The Name Game

This morning, I had lard for breakfast.

Grossed out? So were some of my colleagues. But this was no ordinary lard: It was the now-famous “pig butter” from Bina Osteria, the newish, Italianate eatery in Downtown Crossing. A combination of rendered pork fat, crunchy sea salt, crushed peppercorns, and fresh green herbs, it is, in a word, delicious. Spread on thick, crusty rye bread? Auummmgggh.

But the whole linguistic trickery of the stuff got me thinking. As a culture, we love food euphemisms. While I’m OK with calling a squid a squid, many people—and many restaurants—prefer using the more appetizing term calamari. We like to give pretty or exotic-sounding names to untasty-sounding food.

Squab, sweetbreads, foie gras, guanciale, black pudding… Would they be any less enjoyable if your menu said “pigeon,” “thymus and pancreas glands,” “fatty, alcohol-soaked duck liver,” “pig’s cheeks,” or “blood-flavored mincemeat stuffed in an intestinal casing”?

True, there’s a growing group of diners who’ve gone all snout-to-tail on us, and revel in the simultaneous horror/deliciousness of fatty cuts, organ meats (a.k.a. offal) and other porcine miscellany. Like chef Tony Maws, who has no problem serving pig’s tails as a bar snack at Craigie on Main, God bless him. But I suspect that the vast majority of diners prefer to stay blissfully ignorant of what’s in their breakfast sausage.

Tell me: Does calling food by a prettier name make it easier to swallow? Are there any foods you’ve eaten without knowing what they really are? And do you really care?