f*ck the list: why we love (and loathe) best-ofs

It’s the end of a year, which means the interwebs are chock-full with “best-of” lists: wine, beer, travel, pop culture moments, and <insert random hipster shit here>. Oh joy.

I get that there’s big love for these lists. They help us navigate through an avalanche of consumer options, especially when most of our product research begins with the tippety-tap of fingers on keyboard. A top-whatever guide helped my fella and I select our last car. We got (mostly) what we wanted, too.

In the consumables/experiences world, ‘best-of’ lists are acquiring an air of not-so-humble brags and mutual back-scratchings – I list your product, and you promote me as a reviewer/writer/whatever. It’s icky, but it happens.

With that in mind – and knowing how many freebies float around in the world of reviewing (whether it’s a car to drive for a week, accommodation at a resort, or a bottle of something to taste) – I find I’m becoming increasingly sceptical of ‘best-of’ lists. There are no groups of people roving the world, sampling/trying/testing/whatevering on their own dime. Well, there might be. But I doubt there are many because they’d go broke pretty quickly.

So I say fuck the lists. All of them. And I say this knowing full well that some of my friends write really good lists, fairly, with little if any bias. (we all have bias – it’s knowing how to disclose it that’s important)

Rather than ‘best-of’, let’s call the lists what they are: favourites. Teachers, coaches, and choir instructors all have them. It’s normal to have favourites – partly because they don’t remain static, but also because we have bias. If you have a sibling, your parents likely had a favourite – it changed, depending on who was better behaved or was the first to learn how to mix a rye and Coke just right.

Here are a few of my favourites from 2013, in no particular order. Just because.

Moment of Trust: sheep cull at Covert Farms.

Covert Farms 18

First, Gene’s trust in me to document a sheep cull on his family farm. Second, EAT Magazine’s trust in me to write something palatable about it. This led me to a few more interesting moments on the farm, and is evolving into a larger writing commitment that has yet to fully form. Mostly, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to be part of this world of good people. (FYI: the farm will be my hideout during the Zombie Apocalypse)

Example of Generosity With An Almost Stranger: Skype chat with Meg Maker. We have yet to meet in person, and when we do it will be epic (and I rarely use that word). I was faced with a challenge, and Meg offered her time and experience to help guide me through it. She’s a brilliant writer and a kind person.

40th Birthday Present I Didn’t Ask For: tickets to see KISS with Allison Markin.

KISS

The KISS army is real – and very dedicated. This guy (centre) worked super hard all concert, giving huge air-fist-pumps like nobody’s business.

So much happened this year – in my little corner and around the world. We grieved for the loss of Nelson Mandela, witnessed a factory collapse and kill thousands in Bangladesh, and we discussed ad nauseam the birth of a royal baby. Spectacular feats and pop culture spectacles replay at different intervals with no apparent logic. 

You know what? I say fuck my list, too. It has no meaning for anyone but me and I know that; maybe it’s of interest to a few of the friends I’ve mentioned here. But ultimately, my best-of/favourites is a list of things that are central to me. It’s not an objective thing at all, and I get ticked off when people writing a list pretend it is.

The lists are inescapable, and many are entertaining – but enter the best-of melee with caution. It’s crazy out there.

~ Jeannette

PS: the idea for this came during an evening of indulging with Wendy and Jay of Bella Wines – and while we didn’t consume any of their bubbles that night, they are delicious and should probably be on a list somewhere (see Wendy – i wasn’t that drunk and did write about this after all)

the rise of farm dinners

For many, the bulk of our food shopping is done in fluorescent-lit grocery store aisles with a weekly foray to the coveted local farmers market – if we’re lucky. We live anywhere from 4 to 8 process steps away from that vegetable in the ground or fruit on the tree. (don’t get me started on meat – read my thoughts about it here)

There are fewer chances to interact with food in the way we’re meant to – how we’ve been doing so for generations, until the last century. Not everyone can reside close to where our food comes from; and let’s face it, most of our food no longer comes from the farmer down the road.

With the growth of the Okanagan wine industry comes a rise in agri-food tourism. This is a good thing. It gives area farmers a chance to get their wares in front of folks who have substantial buying power – and therefore, consumer influence.

There are some folks doing it right. The Coverts are an Okanagan farm family going back several generations. Today, Gene and Shelly Covert operate the now organic farm and own Covert Family Estate winery. They get it: farmers markets, accessible and good food, mindful farming… you name it. They’re also helping change the face of wine, and I’ll bet they don’t even realize it. For consumer purposes, we’ve romanticized wine production – in the real world, farming isn’t all that pretty.

Gene’s just as likely to be out fixing irrigation as he is to be in the lab testing wine, and the last time I was at the farm Shelly was in a homeschooling session with their two boys. There’s paperwork and payroll, especially in the busy summer season when farm workers multiply exponentially, and their organic home delivery program doesn’t run itself.

So where does the winemaker dinner fit? Instead of adding to the facade perpetuated by so many, this is where the Covert family brings us in – all in – to their real world. (dressed up, yes – but farm glam, not city glam)

Weathered picnic tables line the patio, no linens required. Simple place settings reflect the afternoon sun and illuminate the dinner table. A fish is in the outdoor smoker, and a pig is roasting on the spit. Farm-fresh carrots and potatoes accompany the meal with no fanfare – just great taste.

We sit shoulder-to-shoulder and are served family-style on large sharing plates. Wine is poured, but not glorified. Guests are encouraged to sip and indulge at our own speed. The fish and pig are dressed table-side, right in front of us.

Dusk falls, and voices rise. We celebrate the miracle of pig fat – as a seasoning on vegetables or in the chewy goodness of ‘crackling’. We’re sated, and leave feeling like we’ve just enjoyed a lovely family meal. If Gene or Shelly were to ask any of us for help on the farm the next day, the answer would have been a resounding yes because that’s what family does.

As we invent new ways to remove ourselves from the mess of nature, it’s people like the Coverts who remind us why that might not be what we need. The farm dinner could be one solution to a problem we haven’t even begun to realize is staring us in the face, every day.

Pork fat is the answer – to almost any question. Here, our pig is adding juicy goodness to the roasted potatoes.
If I never see another white linen table cloth, I won’t be sad. The weathered grey of these picnic tables is beauty.
As pretty as it is, it’s not a prop – this old truck serves as a field guide for farm tours. It’s not afraid to get dirty.
The spring salmon goes from smoker to table side. No interruptions.
(l-r) Gene Covert, Derek Uhlemann, and Jeff Van Geest: the three people at the heart of feeding and watering us.
Roast pig, with potatoes and carrots (seasoned with salt, parsley, and pig drippings). Wine: Covert Farms 2007 Rosé (left), Tinhorn Creek 2011 Rosé (right). Did I say delicious? Delicious.
Two of the most badass chefs you’ll ever want to feed you.