Recently, a friend emailed me an article from the Northern Virginia Magazine titled, “The 8 Words to Avoid When Fawning Over Your Last Instagramable Meal” which provides a “guide of to avoid edible faux pas.” I read it, completely disagree with entire premise, and decide to offer some thoughts.
The overall notion that, “one should never use zesty or spicy to describe a dish” is total and complete bull shit. That’s like saying, “Decoy wine is a bad wine” (for the record I think it’s one of the best wines), but I digress and my opinion doesn’t matter. Why is it bad? What objectively makes something bad? Spoiled – okay; but bad? There is no good food, or bad food, no right way, or wrong way to describe food. You like what you like, and your palate likes what your palate likes. I’m not a English teacher, and I’m not a formally trained culinary expert, nor do I consider myself a food critic. I am not hear to tell anyone what is objectively good or bad, people have their own palates, they can figure out what they like or dislike just fine on their own. So I take much offense when someone tries to state, as a matter of fact, “the 8 words to avoid” when describing food.
The article begins…
What is zesty? A pizza can be zesty. With the right spices, you could call mashed potatoes zesty. A lemon is literally zesty. Inside the word’s usefulness lies the problem: it can be used to describe just about anything. When you can describe the flavor of both a key lime pie and a lasagna with the same modifier, it’s time to give it a rest.
I think Kate Upton is pretty and I think a painting is pretty. One is real, one is fake. They are completely different. Is it time to give “pretty” a rest? My cigar can be “spicy” as can my Scotch, should I stop using that word? Merriam-Webster, you know, the universal arbitor of all words and meanings, says zesty means: “having or characterized by zest : appealingly piquant or lively <a zesty sauce> <zesty humor>,” and the example of zesty they give is, “bland pasta that needs a zesty sauce.” So, anything that is “piquant” (meaning, “agreeably stimulating to the palate”) like pizza, or jalapeno mashed potatoes, are “zesty.” Contrarily, a lemon, is not “literally” zesty (as the article states) – a lemon could be zesty if one’s palate perceives it as such. It does, however, produce “zest” (a piece of the peel of a citrus fruit (as an orange or lemon) used as flavoring) – perhaps that is what you meant?
Skipping down a bit to avoid an aneurism…
Is anything really ever authentic? Mexican food is almost always Tex-Mex. Sushi is often stuffed with cream cheese and popcorn shrimp. Even Indian food frequently gets a stateside makeover (see: naan pizzas). So, why do we feel the need to inject this word into almost every and any type of non-”American” cuisine? We should embrace the uniqueness of our country’s ethnic eats! Besides, who cares if spaghetti bolognese is about as Italian as hot dogs, apple pie or a baseball uniform sewn from American flags? It’s still just as good.
Yes. Yes food is very often authentic to it’s native production and can/should be described as such. The small business owner who came to the US from Guatemala and has a taco shop in their apartment in Columbia Heights, they serve authentic food. When someone asks for “authentic [insert ethnic group here] food,” would you tell them that word is crap and berate them for using it, then direct them to TGIMcFatAmerican’s? Or the next time someone has Italian food in the US, that is just like their Grandmother’s, who was born in Italy, they should not use this arbitrary word? It all might be “just as good,” but to the person who takes pride to make their pasta the same way their family made it in Italy, or stuff and smoke their sausages the same way their Uncle did in Germany, they might take issue with your assertion they should not share, or describe their food as, “authentic.”
Now, I fully understand this article was likely written in much jest, and I think, over-all, it’s not completely nauseating. However, I personally think it is amazing that we have evolved from the recipe clubs of the 1940s where housewives swapped hand-written cards, to things like UrbanSpoon, blogs who only talk about brunch, and even classes at respected Universities on “food porn.” So when an article like this purports to suggest some words are “wrong” or “incorrect” to use, it is like someone telling you your choice of wine is “bad,” despite you thinking it’s very flavorful and enjoyable based on your palate.
The next time someone suggests such, it’s acceptable to empty the contents of said glass onto their person, and politely tell them to f$#% off.