Friday, May 30, 2014

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

From the Publisher:

Stanford University linguist and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky dives into the hidden history of food.

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?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow 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.

My Review:

I loved this book!!! First of all, I love words. I love etymology. I love food. I love knowing the origins of food and how foods have evolved over time. This book was totally my thing!

The subject matter was right up my alley so that kept me interested, but the quality of information was also very good! The chapters followed a format that seemed to continue throughout the book. The author introduced a food, it's country of origin, what it was, what changed about it, where it traveled to, and so on until voila! we have the common food that we know of today. Fascinating stuff. Each chapter also ends with a brief paragraph about what the evolution of language/ food teaches us with a real-life, and often moral, application. That was a nice touch.

I was very surprised by some of the things I learned such as ketchup didn't originally contain tomatoes and it's not as American as you might think. Fish and chips didn't originate with fish. I learned what salad, salsa, fleur de sel, and flour all have in common. Also, ice cream and fireworks have more in common than the 4th of July. You'll have to read to find out more!

I enjoyed seeing the way words are used in menus. Words give us clues as to the caliber of the restaurant and if you read a menu carefully, it will also clue you in to the price range of the food being served.

I highly recommend this book if you are a lover of etymology, and even more so, if you are a lover of food.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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