Book Bants: The Language of Food

Book Bants is a series on my blog of short book reviews and the positive impact of literature.

There are many things I like to mention every five minutes: I’m Argentinian, I’m bisexual, I have OCD and I’m hungry. These are the four pillars of my identity. Okay, not really, but that last one is really important. I’ve learned in life that there are people who view food as sustenance (the “we have food at home” folk) and people who view food as an Experience (the children in the backseat chanting McDonald’s). However, aside from a brief baking phase, I was never the type to step in the kitchen. I picked up The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky on a whim at a secondhand store. Lingustics and nonfiction are my love languages, but I wasn’t sure if a book about food would appeal to me. Maybe it would be too technical or the topic would get stale. Thankfully, Jurafsky’s book is an enlightening reminder of why our relationship with food is connected to some of the very things that make us human.
Lingustics books are always a wildcard, because language often dips its hands into history, anthropology, science, economics, and pop culture. Within the first few chapters of Jurafsky’s book, food is a bridge to discuss everything from class distinctions in marketing to the effects of imperialism on your favorite dishes. Everything is weaved together by Jurafsky’s vignettes of the food scene in San Francisco, where he resides. I’m reminded of my many food memories made in Miami, where you can find arepas being sold 0.5 miles down the street from baklava.
As he closes out the book, he reveals that he met his wife at a breakfast-for-dinner themed cooking party. He discusses the booming popularity of the communal cooking scene in San Sebastian, Spain. I picture my dad, uncle, and his friends outside cooking asado. I think of the communal holidays dinners that, in the words of Sidney W. Mintz, “often preserve what the everyday loses.” And as Gainesville weather falls below 60, 4 days before Christmas Eve, I find myself emotional over a book that spends a solid chunk of text discussing how potato chips are marketed.

Cool extra fun fact: This book was a finalist for the James Beard Award! That’s apparently a Big Deal in the culinary world. Additionally, it was recommended reading for a friend that studied at the Culinary Institute of America. I guess what I’m saying is, kill two birds with one stone by reading this book and impressing the linguists and chefs in your life.