Katharine Shilcutt, writing for the food blog of the Houston Press, has done some ground-breaking work on the gastronomic-linguistics-meets-cultural-norms front. While (or perhaps because) her project falls short of being a doctoral thesis, it’s highly illuminating. It’s hilarious. And—this is the greatest praise I can marshal—it’s worth clicking through a four-page article to read. The project is entitled “Texan Concepts of Ethnic Food: Breaking It Down, Venn Diagram-Style.”
Shilcutt describes her project as follows: “I polled Texans—not just Houstonians—on what they thought of when they were asked to consider foods from places like Ethiopia, Lebanon, Germany, and several other countries…. And then I set out asking people that were actually from those countries what their idea of commonly consumed foodstuffs were.”
The result is a series of Venn diagrams. On one side: what Texans thought people from another culture ate. In the middle, overlapping section: foods that both Texans and folks from the culture in question named. In the final section: foods that only people in the given culture named.
So, for example: Texans think of Mexican food as including fajitas, refried beans, and tequila; Mexicans and Texans named tortillas, menudo, and tacos; Mexicans only named micheladas, chilaquiles, and carnitas.
Check it out, enjoy the various entertaining minor revelations that occur along the way, and make sure you make it page four, which features the tragicomic results of the Ethiopia-focused survey.
Image source: Houston Press.com