Review – The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky

language-of-foodThe Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu
by Dan Jurafsky
W. W. Norton & Company, 2014

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.

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Lucky Dip – Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

There’s a fungus among us. That black gunk in the bottom of your dishwasher, the result of bits of food and less harsh, environmentally-friendly detergents, could make you sick. [Toronto Star]

You know that list that came out recently about the foods with the most pesticides? That list is based on the pesticide residue that reaches consumers; some of the “best” produce in terms of amount of pesticide that reaches the consumers are the very worst items in terms of pesticide exposure for farm workers. [Grist]

Free bread at restaurants – a nice, hospitable gesture or an environmental disaster? [Globe and Mail]

Is your server on auto-pilot? [Inside Scoop SF]

Farm up, not out. But someone’s gotta go first and actually do it. [The Grid]

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