Saturday, July 24, 2010

Taxonomic inaccuracies in the food world

Most times I don't care if people can tell the difference between a cow and a deer, a bee or a wasp, or a crow and a turkey vulture, but when authors and publications that are very particular on being accurate in one area don't even bother to check the ID on other things they write or talk about, it really bothers me.  Such as food magazines that proudly distinguishes with fancy words between the top and bottom of a pig, different varieties of kale ('grönkål'), and have different words for types of Italian vinegars depending on the region they come from.  If you are that picky, and pride yourself on it, as a publisher you should check everything and ask the experts when you enter new zoological and botanical territory.

Here are two recent examples:
On Bon Appetit's website there is a blogpost about what to do when you get a fly in your soup at a restaurant.  Good post, interesting comments, however...  the accompanying photo is of a soup bowl with a... guess.... a CIKADA (they are also called locust).  A giant cikada, obviously dead and spread out with its wings in a very unnatural position to resemble a monster fly. I have to ask my family dipterist (that is fly guy) if there even are that big flies in the real world.  But still, why not just say it is a cikada in the soup? The photo is from istockphoto and the photographer said it wasn't a fly, but that wasn't clarified by Bon Appetit, who bought the right to use the photo.  It is like saying you are looking at a pork chop when in fact you are seeing a bison or reindeer steak. 

Second example was a recent article in New York Times about the world-famous restaurant Noma and its chef René Redzepi, who cooks with local (= Aal of the Nordic countries in fact), sometimes wild, ingredients such as wild beach plants, reindeer, wild roses, and puffin eggs. With the article is a photographic slide show of some of the dishes and ingredients, gorgeous photos, but with some big errors in the descriptions.  The small fuzzy flower buds of the 'oxel' tree (whitebeam in English) was renamed "axel" tree by NY Times.  Rose hips ('nypon') turned into rose petals. And a photo of the local pine cone is described as a thuja cone (photo on right, different thuja species look a bit different, but never like a pine).  These things matters, not only do they miseducate but in the case of the thuja, you do not want people to go out there and chewing on these toxic plants. Especially not if you are pregnant, since the toxin can cause miscarriages. I am sure the Danish chef knows what he is doing, but the journalists weren't getting it right, and yes, NY Times have been notified, but not fixed the errors yet.

It is impossible to know personally all the correct names of the 1.7+ million species in the world, but I think we should at least try to get it right as far as we can.  Or maybe I am too picky.

(Thuja cone photo by Luis Fernández García, Creative Commons license, on Wikimedia)

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