Food words; a statistically significant sampling of books on which the n-gram data is based

Foodways Part 1: The Routes of Food/Culture: Micro-histories

Cultural anthropologists: Peter Farb and George Armelagos have likened cuisine to a culture?s language. To study the elements of cuisine we can think of it like the elements of a language and in this assignment students will be learning about food?s relationship to culture by tracing the history of a food word. Food words are what they sound like words that pertain to a food or cuisine. By tracing these words we can begin to understand the cultural history of foods as they enter into English.


1) Using Google n-grams ( perform an analysis of a food word. (See the 3 examples below). In the examples, below the n-gram sampling reveals (with some caveats) the emergence of the currency of a food word. For example, we see the Swedish word smorgasbord enter American English in the 1930s, sushi really takes off in the 1980s. These charts give a sense of the history of the word and when it became current or popular. Using the data from the n-gram search begin to shape the history of a food word or term. One question might be how did the words meaning evolve as it came into currency, how did it get applied to other areas (smorgasbord has come to mean, e.g., a wide array of choices.) Another question would be to ask how the food practices changed as it entered into American/English-speaking culture.

2) Examine a statistically significant sampling of books on which the n-gram data is based. Make sure that there are not other reasons for currency of the word you have chosen.

3) Using MSU cookbook collection Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project (, trace recipes that relate to food word. If that site does not contain relevant info consult with me as to good sources. Wiki is ok as a starting place but you must go beyond the basic inquiries.

4) 4) Consider the ways in which we might account for the trends you discover in your n-gram and cookbook research. Develop a way to corroborate your analysis of the word. What historical, socio-economic, political, and/or scientific developments have impacted the history of your chosen term.

5) Assignment task: Write a brief (750-word) cultural history of the food word that describes its introduction into U.S. culture, the routes it has travelled, its development from that point forward, the ways in which that word has participated in shaping cultural identities, and been impacted by or impacted on economics, politics, history, and or science.

Google N-grams of food words

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