A Dinner Date
Reviewed by Laura Tokie
When I read a book, it’s as if I’m on a date. Some dates go well. We discover common ground, and the book and I stay together into the wee small hours of the morning. Other dates are like early scenes from a Hollywood romantic comedy, where the evening twists and turns and misunderstandings create distance.
Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language by Ina Lipkowitz made a great first impression. The book promised to explore our Jekyll and Hyde attitude about what is good to eat by examining the history of five types of food: fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, and bread. It would explore human history, church history, the Bible, linguistics and modern examples to make its case.
Based on all this, I said yes to the date. The introductory pages reinforced my decision. The author revealed herself as witty, a little self-depreciating, self-aware, knowledgeable about history, food, and the culture at large. Then we got into her thesis.
The premise is that the readers live in Anglo-Saxon American culture and find themselves in a dilemma. The readers enjoy certain foods at home, but deem them inferior to the dishes eaten in restaurants. The readers hide their real food identities, becoming closet barbarians who don a false, public sophistication out of shame and guilt. The culture’s use of language exposes this truth, the books suggests. Germanic and Celtic words still stand for things considered cozy and low, but Latin-based terms stand for the worldly and sophisticated dishes.
Lipkowitz claims that the current culture is shifting, and points to wild ingredients and piles of meat on restaurant menus, as well as folks drinking raw milk without tending cattle or elevating artisan forms of bread.
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