Friday, June 27, 2014

Recipe Weekend / Book Review: The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky

Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this ebook, free of charge, from the author, for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it



The Language of Food cover

Synopsis:

Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner?
What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist. Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like "rich" and "crispy," zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.

 The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky's insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world. From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange-a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors-lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers. Engaging and informed, Jurafsky's unique study illuminates an extraordinary network of language, history, and food. The menu is yours to enjoy.

 Review:

This was a really interesting book to read! I had to laugh at the beginning when Dan said it all started when his young niece asked why the bottle says 'tomato ketchup', when ketchup is ONLY made with tomatoes. I've often wondered that myself, as it's not like the mustard bottle says Mustard Seed Mustard Sauce, or the mayo bottle says whipped egg mayonnaise! Dan's answer was a historical look at where ketchup came from (China) and how it was originally made from fish sauce. It was changed to a sweeter version, made from tomatoes, for European tastes, and hence the tomato insertion. AHA, now you know!

That thought got him pondering other ideas like wording on menus.His group actually did a research study and yes, you really CAN determine how costly a menu item is going to be, based on the formula they discovered. But at heart it is common sense- a 'beefy hamburger' is going to cost less than a 'organically feed free range Angus beef burger'- the more space the title takes up, the more $ there will be! I was reading a ficiton novel at the same time as this book, and I had to laugh through this chapter, as in the fiction book they noted that they were calling 'horse meat' in Britain 'cheval', as a way to convince the consumer that it wasn't a pet, but something 'fancy and wonderful' (yes, I know, ewwwww, but it is what it is around the world). But the point was the same-blind the consumer to the reality of what is being sold! I promise you will NEVER look at menus the same way after reading this book! In fact, we went to a mid-range restaurant after reading this book and I found myself using the formula and determining where we got the best deal!

 The Language of Food  sample

While sampling menus from around the country, the thought came about how we say the words for food differently around the country! As a Southerner who has lived on the West Coast and up North, I found this section totally fascinating! He even had maps, like this one about how we say PECAN differently! Pretty interesting stuff!



I couldn't resist sharing a quick recipe that was included in the book, for ye old fashioned Pecan Pie! 


It's a good reminder that many of our traditional 'holiday' recipes are really based on some of the original recipes from when the holidays began, and are NOT modern inventions!

This is a fun book, and I urge anyone with a love of food and of language to check it out,
it is quite illuminating!



About the Author:
Dan Jurafsky is the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius Grant" and a professor of linguistics at Stanford University. He and his wife live in San Francisco.

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