Diet detective: Time to check into food folklore - Mason City Globe Gazette

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Throwing Salt Over Your Shoulder

According to Dayna Winters, one of the co-authors of Wicca: What's the Real Deal? (Schiffer Books, 2011): "The practice of throwing salt over your shoulder has a long history. Superstition holds that when you spill salt, you are 'risking looking the devil in the eye.' To cast the salt over one's shoulder is to prevent this from happening." 

Why the left shoulder? Because the left-hand side has long been associated with all things sinister. "It is said in the Bible that when people adhere to the word of God, they will one day sit on the right-hand side of God. Thus, the left-hand side became associated with sinister concepts.

"Salt is a preservative, and in the Bible, Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back on Sodom and Gomorrah as it was being destroyed; she didn't adhere to the instruction of God and was punished. The story is a warning of not listening to the instruction of God, but it also holds the moral that you should not waste your time looking into the unchangeable past. The act of throwing salt over one's shoulder may be linked to this depiction in the Bible, and it could have the subtle connection of remembering what happened to Lot's wife if you look behind you or upon the past."

Rice Thrown at Weddings

Rice is "thrown at the couple after a wedding ceremony because grains are a symbol of fertility, an association that dates back to the ancient Romans. After all, marriage hasn't historically been about love, but about having lots of babies to carry on a family's name and inheritance," said Emmie Scott, a blogger for The Morton Report.

Does the rice thrown at weddings harm birds by expanding in their stomachs and exploding? According to an article by Dr. James Krupa of the University of Kentucky that was published in The American Biology Teacher, not exactly. Krupa did experiments with different types of rice and did find that white instant rice can expand and break a wet paper bag. He also determined that if a bird ate enough instant white rice it could possibly expand enough to injure the bird. Although, according to Krupa, birds don't really like instant white rice, just to be on the safe side, go with the healthier choice — brown rice — when throwing rice at a wedding.

Chewing the Fat

Today this means to have a conversation, make small talk. According to the book Food: A Dictionary of Literal and Nonliteral Terms by Robert A. Palmatier (Greenwood, 2000): "The origin of this expression may have been sailors who chewed salt pork (while working together aboard ship) and talked at the same time. It's quite a leap from the ship to the farmhouse, but that's where the expression became a metaphor   when women gossiped at length at a quilting bee, although no actual fat was being chewed.

Nowadays, people chew the fat when they talk informally with their friends and relatives over coffee and doughnuts, talking about anything that comes to mind, from gossip to sports."

Bringing Home the Bacon

To win a prize; to support a family. According to Food: A Dictionary of Literal and Nonliteral Terms: "The origin of this metaphorical expression is obscure, and the date of its first appearance in print is surprising. The earliest suspected source is the case of a man winning a whole side of bacon as a prize and taking it home to his wife. The place was Dunmow (Essex), England, and the prize was called the Dunmow Flitch. The man knelt on the steps of the church and was able to swear that he had been happily married for the past year and a day. 

Between A.D. 1244 and 1772, only seven other men won the Flitch — an average of one winner every 66 years! The second suspected source is the appearance in a 1725 English dictionary of thieves' cant of the word bacon, defined as 'loot' from a robbery. … 

The third suspected source is an American one, probably originating in the 19th century, which involved the (continuing) practice of turning children loose in a pen of one or more greased pigs at a country fair. The child who caught the pig was awarded it as a prize and allowed to take it home, where his/her parents could then have it butchered and turned into pork, ham, and bacon to feed their family."


According to Food: A Dictionary of Literal and Nonliteral Terms: "An expression of honor accompanied by a raised glass. 

How a wish for good health, good luck, and long life came to be named after a piece of browned bread is not certain, but there are several theories, all of them pointing to the time of Shakespeare: (1) after a glass of wine was raised, and the words of honor spoken, each person dipped a piece of toast into his wine and ate it; (2) before the glasses of wine or ale were raised, a small piece of toast was put in the bottom of each to trap the dregs; (3) before the good wishes were spoken and the drinks drunk, a piece of spiced toast was placed in each glass to add flavor to the wine. 

The toast was first associated with the drink (a toast), then with the speech, then with the person proposing the toast (a toastmaster) and finally with the person being toasted (the toast of the town). The practice of touching (or 'clicking') glasses after a toast goes back to an ancient custom by which a host and a guest each poured a little wine into the other's cup to ensure that if one had poisoned the other, they would both become toast (i.e., 'die')."

CHARLES STUART PLATKIN, Ph.D., M.P.H. is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of Copyright 2011 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at

07 Sep, 2011

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