The Canadian Food Experience Project: A resolution to do better than the best

Posted Jan 13th, 2014 in Eating Niagara

The Canadian Food Experience Project: A resolution to do better than the best

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It ain't nothing but a four-letter word.

And it's one that I hope to see much less of in food writing this year. Really, we can all do better than saying something is the best, can't we?

I avoid describing anything I eat or drink as the best with the same fervor that I steer clear of celery on a vegetable platter. It's for the simple reason that it has no substance and it's harmful. (Don't believe me about celery being harmful? If you were stuck on a desert island and all you had to eat were those pale green stalks, you'd die).

Every time I see a tweet with best to describe a food product or meal that isn't homemade, I lose interest in what that person has to say. Their credibility becomes dubious. And I see it a lot, particularly from foodies and food writers. Magazines, newspapers and websites boasting lists of the best places to eat, best taco, best burger, best selection of kale — whatever — don't do much for me, either. Such lists really are, at best, click bait and an attempt to drum up sales. At worst, I fear they're an insult to those who happen to find themselves on them and those who don't.

Please don't mistake this for the rantings of a negative nelly. But the free and indescriminate use of best became too much for me recently when I saw a food industry tweep tweet about how a local Italian restaurant (which can't even turn out a decent eggplant parm) makes the best fish and chips. I don't believe it for a second, though I have no doubt there's a chance they could be good. Still, nothing about that tweet makes me even want to give those fish and chips a shot, just in case the tweeter was trying to give that business a boost with what were undoubtedly meant to be kind, though hollow, words. When it comes to food writing, 'best' lacks creativity and originality, and when the urge to use it strikes, the remedy may be reaching for a thesaurus to find something more descriptive — and fair and accurate — instead. Tacking 'best' onto something that's really notable smacks of laziness. I'd rather read overwrought purple prose any day than trite composition about how the pie someone just devoured was the best ever. That tells me nothing. When it comes to proseletyzing about that pig's head taco on Twitter, I know that 140 characters can seem limiting, but here are some better, more honest, authentic alternatives to try: favourite, surprising, swoon-worthy. Heck, even yummy and delicious say more than best does. And if you're really at a loss for words, one of the best is still better.

Calling anything the best in a tweet or longer review just isn't fair, particularly to the people who devote their livelihoods to doing the same thing the writer is raving about. Take the family with the fish and chips shop in the strip mall down the street from me. Six days a week, eight hours a day, they hand-batter and deep-fry hefty filets and make homecut fries. It is their specialty and they are masters at it. But by calling that other restaurant's fish and chips the best, their efforts have just been diminished. Belittled, even.

That's why my neighbourhood bastion of deep-fried goodness will only ever be my one of my favourite place to get fish and chips, despite being really, really good. I'll never say it's the best because I know there are others slaving away over a deep fryer, taking great pride in what they do, believing they're turning out the best two-piece dinners. And besides, I'm a vegetarian, who has had an on-again, off-again (mostly off) relationship with fish, so what kind of authority do I have to deem one shop the best anyway?

By calling something the best, there's the assertion that you are an expert. Experts make me leery and weary. Did that fish and chips tweeter eat all other versions of the greasy goodness to be able to compare and make the assertion that the sub-par Italian joint's is the best? No? Then how am I to take their claim? At best, it's superficial and entirely subjective. At worst, it's simply dishonest.

There are exceptions, of course. If using it to describe something homemade, then have at 'er. You know when you've just sunk your teeth into the best chocolate chip cookies you've ever baked. No one knows when you've reached a new personal culinary pinnacle better than you do. And it's cool to brag that they're your best yet. Everyone should be proud when they kick butt in the kitchen.

I'll also never cringe if anyone tells me that tofu marsala is the best they've had in a long time/eons/since the last time they ate it. That gives me some context for the pronouncement and still leaves room for the possibility that though mind-blowing, there still may be better marsala in the world. That you're willing to find out. Otherwise, by saying that marsala is the best, you may as well never eat the stuff again. You clearly can't do better than what you've already done.   That makes best the antidote to curiosity and as food bloggers, we should always be open to discovering more, tasting another's interpretation of a delectable dish, learning, pushing on in our quests to experience and make food in all its glorious forms. So please, can we all make a pledge to stop using 'best' as a descriptor? I guarantee, it won't be the worst thing we've ever done. The Canadian Food Experience Project was started by Edmonton-based food blogger Valerie Lugonja, who has called on Canadian food bloggers to define the country's culinary identity by sharing their Canadian food experiences.

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