Maybe we all have eaten too much good food and simply need other words to describe it. Perhaps we want to sound sophisticated and continental, or maybe the usage just slipped in and spread like an invasive weed. However this started, we all need to stop this nasty habit of calling our food “nice”.
Food is not nice. Your brother-in-law might be nice. Your friend’s parents might be nice. Most Grandmothers are nice. A day with no clouds, a slight breeze, and temperatures between 65 and 75 Fahrenheit is nice. When you shower, fix your hair, and put on a button-up shirt or a cocktail dress you might look nice. But food is never nice.
I blame the English for mislabeling food as nice, and I assume the parlance comes from their recent period of gastronomic deficiency, when so many polite and proper English people were served barely palatable food, and out of decorum said things like:
“Sebastion. you’ve outdone yourself. This soup is quite nice.”
“Charlotte, you brought such a nice casserole to our luncheon.”
“How’s the roast love?”
“Nice. Very nice, dear. Can you pass the gravy?”
Unfortunately, this terrible qualification of food carried on, even after British food rose from its slump. Even worse, labeling food as nice has spread beyond the United Kingdom, and as much as we love Jamie Oliver, we should request that the networks censor him every time he gets on syndicated television talking about how “n***” some fresh strawberries or homemade pasta tastes.
Here’s the real problem: when a person describes a food item as “nice”, this person says absolutely nothing about the food. Is the food edible? Palatable? Delicious? Hunger-eliminating? Outstanding? Pleasant to the eyes? Nice could mean anything, and therefore it means nothing.
One would never come out of a Oscar-worthy movie and say, “That movie was nice.” One would never see one of the world’s most breathtaking paintings and say it was “nice”. Beautiful buildings, songs, poems, and photographs are never called nice. But far too many people will eat beautiful plates of food, food prepared with the same care and love as these songs, films, and paintings, and have the nerve to call the food “nice”.
It may sound like I am nit-picking, but the words we use to describe our food are important. These words shape how we think, and how we think about food effects how we produce and consume it.
“Nice, Clean, and Fair” doesn’t have the same ring, does it?
“Good” is a much better word, and “good” is the perfect place to start when weaning ourselves off “nice”. But we can’t throw “good” around and water-down its true meaning. English speakers must look to Italians, who only call something good, or buono, when that something really is good. Good is a serious thing, and the word still means something.
Recently, I was eating pasta and clams with three Italians. I was hungry, and I was enjoying the pasta quite a lot, and I said: “This is good.” They all stopped eating and looked at me. The man who prepared the pasta put down his fork and said, “No, this isn’t good. The pasta isn’t cooked well. It sat for too long in the pan, and now it is mushy.” Then we all went back to eating.
In Italian, for a dish to be “good”, it must taste good, be appropriate for the season and occasion, and the food must be executed properly. English speakers should adopt the same criteria, and once the word “good” really has value, describing exceptional food will be easy.
If “good” still sounds too boring or generic, our language offers plenty of alternatives. Delicious. Prepared perfectly. Tastes exactly how it should. Satisfying. A revelation. A party-in-my-mouth. Wonderful. Sexy. All these words and phrases that food-writers try to avoid work perfectly well in real-life. Use them, please. Use them in strange combination, add curse words, or raise your voice for emphasis if you have to. Just don’t call your food nice.
Previously published here.