Friday, December 22, 2023

Answer: What makes a national dish?

 If fondue isn't a national dish,  

I'm fond of fondue.  

... what is it?  

Well, it IS a national dish, but as I mentioned last week, fondue was popularized as a Swiss national food by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) beginning in the 1930s as a way of using up the local excess of cheese.  The Swiss Cheese Union created pseudo-regional recipes as part of the "spiritual defence of Switzerland" before World War II to help out the cheese makers and the dairy industry.  (For more details, see this wonderful article about the cheese cartel that made fondue an international hit. Or, it you want to listen, this Planet Money podcast about the Swiss Cheese Union.) 

 This is all fascinating backstory to this week's Challenge.  What ELSE has been marketed as an authentic food?  I put the Challenge like this: 

1.  What other national foods have become popular as the result of intense marketing?  (I'm especially interested in foods that are presented as being "of the people," but are, in fact, commercial successes driven by clever advertising?)  Can you find one or two? 

I thought this might be a great question for the LLMs, and so I tried multiple attempts to get ChatGPT, Claude, and Bard to give me an answer.  

I'll spare you all of the prompts I created, but basically, I got very little.  With prompts like "what well-known national foods are actually the product of marketing campaigns?" I learned about marketing successes (e.g., Campbell's soups; Chiquita bananas; McDonalds hamburgers), but little about foods that are associated with particular countries (as fondue is with Switzerland).  

Bard: Of the suggestions Bard made: Poutine (Canada); Big Mac (US); and Hambúrguer Artesanal (Brazil).  Those are okay, I guess, but the marketing push behind each is a bit lackadaisical... nothing like the Swiss Cheese Union.  

ChatGPT: Slightly better: American fast food as a category (US); Fettuccine Alfredo (Italy); Sushi (Japan)... these are all popular foods, but none that were driven by clever advertising or marketing.  

One of the things that became clear to me was that I was a little ambiguous about what my SRS goal actually should be.  Was I looking for well-known national foods (like poutine or Big Macs), or was I looking for national foods that reached success because of an advertising/marketing campaign?  

As I often say here in SRS, you've got to be clear about what your research goal actually is so you'll know success when you see it.  

Naturally, it's okay to learn-as-you-go, but at some point you have to figure out what success will mean. 

I decided that I really wanted a well-known national food that became prominent internationally because of an intense marketing or advertising campaign.  

What did work?  Several friends wrote to me to suggest foods that they learned were market campaign-driven:  SPAM, chicken tikka masala, Vegemite, and even peanut butter were all suggested as advertising-driven successes of national foods.  

Reading up on these I found that: 

SPAM was given a big boost by the maker, Hormel, as the result of SPAM's ubiquity during World War II.  Advertising was a big component of pushing SPAM onto the global stage. (Massive distribution during World War II didn't hurt either, making SPAM incredibly popular in Oceania.)  

Chicken tikka masala, while immensely popular, doesn't seem to have been driven by advertising.  It's clearly a very British product that has become popular by word-of-mouth and news stories, even though it seems very Indian.  

Vegemite, the intensely-flavored Australian yeast extract spread, WAS intensely marketed at the product's initial production (in the 1920s) and led to vegemite becoming a distinctly Australian food.   

While peanut butter is often thought of as American, its invention is credited to three people with early patents on the production of modern peanut butter. (1) Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, obtained the first patent for a method of producing peanut butter from roasted peanuts using heated surfaces in 1884.  (2) A businessman from St. Louis, George Bayle, produced and sold peanut butter in the form of a snack food in 1894. And  (3) John Harvey Kellogg (yes, THAT Kellogg) was issued a patent for a "Process of Producing Alimentary Products" in 1898 with peanuts, although he boiled the nuts rather than roasting them.  There's been a fair bit of marketing, but again, nothing quite as intense as the Swiss push on fondue.   

But how can we find all of these--and more!--by searching? 

My first regular Google search  was: 

     [ national dish food marketing campaign ] 

which led me to a fascinating book, "National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home" by Anya von Bremzen.  This is basically a compendium of the backstories of various foods, showing how sometimes national foods have a messy beginning.  For instance, she points out that Andalusian gazpacho were not just simple Spanish regional foods, but dishes historically cooked across the country. She points out that La Sección Femenina, the women’s branch of Spain’s fascist movement, identified some foods (like gazpacho) with specific regions, as part of its work to create “a sanitized, politically acceptable form of cultural diversity.”

I also found the Wikipedia page on National Dishes (have to admit that I wasn't expecting this page to exist--there must be a lot of foodies among Wikipedians). Scanning that list shows a lot of national dishes, some of which I recognized as very popular.  

I spot checked a bunch of them: Wiener schnitzel (Austria), empanadas (Bolivia), Peking duck (China), pot-au-feu (France) and about ten others. The nearly all of the national dishes I checked became national dishes over the course of great spans of time, without any particular interference or promotion.  They really are of the land and the people.  

However, two Japanese foods that are known world-wide qualify as marketing/advertising driven:  

Ramen is a massive international success that was driven in the US by the introduction of instant ramen noodles (beloved by college students), and by Chef David Chang's introduction of ramen at Momofuku in New York City in 2004, driven by a clever influencer campaign.   (Incidentally, Momofuku Ando was the name of the inventor of the instant ramen noodle.)  

Likewise, but to a lesser extent, sushi seems to have become an international success by marketing, although that effort was a bit hodge-podge with many small pushes from multiple players rather than one large company.  

I found those through friends (thanks, friends!) and by manual work from the National Dishes Wikipedia page. 

But then I had the thought, what if I limited my previous search to just Wikipedia? Like this: 

     [ national dish food marketing campaign ] 

What would I find?  

Answer:  Several additional dishes and a bunch that you can look up on your own.  MY favorites from this search... 

Ploughman's Lunch (Britain, marketing campaign by the Cheese Bureau and the Milk Marketing Board, shades of the Schweizerische Käseunion!

Lamb (Australia, marketing by Meat and Livestock Australia, the MLA)

Kentucky Fried Chicken (USA, marketing by KFC, which scored a massive success in making KFC the default Christmas dinner in Japan)

Coca-Cola (USA, the Coke company has run one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history for over 100 years)

SearchResearch Lessons 

1.  LLMs sometimes just don't deliver.  I spent at least two hours trying to convince Bard and ChatGPT to give me something useful.  And yes, I tried all of the clever prompt engineering tricks I could think of, but nothing seemed to work.  Ah well... they're not the universal solution to all known problems. 

2. Friends!  I was happily impressed by the number of friends who had suggestions. Don't ever underestimate the value of a good social network.  I got text messages from some friends who'd seen the post, some comments on my other networks (e.g, LinkedIn or Facebook), and a couple of direct emails.  Ah, friends.  Good to have them as an extension to my brain.  

3. Wikipedia lists.  I should know by now that there is a list for almost everything.  National foods is not an exception to this rule.  Remember to look for "list of" something when you're searching for a category.  

4. Use site: over a large resource.  For instance, my use of my previous search query, when restricted to Wikipedia actually helped me find a few new suggestions.  Don't forget the power of limiting your search!  

As we close out the year, I'm going to take a couple of weeks off and start anew in 2024. I'll be moving back from Switzerland to California in the next few days and restart my life there.  It's been wonderful to explore Zürich and the Swiss countryside from a different perspective, that of someone who is new to the place--a new country to discover, what more could you ask for as a Christmas present.  That's what I got, and I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about the place as much as I did.  

See you in January, 2024.  Have a wonderful holiday season and New Year! 

Keep searching!  

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

SearchResearch Challenge (12/13/23): What makes a national dish?

 When in Switzerland, 

I'm fond of fondue.  

... you have to have fondue. 

Something I learned today…. 

Apparently, fondue has been around for a while, at least since 1875, when the first fondue recipe was published as a town-dweller's dish from the lowlands of the western, French-speaking parts of Switzerland. 

It was popularized as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) beginning in the 1930s as a way of increasing local overproduction of cheese.  Too much cheese, too few cheese-eaters--the obvious fix is to figure out a way to increase local demand for local cheese.

And thus it came to pass that the Swiss Cheese Union created pseudo-regional recipes as part of the "spiritual defence of Switzerland" before World War II.  After wartime rationing ended, the Swiss Cheese Union continued its marketing campaign, sending fondue sets to military regiments and event organizers across Switzerland as a way to spread the message of social cheese eating. 

As a consequence, fondue is not just popular, but also now a symbol of Swiss unity. The marketing campaign successfully associates fondue with Swiss mountains, good times, and healthy outdoor winter sports.

Ever since those heady days, fondue has been promoted aggressively in Switzerland, with slogans like "La fondue crée la bonne humeur"  ('fondue creates a good mood') and, in Swiss German, "Fondue isch guet und git e gueti Luune" ('fondue is good and creates a good mood') – usually abbreviated as the tongue-twister "figugegl."  

Background: "History of Cheese Fondue" (Oct 29, 2009) – an interview with Isabelle Raboud-Schuele, by Gail Mangold-Vine.  Originally published in ( Raboud-Schuele is the curator at the Alimentarium Food Museum in Vevey.

 This is all fascinating backstory to this week's Challenge.  My illusion of fondue as the simple national dish of Switzerland has been shattered.  What I thought of as a regional, rustic dish of the commonfolk has been revealed to be the result of rather clever marketing.  

And that thought made me wonder: 

1.  What other national foods have become popular as the result of intense marketing?  (I'm especially interested in foods that are presented as being "of the people," but are, in fact, commercial successes driven by clever advertising?)  Can you find one or two? 

Of course, as always, we're deeply curious about HOW you found these other popular campaign-driven foods!  Let us know!  

Keep searching!  

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Answer: What type of paintings are these? (Swiss Mystery #4)

 Curiouser and curiouser ... 

A knight striding with flag, bear, and sword. (Bern, Switzerland)

I'm officially a faculty member at the University of Zürich, and as such, you'd think I'd understand lots about Swiss culture.  But I'm a newbie, a recent (and temporary) immigrant.  I'm heading back to California at the end of the year.  

But one of the great things about traveling is the chance to see the world through new eyes.  Last week I posed a simple question: What are these paintings on buildings that I'm seeing everywhere in Switzerland.  

In the past week I've asked several Swiss folks what they'd call these things, and surprisingly, most of them said "I don't know... paintings?"  It's not something they've thought about much, they're just part of the background, they've always been there.  But to me, as an outsider, see the everyday and think it's extraordinary.

Here are a few examples: 

But to me, these stand out and are interesting.  Since I'm a curious fellow, I had to ask the Swiss Mystery for this week... 

1.  Is there a name for this particularly Swiss kind of artwork-on-the-walls?  Is there a particular name of the style in which most of them are drawn?  

How to start?  

I know that paintings on walls are often called frescos, so: 

     [ Swiss frescos ] 

actually didn't work all that well. I found a couple new ones, but the new paintings I found were mostly interior frescos (a la the Sistine Chapel in Rome, probably the world's best known fresco).  So it's pretty clear they're not called that.  My next search: 

     [ Switzerland painting on exterior of buildings ] 

worked a bit better.  This led me to find that many people used the word "facade" with these paintings.  My next query: 

     [ Switzerland facade painting ] 

returned results that were pretty good.  There were many more "Swiss exterior paintings" in the Images collection, but I still don't have a collective noun for these things.  Besides, "facade" means "the principal front of a building, that faces on to a street or open space," which is nice, but it doesn't describe the paintings per se, but just where they're located.  

On the other hand, this results page points to some great collections of these paintings.  One of these links is to the wonderful paintings on buildings in Schaffhausen 

I put the full text of the link there because I noticed something odd. See that term in the URL "fassadenmalerei"?  I don't know it... could it be a clue? 

If you do a search on: 

    [ fassadenmalerei ] 

you'll find a lot of sponsored links--ads for companies that paint the facades of buildings.  The German word "fassaden" means "facades" and "malerei" means "painter," specifically of decorative paintings.  So this makes sense--of course there are companies that will paint your facades, usually in elaborate geometric color schemes.

I looked at a few of their sites just to get a sense for the kind of work they do.  Do any of them do paintings of the shown above?  

The fourth site I looked at does something they call "wand-und-fassadenmalerei."   Since "wand" means "wall," maybe we're getting a little closer. Their demo images include some of the type we seek.  

While reading a few of these sites, I found another word that seems on our trail: "Lüftlmalerei."  A quick search for: 

     [ Lüftlmalerei ] 

takes us to the German Wikipedia entry, Lüftlmalerei, which tells us that

"... Lüftlmalerei (also spelled Lüftelmalerei ) refers to the art form of facade painting native to small towns and rural areas in southern Germany and Austria, especially in Upper Bavaria (Werdenfelser Land) and in Tyrol."  

Well, that's interesting.  

The region of Tyrol is in the far western part of Austria, bordering eastern Switzerland.  Southern Germany is to the north and east of Switzerland, so it's definitely in the area. 

Interestingly, when I asked my Swiss friends about this word, Lüftlmalerei, they mostly said they understood it as "air painting," and that it sounded somewhat familiar, but they also all said "it sounds like an Austrian word."  Apparently that second L, lüftlmalerei, gives it a uniquely Austrian sound.  (The L after the lüft is an Austrian/Southern German diminutive form.  See this Wikipedia entry about forming diminutives in Austro-Bavarian German.)

Looking at lüftlmalerei images shows us that this seems like the right word: 

Some SRS Regular Readers wrote in (on one of our parallel syndications) about this Challenge.  

Regular Reader Bill Janssen just knew that the word was probably “Wandmalerei."  As we saw, that's certainly part of the answer.  

Franz Miltner (who works in Ingelheim am Rhen) says  “Not sure if there is a different term in Switzerland, but it's Lüftlmalerei in southern Germany and Austria."  

Perhaps most notably, Regular Reader SpiritualLadder points out that: 

You might not like this, but I literally put in your exact question with the image into ChatGPT and this is what I got:

(ChatGPT reply): "The artwork depicted in the image you've provided is reminiscent of a mural. In Switzerland, such murals are often associated with a long tradition of public art and can be reflective of various styles, from classical frescoes to more modern interpretations.

Specifically, in Switzerland and parts of Germany, there is a tradition known as "Lüftlmalerei," a style of mural painting that is particularly found in the alpine regions. This style often features pastoral scenes, historical figures, and local legends, and is characterized by its use of vibrant colors and intricate details to create a sense of three-dimensional space on flat surfaces."

When you google Lüftlmalerei, you find that it is present in Germany and Austria, so it sounds like it might not be the right answer, but they do look similar to the ones you it feels right. (Maybe it has a different Swiss name.) If it *is* the right answer, that would explain why it's hard to find!

I felt like ChatGPT (with vision) *might* be able to handle this kind of task well since it might have been trained on images of this style. The first time I prompted it with a different wording it wasn't as helpful, but putting in your exact question got me this answer!

To SpiritualLadder's point, it doesn't bother me at all that ChatGPT was able to provide such a good answer--this is a real improvement! 

As I've noted before, the LLMs are still subject to hallucinations, so you still need to check everything.  But if this accelerates the search process for some Challenges, I'm all for it.  

SearchResearch Lessons

The traditional way I did it illustrated some insider techniques. 

1. Don't ignore the URLs.  They sometimes contain clues that will help you find the result you're looking for. 

2. Read related sites while looking for terms and concepts you don't know.  Reading related websites is how I learned about the idea of Lüftlmalerei, quickly doing a couple of searches to validate that this is, in fact, the correct term.  

3. Don't ignore the LLMs.  As SpiritualLadder points out, the LLMs can sometimes do a great job of pointing out things that you might not have considered.  Be sure to validate the results they give you, but they're getting better every day.  Consider checking AND confirming!  

Keep searching!