about this too, and I was thinking that the Fisher-Muller hypothesis is involved in the assembly of favorable genotypes in sexual populations.

  4. I’ve heard that the prognosis for those who have heart attacks at that age is very poor since their collateral circulation hasn’t had a chance to develop.

  5. I remember the original post. One of my friends died last year at 47 from a heart attack. I was beyond shocked. I’m 46 and in good health (so says my dr.) but you never know. It’s not uncommon for “healthy” men in their 40’s to die of cardiac arrest.

    1. Or aneurisms.

      40s is the big reaping of aneurisms — must be the time that the young & tough & free curve, as it declines, crosses the old & over-extended & stressed-out curve as it ascends in middle age.

      1. I didn’t know that. Aneurysms…greeeaaat. Are they genetic? If so, none in my fam. that I know of.

  6. Here’s where religious people typically chime in with some absurd mental contortions justifying why a good God would let this happen with something such as, “God must’ve needed a food critic.”

    Instead, let’s thank science that men dying at 47 is somewhat shocking, rather than expected. It appears he lived life the right way. Given the choice, I think I’d rather eat like a king and die young than never enjoy food and drink and live to 100. Of course, doing both would be the ideal option.

  7. Wow, what a shock! Such a sadly premature loss. And I’m sorry you lost a friend, Jerry.

Leave a Reply