Must We Judge Everything?

This morning, I saw three well-meaning people create the most beautiful Christmas cookies I have ever seen. The icing looked like polished mirrors, the lattice work on the gingerbread would have made journeymen carpenters proud, and the whimsical expressions on elfin faces could almost bring a tear to your eye in their earnest, aim-to-please cuteness.

 And then the bakers trotted out their creations to a panel of three snarky jerks who proceeded to tell them everything that was wrong about their creations and what they would have done differently.

It seemed so misguided and unfair and all wrong to me.

Christmas cookies should be enjoyed and complimented and appreciated, not mercilessly evaluated and found coming up short. The Ace of Cakes can go hang. And that goes for Lorraine Pascale, too, who brutalized many a baked good in her tenure, all while smiling through impossibly white teeth.

Reviewing everything seems to be everyone’s job these days. And people are not shy about absolutely torching small businesses with a well-aimed remark on a website. Everyone is, literally, a critic. So much for studying Aristotle’s intelligible set of rules for criticism.

Cooking shows are the guiltiest of all. Nothing can be cooked without having three people tell you what you screwed up before kicking you off the set. And the power of social media and cable TV is such that people knock themselves out for weeks, accomplishing near-impossible feats of cooking skill and baking prowess for a chance to win a few bucks – or in the case of The Great British Baking Show – a simple cake plate that you could probably find at a dollar store.

My cookie creation – a neon blue cookie that said “ELVIS” was judged long-distance by my friend Lewis, who wrote: “Creativity, dedication, patience, precision all used to maximum effect. The cookie wants to scream Las Vegas Casino sign, and it clearly does!” That’s the way to judge!

It is difficult seeing the critical trend coming to an end anytime soon. The Big G – Gordon Ramsay himself  — shares a good deal of blame, with his kitchen histrionics and Drill Instructor style chewing out of contestants, for example the time he called a chef an “idiot sandwich.”

There is a general meanness afoot these days – in politics, cooking, and family dynamics that make kindness a kind of Capraesque quaintness from the distant past. Today, George Bailey himself would be on his own, holding the bag for the eight thousand dollars deficit, especially if he voted for the wrong person in the last election. The milk of human kindness stopped flowing a few years back. I don’t expect it to return anytime soon. All we can do is remember, and weep.

I have judged hot dogs and hot dog stands as part of my tenure as a hot dog diarist, but I have recently  had a Scrooge-like epiphany. It may very well be seasonal, but I recall some words about “judging not,” and I will try to keep those words in my heart and honor them through the year in all things.

So if you are visiting your family this Christmas, and somebody says while passing the turkey that Trump is still president, and that the Capitol insurrection was a “peaceful protest” and that Hillary Clinton and Tom Hanks are part of a Satan-worshiping cabal that kidnaps children, commits heinous sexual acts on them before devouring them, or that the ghost of John Kennedy, Jr. will appear in Dallas and make things good again, just let it go.

But if by chance you go to a local hot dog joint, and they pull a hot dog right out of tepid water and slap it on a bun without even making sure the bun does not get wet, and if they rewarm your hot dog bun in the microwave until its edges get hard, and if they forget the sport peppers and celery salt, then they can expect to be excoriated and upbraided and disowned forever.

After all, too much is too much.

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  • This is very well put. I suppose we must judge, but we certainly can do it more evenly and kindly. I prefer reviewers to critics or judges -- tell me what you liked just as much as what you didn't like.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Right. Fairness above all. If somebody does something nice for you, appreciate it.

  • Seems like you're judging with your political commentary. I will let that go as not to judge, although you apparently cannot.

  • Politics aside, a soggy bun I cannot forgive.

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