Folium: How a Linguist Reads a Menu via Vox
A few years ago, I went out to dinner to celebrate the birthday of a friend. Someone ordered a round of champagne to toast the milestone. The birthday girl refused to join in. “I prefer not to drink my calories,” she told the group of well-wishers. Needless to say, it put a bit of a damper on the start of the evening. But, while she ate her salad with dressing on the side (which she didn’t touch), the rest of us made up for it by enjoying delicious entrees and dessert.
Yes, there are those who make a science out of eating. They know exactly how many calories each mouthful has; how long it will take to burn it off on the treadmill; how it will metabolize in their systems. But, it is simply consumption – a means to fuel their bodies.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t eat healthy. Realistically though, food for most people is about much more than just sustenance. Unless you live in a third-world country where every mouthful is about survival to the next available meal, food – its taste, smell and texture – is tradition, comfort, home and even love.
This Vox article is about the history and global evolution behind of some of the foods we love and have grown up with. Ketchup, for example, started out as an Asian fish sauce. I don’t know about anyone else, but ketchup is a staple in my home. What’s more fun than dunking whatever morsel you have on hand into the tasty red stuff.
“The word ketchup came from Chinese,” Jurafksy says. It’s a mixture of the word “tchup,” which means “sauce” in certain Chinese dialects, and “ke,” which refers to preserved fish. And there’s a reason for that. Ketchup began as fish sauce. – Vox
Think about the foods you love – that you grew up with. What roots do they have? You’d probably be surprised by how culturally diverse your favs really are.
The article sums up people’s food perception/obsession with this interesting insight: “There’s little that’s more fundamental to the human experience than eating. It’s not just how we generate the energy to live; it’s how we build our communities, welcome our friends, spend time with our families, define our nationalities, connect to our past, end our feuds, court our partners, and celebrate our triumphs.”
My mother’s large family often had to scrimp and improvise during the depression years. Hotdogs (handmade at home from whatever was leftover from the animal butchered earlier in the week) and beans with onions and ketchup was a hearty meal on a cold and snowy night. You’d think that after having to eat it so many times as a kid, she’d get sick of it. Not a chance. It was a regular on our dinner table – along with mashed potatoes and crusty homemade bread slathered with real butter. My mom was a simple cook. She didn’t venture often outside her comfort zone. I on the other hand, am very adventurous with food. We try a new recipe every week. But, I still occasionally make hotdogs and beans for my kids – albeit from Ball Park Franks, Bush’s baked beans and a splash of Heinz. Every time I make it, it warmly reminds me of cozy dinners around the family table with my sisters (the youngest one covertly feeding her dogs to the dog). When we go camping, my own kids expect a steaming bowl of hot dogs and beans around the fire – oh, and pass the ketchup, please.