Nothing prepares you for that initial scathing letter to the editor. My first round of hate mail - generated from a piece on the NECI-run cafeteria at Montpelier's Vermont College/Union Institute - drove me to the Internet in search of solace. More specifically, to the eGullet forum. With a post titled "Critics need love, too," I queried "food journalists of all varieties": "How do you deal with your hate mail? Do you post it on your dartboard? Correct your critic's spelling? Forward it to your friends so they can console you? Make me laugh . . . I need it!" Just a few minutes later, a person who identified herself as Mimi Sheraton - the former New York Times food critic - responded, "To tell the truth, some of us thrive on hate mail . . . It means we have hit the mark." She offered a second serving of wisdom: "Re: Title of this thread. The need for love is a fatal flaw in a critic in any field, not only food." Now we know.