Read the whole essay.
Some years later, Hünn-Tuk took part, along with four other members of the Vendyak community, in the aboriginal-peoples contingent of a conference on the anthropology of food at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Their hosts had taken them to a diner a bit out of town called ‘LeAnn’s’. A professor from the Slavic department was along to translate for Hünn-Tuk into Russian, who in turn translated for the others into their native tongue. I was at the conference, and heard about the incident first-hand from the professor (we had been roommates during my years at Michigan).
The Vendyak were very curious about everything on the menu, as the diner had been played up to them by their hosts for days as featuring ‘authentic’ local cuisine. Just as the Russian professor was struggling to come up with an adequate rendering of the concepts of ‘cheese grits’ and ‘chicken-fried steak’, one of the Vendyak pointed to the cover of the menu and asked to know the meaning of the phrase underneath the name of the restaurant: “LeAnn’s: Home-cookin’ just like granny use [sic] to make.” The professor translated the phrase into Russian, and at once Hünn-Tuk’s face contracted into a worried cringe. He tried to hide it, but the other Vendyak had already become excited, and Hünn-Tuk found himself unable to invent a lie under pressure. They demanded to know what the phrase meant at once, and he gave in: “This food is prepared as if by an elder woman,” he told them sombrely in Vendyak.
Two of the men ran out of the restaurant at once, right out across the state route, and disappeared into the forest on the other side. The youngest of them dropped to the floor and began convulsing, as if in the early throes of an epileptic seizure. The fourth, a man of nearly 60 with grey whiskers and a few teeth, marched over to the anthropologist who had arranged the outing, an innocent young Melanesianist who had simply taken it for granted that love of granny’s cooking was a cultural universal. The Vendyak grabbed the Melanesianist by his throat and bellowed: “Do you want to poison our people!? Do you want to shrivel our testicles and make our arms too weak to hunt!?”...
Monday, August 18, 2008
Justin Smith at 3 Quarks Daily: