Once upon a time French was the main sources for culinary jargon. Words like terroir, crouton, bouquet garni, entrée and so on clearly entered English from across the Channel. The sonorous Gallic tongue is often used to describe certain foods, cooking dishes and techniques, not only in English but in languages spoken around the world.
Nowadays English, a language once not regarded as a source for the language of ‘good’ food, has become a leading propagator of related terminology. Here in Brazil it is not unusual to see menus festooned with selected English terms, many of them incomprehensible without the help of the ubiquitous cellphone. Furthermore, many food-related words and terms have entered everyday parlance and, pronounced in warped embodiments according to the rules of Portuguese, can be heard everywhere: ‘food truck’, ‘craft beer’, ‘flat white’, ‘bagel’. Foods and drinks are also described using the Portuguese cognates for some of the English words that are presently indispensable for the marketing of such products, words like ‘artesanal’, ‘orgânico’, ‘tradicional’, ‘fermentado’and ‘natural.’ Above all, many are advertised as enjoying the characteristic which defines quality par excellence in the early 21st century in English just as in its Portuguese counterpart: auténtico.
The concept of authenticity in contemporary food marketing cannot be overstated. But why would English be such a source, both of associated borrowings and cognates, when English is spoken by people who, especially for most of the twentieth century, were engaged in abandoning traditional food production practices, culinary cottage industries and small-scale local food and beverage craftsmanship? The answer is this: it is precisely because English-speakers in such places as the UK and the USA lost their food and beverage craft traditions as a corollary of their twentieth-century car and supermarket lifestyles (lifestyles, it must
be remembered, once seen as desirable in large part due to successful marketing) that they are now engaged in rediscovering (and in some cases fabricating) such traditions and, while doing so, zealously marketing them in a froth of linguistic dynamism. It is therefore not the perennial relevance of Anglo terms to ‘authentic’ food and drink products that gives English its weight in the world of their marketing but rather the heady rediscovery (and occasional enthusiastic falsification) of such traditions that gives the terminology its heft. Languages like French and Italian are spoken by peoples who did not lose their alimentary and beverage craft traditions to anything like the same extent as we English-speakers did, and it therefore we, and not they, who currently coin marketing terms with the glowing passion of the converted.
Brazil is one of the most interesting markets in the world in this area for several reasons: 1) Brazil suffers from many of the negative effects of a large-scale industrialised food industry (growing obesity, a profusion of foul processed food products, a well-developed supermarket culture, massive environmental destruction etc.); 2) Brazilian consumers eschew the influence of their Spanish-speaking neighbours and take their trend cues from the English-speaking world; and 3) there are lots of them and they are party animals who love eating and drinking out.
The case of craft beer is an interesting one to examine in this connection. Brazil is the world’s third largest beer market (behind China and the US and ahead of Germany and the UK) and annual sales are worth 74 billion reais (i.e. 20 billion US dollars at the time of writing). Most beer consumed in Brazil is revolting. Major brands successfully market hideous, mass produced concoctions which are cheap and universally available.
However, in the last five years, sales of craft beer have grown at eight times those of the traditional industrial brands. More than 500 craft breweries are now established in the country and, according to beer industry sources, growth is expected to skyrocket over the next decade. It’s not hard to see why: only last night some friends and I wandered into a random downtown São Paulo petrol station in search of a bathroom and found, next to the service counter, display refrigerators bulging with trendy, quality, authentic craft beers. The fact is, the stuff is turning up everywhere.
Craft beer is just one example of an industry whose ‘authentic’ credentials are highly sought-after in today’s Brazil, and Brazil is just one example of a market with near infinite growth potential – but it is probably the best example around. Regardless of where you wish to market your authentic/traditional/handmade/vegan/artisanal product the rule that applies to Brazil applies everywhere: the magic ingredient is not organic hops, or fungus from the inside of a cave, or that certain je ne sais quois conferred by the bowels of a civet; it is language, and if you get your language wrong then you can kiss your desired future market share goodbye.
For here is the sting in the tail of this article: English is a source of certain key food and beverage terms, yes, and an inspiration for cognates, no doubt, but it’s not enough just to throw a few key words together and wait for success. A good translation is what’s needed and a good translation is like an expertly brewed beer. It is the handiwork of skilled artisans, steeped in the ancient tradition of coaxing the authentic and the natural out of language. Like the fermentation of cereals to produce alcohol, translation has been around since the dawn of civilisation; like the beer industry itself, large-scale industrial producers have devastated the quality of widely-available product. Thank goodness, then, for such high-quality craft producers as NZTC, translators of the authentic, traditionally skilled type. Authenticity, tradition, craft, artisanship: that’s what we do here at NZTC. You can drink to that.