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Word of Mouth

Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food

Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    Word of Mouth
    Book Description:

    Today, more than ever, talking about food improves the eating of it. Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson argues that conversation can even trump consumption. Where many works look at the production, preparation, and consumption of food,Word of Mouthcaptures the language that explains culinary practices. Explanation is more than an elaboration here: how we talk about food says a great deal about the world around us and our place in it.What does it mean, Ferguson asks, to cook and consume in a globalized culinary world subject to vertiginous change? Answers to this question demand a mastery of food talk in all its forms and applications. To prove its case,Word of Mouthdraws on a broad range of cultural documents from interviews, cookbooks, and novels to comic strips, essays, and films.Although the United States supplies the primary focus of Ferguson's explorations, the French connection remains vital. American food culture comes of age in dialogue with French cuisine even as it strikes out on its own. In the twenty-first century, culinary modernity sets haute food against haute cuisine, creativity against convention, and the individual dish over the communal meal. Ferguson finds a new level of sophistication in what we thought that we already knew: the real pleasure in eating comes through knowing how to talk about it.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95896-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. PROLOGUE: Talking About Food
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    Food talk takes many forms and does many things. When we talk about food, we share our pleasure in what we eat. But we conjure the dangers of consumption no less than we convey its delights. Sometimes we talk about food simply to talk about food. Yet as often as not we talkthroughfood to speak of love and desire, devotion and disgust, aspirations and anxieties, ideas and ideologies, joys and judgments. Given the many connections between food and what humans do in the societies that we make, what we say about food offers a wonderful medium for exploring...


    • CHAPTER ONE Thinking About Food
      (pp. 3-32)

      Thirty or forty years ago, doomsayers predicted that in a more or less distant future, we would all be eating the same food in the same kinds of places. The culprit was globalization—or, in food terms, fast food. All the more invasive because it markets a highly standardized and controlled system of preparation, fast food works its magic—or its devastation—across the board. From hamburgers to croissants to fried chicken to pizza, no food is off limits. For many people, fast food means lots of food available inexpensively. During a football trip to Europe, one of my students,...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Perils and Pleasures of Consumption
      (pp. 33-49)

      Even as food practices pledge our culinary allegiance, so to speak, they reveal a fundamental ambivalence at the heart of every relationship to food. Every eater is wary of food. We are ambivalent about food because consumption is so uncertain. We know that we must eat, and experience tells us that eating can bring great pleasure, but we are all aware that food can also put us in grave danger. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that every forkful, every spoonful that we take puts our lives on the line.

      Will it do me in or will it do...

    • CHAPTER THREE Texts Take Over
      (pp. 50-76)

      Food talk—the right kind, the kind that we want to listen to—equates food with pleasure. A culinary paradise is ours for the eating. It is also, it seems, ours for the talking. For it is here that we find a sense of the pleasures that attend our encounters with food. Speaking about food both before and after the event sharpens our pleasure.

      Small wonder, then, that the true Eager Eater hungers not just for food but also for food talk. Strictly construed, of course, we are mostly talking about writing, not talk. To work its full effect on...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Iconic Cooks
      (pp. 79-112)

      Food talk is for every age, every society, and every person. Nevertheless, in the West, the exemplary food talkers, the most enthusiastic culinary conversationalists, the writers of cookbooks and the authors of gastronomic commentary mostly are, and certainly were, Greek and Roman, French, English, and German. Where, Americans might well ask, are we? The quick answer is that Americans were learning the language of food talk. Joining the culinary conversation meant learning to talk about food meaningfully and effectively. It meant agreeing about essentials.

      And this Americans learned from our cooks. It was not the gastronome or the gourmet or...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Chefs and Chefing
      (pp. 113-138)

      Cooks cook. Chefs cook in public. They cook for show. They perform. Unquestionably artisans, perhaps artists, and definitely experts, chefs today are also entrepreneurs subject to the vagaries of the market, the inconstancy of diners, and the changing nature of their own visions of excellence.

      These conditions of uncertainty give chefs a good deal in common with artists. More imperatively than for painters and writers, though, creativity for the chef means not just making a product, no matter how great or how grand. In today’s media-saturated food world, creativity demands performance. Where the elaborate table settings and extravagant pastry constructions...


    • CHAPTER SIX Dining on the Edge
      (pp. 141-169)

      Like cooks and chefs, diners today find themselves in an exhilarating world of inventive dishes, exciting new ways of thinking about food, and unusual modes of dining. No more than cooking or chefing is dining what it was even a half century ago. Largely responsible for many of these myriad changes at table is the loosening of the forms that structured dining in the past. “Informalization” marks a democratization that exemplifies contemporary aspirations. By modifying the dynamics of dining and redefining the relationship between consumer and chef, informalization alters the meaning of the meal no less than the setting.


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Haute Food
      (pp. 170-196)

      What one chef dubbed “endless reinvention” drives everyone in these culinary conversations, from the principal players—chefs, cooks, and consumers—to the vast network of support figures—investors, promoters, consultants, suppliers, and media mavens—without whom the food world would not do what it does the way that it does. The new and the novel are no longer the exception. Thanks to the unprecedented availability of foodstuff s from all over the world, the consequent sophistication about food, and the relentless push for innovation, reinvention has become the rule. The singular and the exceptional, contemporary culture tells us, are very...

    (pp. 197-204)

    I beganWord of Mouthwith a vintage pop song that shows what food stories can tell us. My story ends with a contemporary popular film that dramatizes responses to questions about the ways that food shapes the world we live in.Ratatouille(2007) is recognizably a Disney production—a fantasy, to be sure, yet with enough bite to make it a fable for our times. Just as the early Disney movies gave us animals like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, with human inclinations and problems, soRatatouilletells of a rat who, against all probability, becomes a celebrity chef....

    (pp. 205-206)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 207-250)
    (pp. 251-266)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 267-272)