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Food for thought: How language affects our eating habits

By Samita Sarkar

Editors know that language is a powerful tool. In fact, ourfood world is shaped by the language we use and the ways we communicate with each other. The language we use changes the way we see things. The rhetoric of war, for example, is used to dehumanize the enemy, and the rhetoric of law is used to plead a case or pass a bill. There is also the rhetoric of food, which is used by chefs and restaurant owners to make us feel hunger.

In an interesting book entitled Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists, author Jason Del Gandio describes rhetoric as “the science of discourse…what people say, how they say it.” Rhetoric is persuasive. Moreover, it evokes emotion. Del Gandio points out that rhetoric can be defined not only as discourse, but also as “the practice and study of how people create their realities.” He pursues a powerful example with the term collateral damage, questioning how phrases that minimize implied violence affect the public mindset.

Consider terms such as escargot and caviar in comparison to cooked snail or salty fish eggs. The first two terms denote wealth, luxury, and delicacy; the latter two seem meagre and unappealing—reptile food, maybe—but they wouldn’t sound appetizing to too many humans. Some food for thought: most people have never considered what it means to eat an egg, which is the reproductive waste of a chicken.

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