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NATIONAL CUISINES, IDEA OF

English speakers have borrowed freely from other languages for hundreds of years, taking the original spelling (if that language uses Roman letters) as well as an anglicized pronunciation. (This phenomenon is part of the reason for the irregular spelling of English.) Food names have been heavily borrowed along with the dish:

sauerkraut and strudel (German); soufflé, mousse, crêpes,

meringue, and fondue (French); spaghetti and other pasta names as well as pizza and spumoni (Italian); souvlaki

(Greek); goulash (Hungarian); tortilla (Spanish); paella

(Catalan); guacamole (Nahuatl, a native Mexican lan- guage); blini (Russian); cole slaw (Dutch); curry (Tamil, a language of South India); chutney (Hindi); shish kabob and

baklava (Turkish); couscous (Arabic); sushi and tempura

(Japanese); won ton (Chinese); succotash (Narragansett, a North American Indian language); and matzoh (Hebrew).

Marketing Strategies

In selling foods, whether in stores or restaurants, attrac- tive names are selected for the product or the dish. Of- ten foreign-language equivalents are used, sometimes along with the English equivalent. For example, spaghetti in tomato sauce might be labeled pasta in marinara sauce. In addition to the euphemisms for innards described above, the names of pet foods are especially interesting since the names are intended to appeal to the owners. One popular brand of cat food has names like “country- style dinner,” “mariner’s catch,” and “prime entree.” The ingredients listed in small print on the label do not sound so nice.

Zwicky and Zwicky (1980) in their investigation of menus in American restaurants show that names both in- form and advertise. Two examples they present are “En- trecôte au Poivre Madagascar–sirloin steak topped with green peppercorns, served with cream sauce and cognac” (Zwicky and Zwicky, p. 86) and “sautéed shrimp in gar- lic butter–the zesty garlic butter brings out the best in this epicurean treat from the sea” (Zwicky and Zwicky, p. 87). The first example describes and the second ad- vertises. Zwicky and Zwicky observe that French is used on menus frequently because of the traditional associa- tion of French with fine food. The restaurant need not be French, and the French is often ungrammatical or mixed with English. Therefore, one finds Cuisine de Hol-

land and Stuffed Tomato aux Herbs, Shoreham Style (Zwicky

and Zwicky, pp. 89–90).

Since many people are on diets for reason of health and/or weight control, there is concern with calories and with fat. The food industry has responded by offering products with less fat and fewer calories. One word for referring to these products is “light,” sometimes spelled “lite.” The Miller Brewing Company used the word to denote a beer with fewer calories than regular beer. Since a light beer is ambiguous—it can be light in color (pale vs. amber or dark)—the spelling difference can disam- biguate the two senses. Although other beer companies have been prevented from using this spelling, lite has

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spread to many other foods with fewer calories than the normal counterpart. More recently, “free,” a clipping of “fat free,” has emerged to denote foods without fat.

See also Etymology of Food; Sandwich.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cook’s and Diner’s Dictionary: A Lexicon of Food, Wine, and Culi-

nary Terms. New York: Funk & Wagnall’s, 1968.

Lehrer, Adrienne. “As American as Apple Pie–and Sushi and Bagels: The Semiotics of Food and Drink.” In Recent De-

velopments in Theory and History: The Semiotic Web 1990,

edited by Thomas A. Sebeok and Jean Umiker-Sebeok, pp. 389–402. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1991.

Zwicky, Ann, and Arnold Zwicky. “America’s National Dish: The Style of Restaurant Menus.” American Speech 55 (1980): 83–92.

Adrienne Lehrer

NATIONAL CUISINES, IDEA OF. Cuisines and

nations are artifacts of human enterprise, will, and imag- ination. They refer ostensibly to material things: to the earth, to the natural world, to particular geographical lo- cales and the products of these places. In this sense, cuisines tell one something about food, and nations tell one something about places. Cuisines, too, are made up of earthly products, such as butter, beef, saffron, and gar- lic, much as nations inhabit physical localities, whether protruding landmasses, landlocked mountains, or chains of islands. In the modern period, however, foods have be- come associated with cuisines and places with nations to such an extent that one does not perceive any difference between them. National cuisines are a product of the modern emphasis on nationalism and the nation-state.

In fact, the coining of “national cuisines” has become an almost exclusive means of organizing the link between food and place. One talks with ease of Germany and Ger- man cuisine and India and Indian cuisine, as if German cuisine and Indian cuisine have existed as long as the mountains, valleys, and lakes that define their namesakes’ topographies. If the history of the subcontinent, and the food practices of people there, are reviewed, the limits of the term “Indian cuisine” will be fast apparent. The food habits of the Punjabi Sikh and the Kerala Christian, for instance, have little in common, though both groups oc- cupy India and eat its food products. While a handy moniker to grasp onto the food habits of a group of peo- ple, “Indian cuisine” is not a product of nature. Classify- ing a cuisine helps mark a geographical locale as a nation; it allows people to imagine national unity and to create convenient categories for understanding food practices. The convenient shorthand of “German cuisine” and “In- dian cuisine” belies the complex historical formation of national cuisines, and their link to nationalism, a way of speaking about place, identity, and sovereignty.

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