Insights January 7, 2021

Cooking and translation – preparing for a diverse audience

Living Word
By Living Word

Home cooking, you could say, is the new normal. We are cooking at home more than ever before – but our food preferences seem to have changed, with more international and fusion dishes. This culinary globalisation caused some researchers to claim that cooking is like translation, preparing appealing dishes and recipes for diverse audiences.

In a recent CNBC article about how the pandemic shaped what we cook and crave, you could learn that consumers have settled into new routines and that the global health crisis may influence how we shop, cook and eat for years to come. Consumers want variety and are gravitating towards premium products and healthier options, with new habits changing the market too. Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group, argues that people’s palates have expanded during the pandemic. “The curiosity with ethnic flavors and things like that, that’s not going to slow down. People have been introduced to them. They like them,” he says. One example is PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division, which has launched the globally inspired crisp flavours Brazilian Picanha and Chinese Szechuan Chicken.

In her Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about home cooking and ‘Coronacoping’, Gretchen McKay looks at the home-cooking trend too. “Home cooking is on the rise nationwide, whether people are naturals in the kitchen or not,” she says. “As a result, grocery purchases have soared, both in stores and online.” As home cooks are ploughing through the shops and the web for supplies and inspiration, culinary features and cooking videos are performing exceptionally well. For instance, recipe searches went up 227% last year for Good Housekeeping and Women’s Day. This also means a growing market for the translation of cook books and TV cooking programmes, as well as food magazines and food labels.

Food and translation

Linking food and translation, Delia Chiaro and Linda Rossato published an article a few years ago in a special issue of The Translator. In Food and translation, translation and food, they presented different connections between food and translation and argued that “due to the globalisation of food production and distribution, the circulation of food items originating from the most remote parts of the planet has also increased enormously, boosting the need for documents and labels that accompany foods and the need to translate them”.

They meant that translation is a lot like preparing a dish:

“Both cook and translator must examine the original recipe or text, find the right ingredients or words and consider strategies that will make the dish or script appealing to readers or diners.”

And while cooking is a lot like translation, fusion cooking is perhaps like transcreation: creating a foreign dish that is acceptable within a diverse culinary culture. One example is food chain Pret à Manger’s Tex-Mex Burrito, described as “a fusion in itself” and “coupled with Uruguayan, Argentinian and Californian genetic material with an addition of DNA from the Great Lakes to produce a new dish”.

Other examples of ‘translated’ dishes and culinary products include Pizza Hut’s Hawaiian Pizza, topped with ham and pineapple, and of course Starbucks’ Frappuccino, Babyccino and Latte. “Yet like poetry and jokes, dishes are indeed translated and adapted much to the annoyance of some of those who are familiar with the original and who think they know better,” Chiaro and Rossato argued, concluding: “What is fusion if not a translation, or, at the very least, a transcreation? In fact, both tangibly and linguistically, nowhere is the link between food, language and translation more apparent than on the menus of global food corporations.”