Food and Semiosis

As if I needed to prove how much of a nerd I am, I have been reading the magnificent book Elements of Semiology (1964) by the great French writer Roland Barthes. That would be about the structuralist science of signification, or the way that meaning is created in whatever system of signs that is being considered. Naturally, being French, Barthes talks about food.

In the section titled “the food system,” Barthes makes the following distinction: “The menu for instance, illustrates very well this relationship between the language and speech: any menu is concocted with reference to a structure (which is both national–or regional–and social); but this structure is filled differently according to the days and the users, just as a linguistic ‘form’ is filled by the free variations and combinations which a speaker needs for a particular message.” So cooking is like talking, in that a person has the structure (ingredients, equipment) and then creates whatever dish they want out of them.

However, my favorite comment is his about fast food, the bête noir of the modern world. Whether this is a really bad translation, or just another of Barthes’ incredibly witty puns, is up for the reader to decide. He talks about the creation of new speech “when new needs are born, following the development of societies.” One example he gives is “the birth of new patterns of quick feeding in industrial and urban societies.” So now we have wonders of linguistics such as the M*Rib, and the Chicken M*Nugget. Both are favorites of people who live in McMansions, and who drive Land Yachts.

The M*Rib is composed of about 70 ingredients, including one that is used in yoga mats. There is no rib in it at all, as the “protein” portion is comprised of pork hearts, intestines, and scalded stomach (allegedly).

No wonder a new language had to be invented to describe this expletive.

Author: southernfusionfood

Writer, Woodworker, and Happy Eater

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