February 23, 2006

The Language of Food

Part of what makes food appetizing is how the mind processes your thoughts about food. And our brains are wired for language. So food language is very important to appetite.

Since we process words sequentially, the left-to-right presentation of the description of a food can make a difference in how it is perceived. Take, for example, the following lunch:

Hot (ok, you’ve got me interested.)
Roast (…good, good. Roasting is good.)
Turkey (Now you’re talking!)
and Stuffing (Yes!)
Sandwich (How convenient.)

Of course, personal tastes are a factor. If you are not eating meat, you might prefer a portabello mushroom in there, but you still see how these things unfold within the context of a person’s likes or dislikes. That’s what makes the following so disturbing:

Chunky (Off to a bad start. This is not an appetizing word.)
Goat (What? Goat? I thought we were going to talk about food.)
Cheese (Ew. Cheese of a goat? I’m picturing something you scraped off a goat now)
Stuffed (This is just making me feel bloated)
Shells (omigod, I just threw up in my mouth.)

Clearly, I do not like goat cheese. And at least some of that is because of the way it sounds. But I’m in the minority of Americans in that I do not consume mass quantities of cheese every year. I will indulge in some mozzarella, and enjoy cheddar on a cracker. But keep the fancy stuff (Brie, Camembert) and the really cheap stuff (Velveeta, Cheez Wiz) far away from me.No I don’t want goat cheese, nor do I want buffalo cheese. Nor antelope, platypus, elephant, giraffe or monkey cheese. Really. Keep it.

(This post was prompted by SH, who is down the hall on the phone trying to get a local restaurant to understand his order of the GOAT CHEESE and SUN DRIED TOMATO PIZZA! For some reason they can’t understand him and they’re making him shout it over and over about four times. And then they asked him what kind of car he will be driving, which completely threw him for a loop.)

Posted by James at February 23, 2006 1:23 PM
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A friend of mine used to have a similar issue with a now-defunct (I think) buffet place in Florida called Quincy's. Their most famous/popular item, which was named in their advertising jingle, was the "Big Fat Yeast Roll." The words "big," "fat," and "yeast" tend to put off a lot of women. (The rolls were good, though.)

You can get a goat cheese and spinach pizza at... um... oh damn. It's either Shaw's or Stop & Shop, I forget which, but it's the store brand, so, fairly cheap. And good. I don't know if you guys have an oven at work to cook it in, though. And it doesn't address the sun-dried tomato issue.

I don't mind goat cheese, but I love most cheese and probably eat more than the average American mass quantities. Still, "chunky goat cheese stuffed shells" doesn't have a great ring to it.

Plus, when I read that, I read "smells" rather than "shells." And it just gets worse from there. I think of a chunky smelly guy with toe cheese (not my favorite kind of cheese), wearing a wife-beater. Then we've gone full circle. Full yucky circle.

Posted by: Julie at February 23, 2006 1:56 PM

So, you see what I'm saying.

You can get a goat cheese and spinach pizza at... um... oh damn. It's either Shaw's or Stop & Shop

Stop and Shop in Dartmouth actually bakes their pizza now. So you can go in and buy slices. I wonder if they'll bake a whole pizza if you ask nicely. They have the oven and everything already going, so...

"I can get" a goat cheese pizza, but I have no idea what I would do with it. I could toss it off an overpass, if I was feeling delinquent.

"Stuffed SHells" is another one of those unappetizing-sounding foods. Foods with bad PR.

I don't care what you call it, though, I'm not eating monkey cheese.

Posted by: James at February 23, 2006 2:07 PM

What you would do with a goat cheese pizza? You would give it to the person mysteriously identified only as "SH."

Posted by: Julie at February 23, 2006 2:44 PM

"I think of a chunky smelly guy with toe cheese (not my favorite kind of cheese), wearing a wife-beater. Then we've gone full circle. Full yucky circle."

God, Julie, you are funny!

To that point, Big Fat Yeast Roll brings to mind a large woman with a yeast infection. Nasty, not tasty.

I love goat cheese, but I don't see myself enjoying stuffed shells that are stuffed with goat cheese. On a very basic level, that sounds super salty. Also, I don't think goat cheese and tomato sauce would go together very well.

James, it's too bad you didn't record your co-worker shouting the same info into the phone over and over; that would make a great sample in a song!

(Remind me to tell you about "Two--two dead--two dead squirrels" when next we meet.)

Posted by: at February 23, 2006 3:02 PM

Yum cheese. My favorite food group (whaddaya mean it's not it's own group). My brain stopped right there and overrode any negative connotations from the remaining words. I definately eat WAY too much of it and yes that includes goat cheese. Also sheep and cow. In fact, there are very few cheeses I don't like. Excessively stinky cheeses and anything labelled cheese FOOD come to mind.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at February 23, 2006 3:07 PM

By the way, that was me giving kudos to Julie. My setting were reset!

Posted by: Patti M. at February 23, 2006 3:59 PM

Thanks, Patti!

Goat cheese + tomato sauce - Depends on the type of goat cheese. The goat cheese on the store brand pizza was ricotta-like, I think. And it was good. And I believe Romano comes from goats. Or is it sheep?

Yeah, stinky cheeses. I bought a teeny tiny piece of Stilton once, just to say I had tried it. I don't remember if I ended up putting it in my mouth or not. I may have concluded that smelling it was enough to fulfill my obligation to "try it." Smelling Stilton is a lot like jamming a piece of regular cheese up your nose. Anyway, how can you tell if your Stilton has gone bad?

Posted by: Julie at February 23, 2006 5:06 PM

You know, I bought some apple smoked cheddar one day that I was feeling adventurous. I haven't cracked it open yet. Maybe this weekend would be the right time.

Hey - I'm not a huge fan of cheese, but I do stretch my horizons occasionally.

Posted by: James at February 23, 2006 6:20 PM

I'd love to try it, but I'm not going to jam it up my nose. (Just in case you were worried.)

Posted by: Julie at February 23, 2006 7:19 PM

I opened it, remember? And I didn't really enjoy it. I like really, really sharp cheddar.

Posted by: Maggie at February 23, 2006 8:38 PM

I'm a huge fan of Goat Cheese. I think their packages are far too small; the average sized one is more like single serving for me.

Although I'm a pretty big fan of just about any cheese -except I tend not to like smoked cheeses. A couple weeks ago, just for fun, my boyfriend and I selected a cheese purely based on smelling it through the plastic wrapping. We ended up with a firm portuguese cheese that smelled exactly like brie; I think it was called serra dourando.

And by far the best cheese experience I've ever had was eating an open-faced deep-fried camembert sandwich in Copenhagen. Damn, that was artery-cloggingly fantastic!

Posted by: Sharon at February 23, 2006 8:53 PM

You should have tried the Stilton, Julie. That's not even remotely what I call a stinky cheese. A good way to try stilton is a cheese called Huntsman. It's half stilton half cheddar (or technically Gloucester but that's basically cheddar). I love pretty much any blue cheese. Roquefort now that's a smelly blue cheese. Or soft Gorgonzola.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at February 24, 2006 8:06 AM

Damn, you're right! I was afraid of the Stilton because it was *ugly*. It was limburger cheese that smelled incredibly bad. I did eat it - I put it on a pizza. I wasn't traumatized by the experience, but I didn't think it was worth the smell, either.

Posted by: Julie at February 24, 2006 9:08 AM

None of this is making me feel any more disposed to eating cheese. Thank goodness.

Posted by: James at February 24, 2006 9:40 AM

On loving cheese, winter, and board games:

On winter weekend nights, we sit by the fire, have wine and cheese, and play a board game.

Posted by: Patti M. at February 24, 2006 10:31 AM

I think I could live on cheese.

Posted by: TCR at February 24, 2006 5:52 PM

Run, run as fast as you can. Can't catch me, I'm the stinky cheese man.

Posted by: briwei at February 28, 2006 3:43 PM

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