Saturday, July 29, 2006

More nosh (as I find myself eating my own words)

When I first posted my entry on Iran's attempt to expel Western words from Farsi, I wrote the sub-hedder as "Gnoshing on National Language Policies." The word is not spelled gnosh, however, but nosh (score another point for Occam's razor). Like many spelling bee contestants, I overthought the word. But I wasn't really thinking -- I think I was gnashing, and assuming an onomatopoeiatic spelling of the word related to the sound of chewing. Ding! (I exit the stage, tearful and red-faced, in the arms of a comfort counselor.)

Thankfully I have had food on the brain all day today (though, sadly, not comfort food), because it was only when I sat down to write this post did it occur to me to check that spelling.

I have had food on the brain all day due to two compelling articles I read online, pieces which are poles apart in terms of occasion and point of view, but nonetheless strike me as interrelated. In the first, Julia Keay at the British journal Literary Review writes a review of the book The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India (Harper Collins), by Tristram Stuart. Keay's review, titled "How to be Lank, Fleet and Nimble," presents an adept and fascinating precis of Stuart's account of the history of vegetarianism. . . falling short only in failing to clue me in as to how Stuart relates that history to 'the Discovery of India.'

For like language, food is power, as cultures define themselves according to what they include and exclude in their native cuisine. In this respect, you are what you eat. Openness and/or resistance to foreign assimilation might be gauged by the diversity of available and acceptable food offerings; and, like language, it is hard to stem the influx of foreign influences, once they start pouring in. I am keen to learn, then, how vegetarianism, a positive form of gastronomic asceticism, relates to the covetous process of colonization, especially in India (mmm . . . korma). Might just look that one up.

Meanwhile, at the emphatically more prosaic online mag Salon, the iconoclastic and (recently) itinerant chef Anthony Bourdain has written an account of his past week spent in Lebanon, where he had been filming a segment of his Travel channel show, "No Reservations," when the bombs started falling.

Bourdain is one of those characters I'm not entirely sure what to make of. I'll be honest -- I find him kinda captivating. He found a niche in which to hone a distinctive voice (long before the likes of Gordon Ramsay arrived on shore to assault our ears); and, being French myself, and tending more to the omnivorous than the ascetic, I find his program absorbing viewing, especially when he takes care to derive the origins of the name of a particular food-stuff, and to spell out the cultural importance of that food-stuff to the society the program is featuring. Oh, who am I kidding, I just dig his passion (you should see me and my father sit down to a meal).

Writing this, though, I am keenly reminded of a graduate student party I attended years ago where I blithely commented that I didn't mind Tom Snyder (ugh, I can still hear the groans of the effete soughing across the room . . .). Whether Bourdain is your cup of tea or not (and many justifiably dislike him, he does strive for noxiousness), his dispatches from Beirut make for provocative reading, a biting first-person account that cuts through the conventional, sterilized media reports.


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