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Food

Newsletter: Here’s why we stopped italicizing ‘foreign’ foods

Sonoratown
The exterior of Sonoratown in downtown Los Angeles. Is “taquería” a foreign word?
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Happy New Year, everyone. Whether you spent the winter holidays making tamales, slow-roasting pernil or learning the fine art of opening Champagne with a sword, I hope you ate well, surrounded by the people you love.

My resolution this year is to cook more ambitious, dinner party-level dishes. I was inspired by a recent Food team party hosted by cooking editor Genevieve Ko, who modestly invited us for a casual, snacky get-together, then delivered a feast of Spanish charcuterie, pork roast and the crowning glory of the evening: a terrific paella. I’m still thinking about that meal.

This week I want to share two exciting changes at L.A. Times Food.

For starters, the print Food section is moving to Sundays! Look for our section in your Sunday paper starting tomorrow, Jan. 5. (If you don’t subscribe, you can get the Sunday paper with an unlimited digital subscription here.)

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If you’re a regular reader of the section, perhaps you noticed another recent change: Last month, we stopped the practice of italicizing non-English words in our food stories.

Setting non-English words in italics is standard practice at many publications. The L.A. Times style guide provides the following recommendation: “Use italics for foreign words or phrases that do not appear in the designated Webster’s or that appear there in italics.”

Italics are intended to facilitate clarity by signaling to readers that they haven’t stumbled onto a typo.

But many writers, me included, believe that the words we choose to italicize — and thereby highlight as “foreign” — can have an “othering” effect.

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Here’s a brief sampling of words that we have italicized in recent months: shawarma; al pastor; pollo asado; birria; carnitas; taquitos de papa; chicharrón; salsa verde; taquero; and salsa roja.

Seeing the foods many of us grew up eating italicized can feel jarring and alienating.

Bavel’s platter of slow-roasted lamb neck shawarma.
Bavel’s platter of slow-roasted lamb neck shawarma.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Who are we writing for when we decide to italicize “salsa roja?” Salsa sales overtook ketchup sales in this country decades ago. Birria, xiao long bao, sai krok Isaan, crepes, American cheese — they’re all foods we enjoy and ought to consider without qualifiers. The sense of exoticizing foods through typography felt less like we were helping readers but rather signaling that one of these things was not like the other.

More than half of Angelenos speak a language other than English. Our work ought to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.

The decision to drop italics may seem like a small one, but language has the subtle power to both empower and disenfranchise. I hope we always strive for the former.

What do you think? Email me at patricia.escarcega@latimes.com with your thoughts.

Ask the critics

What is the correct spelling of pozole? (Or is it “posole?”)

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— Dave, Twitter

I’ve seen every variant of spelling of the hearty chile-blistered stew of hominy and pork over the years. The modern word comes from the Nahuatl pozolli, which roughly translates as “boiled” or “frothy.” The letters “s” and “z” sound the same in Mexican Spanish, which probably explains why the word lends itself easily to different spellings. “Pozole” seems more common in Mexican recipe books, and “posole” shows up more frequently in the borderlands. I tend to favor the “older” spelling with a “z,” but both are widely accepted across Mexico and the United States.

15 foods of the decade
It was a decade to remember. Here are 15 foods that shined, maybe sometimes a little too brightly, in the 2010s.
(Alice Clark / For The Times)

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