The Jillian Bolger Column - Mind Your Language

Jillian Bolger

On the BBC’s Room 101, host Frank Skinner invites three guests each week to nominate their pet hates, things they’d most like to see banished to Room 101 forever. The chosen items usually range from the mundane to the obscure, but are all things that drive their nominator crazy.

Should I ever find myself before Mr Skinner I won’t need to think twice about what I’d most like to see consigned to oblivion. For me it’s got to be all the pretentious, nonsensical language that seems to have found its way into the world of restaurants and cookbooks.

I could write a separate column on the ‘clean eating’ movement, that holier-than-thou sub-set of health obsessiveness and nutrition nerds who espouse the benefits of sugar-free living from their preachy blogs. Every second cookbook to hit my desk seems to have been penned by another member of the almond butter brigade, banging on about how clean eating and coconut oil have changed their lives.

Now, I like healthy food as much as the next blogger, and understand that cutting out some allergens can help with certain health issues, but I draw the line at ‘healthy brownies.’ Never before have two words been more at odds. Replacing sugar, butter, flour, eggs and chocolate with peanut butter, coconut oil, honey, dates, nuts and, eh, chocolate doesn’t exactly sound much healthier to me. Clean eating! Seriously?

The whole clean movement is also responsible for the (unwelcome) introduction of ‘cheat meals’ and ‘guilt-free’ baking into our lexicon. Food is food, and while we all know that pizza and chocolate cake aren’t healthy every day of the week, do we really need judgmental references to keep us focused? Linking emotive terms like cheat and guilt to food consumption turns eating into a dangerous game of control and one-upmanship.

On the plus side, the health brigade may be the reason we’re seeing more delicious avocados on menus, but can we please banish the nonsense prefix of ‘smashed’? Last time I checked I mashed avocado, not smashed it, though, clearly this doesn’t have the same hipster appeal. And while we’re talking nonsense terminology, can we discuss the many other words that have been hijacked and bastardised by the menu-writers of the world?

Foraged, for example, means picked by the kitchen crew in the wild, not something that came in with the vegetable delivery this morning. Then there’s the vagueness of homemade, which should always set off alarm bells on menus. If something is described as homemade does that mean that everything else they’re serving has been bought in? (If you think homemade’s bad enough don’t even get me started on house made.)

Anyone have any idea what a gourmet sandwich is? A gourmet tart? According to the Oxford English Dictionary a gourmet is a connoisseur of good food, the adjective meaning ‘Of a standard suitable for a gourmet’. Frequently spotted prefixing various dishes, by applying it to only one menu item surely implies that everything else is of a lesser quality. Hardly a smart move for anyone in the restaurant business.

And should Mr Skinner allow me to banish only one word to Room 101’s confines then I’ll bypass the guilt-free cookies, the healthy cakes and smashed avocados and head straight for foodie. Once useful in describing a group of people interested in good food, it’s been used to ubiquity, morphing into little more than a pompous, jumped-up middle class label for those of us who simply love good food.

I doubt there’s a good for a replacement word either; some clever clogs journalist would have come up with one long ago if there were…

This article first appeared in Food & Wine Magazine and is reproduced with their kind permission.


Jillian Bolger

Jillian Bolger is an award-winning editor and journalist specialising in food and travel writing. A member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and former editor of Food & Wine magazine (1999-2003) she writes for The Irish Independent, Image, Food & Wine Magazine, Image Interiors and The Herald and is editor of Irish Brides magazine. She has worked with Georgina Campbell’s since 2008 and is the Dublin Editor. Jillian has won several awards for her travel writing and holds an honours degree in the Arts. Her love of travel has seen her live in Australia, Sri Lanka, the USA and Germany. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. Follow her on Twitter at @JillianBolger


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