Words to Eat by

Words to Eat by

Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language

Book - 2011
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English food words tell a remarkable story about the evolution of our language and culinary history, revealing a collision of cultures from the time Caesar first arrived on British shores to the present day. Words to Eat By explores the stories behind five of our most basic food words, words which reveal our powerful associations with certain foods. Using sources that range from Roman histories to Julia Child's recipes, Ina Lipkowitz shows how saturated with French and Italian names the English culinary vocabulary is. But the words for our most basic foodstuffs--bread, milk, leek, meat, and apple--are still rooted in Old English. Words to Eat By will make readers reconsider the foods they eat and the words they use to describe them. Brimming with information, this book offers an analysis of our culinary and linguistic heritage that is as accessible as it is enlightening.

Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, 2011.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780312662189
Characteristics: 291 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.


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Mar 26, 2015

Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language --- by Ina Lipkowitz. Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language, or as it might otherwise have been titled, why its ok to eat pork but not pig, beef but not cow and why English (and German) cooking is deemed to leave much to be desired while the French are the practitioners of haute cuisine. The apple, the leek, milk, meat and bread (an odd assortment of foods in this lineup) are subject to scrutiny. There passes through the heart of Europe a kind of east-west fault line with civilized Roman heritage to the south and the unrefined barbarian heritage of the Celts, the Germans and the English. Lipkowitz ties all of this together and connects it convincingly with the English language. It’s an interesting book dealing with interesting subject matter even though the author sometimes becomes a tad repetitive. The accompanying notes are extensive; there is a wealth of bibliographic references. For good measure, the author even includes a sampling of relevant recipes, in two languages, modern language as well as Middle English no less. A good book to snack on.

ksoles Aug 13, 2011

Sweet, sour, salty, bitter and...linguistic? According to Ina Lipkowitz, English teacher at M.I.T. and author of "Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language," the name of a food adds to or takes away from its appeal even more than does its taste. Two rules govern this theory: first, avoid referring to meat by its living name (we eat pork, not pig) and, second, any dish sounds more appetizing in French or Italian than it does in English.

Lipkowitz maintains that the attitude behind the second axiom arose from cultural disparities between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. The former boasts both an ideal climate for growing grapes, olives and vegetables and a population dedicated enough to turn such raw materials into wine and oil. The agriculture-loving ancient Romans could not fathom how northern peoples survived solely on meat and milk. Such a bias has endured as most still consider British food appalling. "Words to Eat By" aims to refute this "relentless denigration of English and American food" by examining the history and linguistic development of fruit and apples, leeks, milk, bread and meat.

This illuminating journey explains to the reader how the Brazilian "anana" became "pineapple;" when French shallots and chives usurped Britain's beloved leek; why Mediterranean adults do not drink milk but northerners do; and what separated the meat eaters who "sacrificed and dined" from those who "killed and ate."

To conclude her vivacious book, the author insists that she has not meant to "dethrone French or Italian food." And she doesn't. While extolling the glories of the Mediterranean diet, Lipkowitz cheerfully notes that the trend towards it may be slowly reversing. As author Bill Buford quips, "It's finally cool to be a carnivore."


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