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Danika and Joyce, employees of The Riv, a chip stand in Sturgeon Falls, ON (Ian Brown)
Danika and Joyce, employees of The Riv, a chip stand in Sturgeon Falls, ON (Ian Brown)

Sturgeon Falls, Ontario

A food fight to the bitter end Add to ...

The Butcher's Daughter doesn't speak to the Farmer's Daughter. For three years they've spent every day in one another's faces, but neither knows what the other looks like.

The Butcher's Daughter is a fine food store and restaurant on the south side of Highway 60, in Huntsville.

The Farmer's Daughter is across the street.

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Food rivalries have gripped eating life since food was first sold. Pillsbury's Dough Boy and his cousin the Jolly Green Giant were such a thorn in the side of the General Mills Corporation that General Mills eventually bought Pillsbury outright. McDonald's vs. Burger King, IHOP vs. Bob Evans, the cheese steak skirmishes in Philadelphia, the hot dog wars in downtown Detroit, the wing war in Buffalo pitting the Anchor Bar against Duff's: these are indigestive legends to anyone with an appetite. And they have nothing on the endless food cart wars in Singapore, where--to cite just one example--the four Koh siblings battle each other for domination of the chicken-rice universe.

But those are fights in heavily populated cities. When the population thins out and the towns get tiny, the way they do across northern Ontario, the fights are to the bitter end.

The Butcher/Farmer fracas is merely the opening fight on the card. (And the tip of the iceberg in the pre-cooked, take-away fine dining experience, the hottest commercial food trend in the country at the moment.) Huntsville is home to another food rivalry, between Randy's Tall Trees Restaurant (where the chef concentrates on food) and Three Guys and a Stove (where the chef has perfected his marketing). There are the raging pizza wars in Sault St. Marie, currently dominated by Aurora's West End (the Soo claims to have more pizzerias per capita than any other place in Canada, as well as the best pizza--I have to say sorry, the Soo is so wrong--with a thicker crust and sweeter tomato sauce); and of course the ancient and ongoing smackdown between the Finnish pancakes at The Hoito and the (identical) Swedish pancakes at the Scandanavian Home Restaurant, across the street from one another in Thunder Bay.

But of the most ferocious head-to-head restaurant rivalry in Ontario, this can be said: the pogo at Larry's is truly awesome.

Larry's and the Riv are the most famous pair of French fry stands in Canada.

They stare defiantly across the street at one another in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, and have done for 25 years. You can smell their boiling oil a quarter of a mile away on the Trans-Canada highway. There are three other chip stands in the neighbourhood, but no one travels from Sudbury to eat their goop.

(Of course you might think this is insane, to have two stands selling the same product right next to one another in a tiny town. But studies of "side-by-side competition" are almost as common as academic explanations as to why fast food exists in the first place. The theory in a nutshell is that people don't make rational choices. Experiment after experiment demonstrates that people shopping for food, given an array of choices, inspect 1.2 items. They make a decision within 12 seconds. If two items costs less than $7, they like the one with the price that ends in an odd number. And so on. In other words, fried-oil lust, all other considerations being equal, is a low-brain thing. So if you are going to sell food in an assembly-line culture, where eating is often as industrialized as food production, you want to have all your customers in the same corral. But I digress.)

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