This took place a few years ago, but continues to plague me in an odd, unresolvable way…
The scene: I’m in the disabled washroom at a live performance space called the Theatre Centre because my herniated discs occasionally make it incredibly painful to go up and down the stairs to the regular washrooms and the elevator must be run by a staff member. The disabled washroom is accessed through a storage area off the lobby and the door has one of those open slatted sections on the lower half, either for ventilation or communication in emergencies or both.
While I’m in there I hear people enter the storage room. It sounds like they’re gathering some extra chairs. There are two female voices and what sounds like an older man. There was an older man working the door as a volunteer when I came in so I assume it’s the same guy.
Fresh. Delicious. Perfectly cooked (oh, how I hate that one). The way we talk about food, especially how it’s described on menus, plays a huge role in how much we’re going to end up paying for those same dishes.
Dan Jurafsky’s amusing and informative book The Language of Food looked at thousands of menus from all types of restaurants. Fancy restaurants with “five-dollar” words on the menu charge more money for their dishes, But beware any place telling you the food is fresh, real (as in maple syrup), or crispy – because don’t you already assume that the food in restaurants is fresh and real? As Willy Shakes said, “I think thou doth protest too much.”
Menus aren’t the only thing Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University discusses in his book. He spends a lot of time looking at the origin of food words and how they morphed as food culture was carried with explorers to new countries. Ice cream, for instance, started as flavoured syrups used in drinks in the Middle East and Persia. Then the Chinese discovered that salt-peter used in gun powder made ice really, really cold and that process also moved east where it was used on those syrups to make the frozen treat sherbet. It didn’t take long for someone to start flavouring milk and cream and using the same process, and voila – ice cream.