Taste versus Flavor

When I write in Italian, invariably I confuse the word gusto meaning “taste” or “flavor” with the word sapore meaning “taste” or “flavor.”  Often, they are used synonymously and sometimes can be used interchangeably, but in reality, they have two distinct meanings, as in English.  Thank goodness for Eleonor Vieri, an Italian language expert and my editor, who knows the correct word for each context.  To try to improve my written and spoken Italian, I did a little research in both languages.

When we eat, many pleasant sensations come from both the nose and the mouth, which perceive different characteristics.  The mouth detects the taste, and the nose captures the aromas.  It is the combination between taste and smell that creates a flavor.  In fact, there exists only 5 tastes:  sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and more recently, savory.  Unlike what we may have learned in school, taste receptors are not concentrated in specific zones in the mouth but are scattered randomly throughout.  Sweetness is caused by a form of sugar or alcohol.  Sweet foods, like cake, honey, fruits and fruit juice, are often high in carbohydrates which provide fuel for the body.  Sourness, or tartness, is the taste of acids found in foods like vinegar, lemon juice and yogurt.  Saltiness is from sodium found in table salt, soy sauce and processed meat.  Bitterness is found in foods like coffee, wine, dark chocolate and arugula.

The fifth taste is technically called “umami.”  Scientists identified umami taste receptors on the human tongue in 2002.  It is the taste of glutamate, an amino acid that is one of the building blocks of protein.  In fact, umami was discovered more than 100 years ago in Japan by a scientist named Dr. Kikunae Ikeda.  While he was enjoying a bowl of kelp broth, Dr. Ikeda noticed that the savory flavor was distinct from the four basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  He named this additional taste “umami,” which means “the essence of deliciousness” in Japanese.  He eventually found that the taste of umami was attributed to glutamate.  It is found in foods like meat, aged cheese, fish, tomatoes and mushrooms.

While there are only 5 tastes, we detect thousands of flavors because of our sense of smell.  In fact, it is often said that you eat first with your nose and then with your mouth.  An average person is said to be able to recognize 10,000 distinct aromas.  Hence, our olfactory sensitivity means that scents become a large part of our appreciation of flavors.  If we hold our nose or catch a cold or other virus, all we will be able to detect are the five tastes.  At these times, foods seem almost tasteless.  Understanding what happens as we taste and smell food helps us analyze a dish and improve the way we cook it, transforming the kitchen into an even more interesting and fun environment.

But the question remains:  Will all of this improve the correct usage of gusto and sapore? I doubt it.  I’m still inclined to translate “the flavors of gelato…” as sapori, when, in fact, it should be gusti.

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Rosie la Rivettatrice

Durante la seconda guerra mondiale, più di 12 milioni di uomini e donne prestarono servizio militare per gli Stati Uniti. Tra loro c’erano più di un milione di italoamericani (circa il 10%) benché alcuni italiani fossero classificati come “stranieri nemici” e internati negli Stati Uniti durante la guerra contro la Germania e i suoi alleati. Mentre milioni di uomini venivano spediti all’estero per combattere, milioni di donne americane iniziarono a lavorare nelle fabbriche, nei cantieri navali, negli aerei e in altre industrie belliche.

L’immagine che associamo al patriottismo femminile durante la seconda guerra è un poster di Rosie la Rivettatrice che indossa una bandana rossa e flette il bicipite. La didascalia del poster è “Possiamo farlo!” Eppure questo poster, disegnato dall’artista J. Howard Miller, è stato esposto solo per due settimane negli stabilimenti della Westinghouse Company. Pochissimi americani l’hanno visto durante gli anni della guerra. Un anno prima, nel 1942, Rosie la Rivettatrice fece la sua prima apparizione in una canzone trasmessa a livello nazionale. Poi, il dipinto di Norman Rockwell di Rosie la Rivettatrice apparve sulla copertina del Saturday Evening Post del maggio 1943, raffigurava una donna muscolosa con in mano una pistola rivettatrice che dissacrava casualmente Mein Kampf.  Questo disegno di Rosie fu l’immagine di lei più famosa in tempo di guerra.

Chi era Rosie la Rivettatrice? Mentre tre donne ne rivendicano il titolo, una si distingue dalle altre. Rosina Bonavita di Peekskill, New York (la sua famiglia era originaria di Napoli) era una rivettatrice in uno stabilimento della General Motors a Tarrytown. Lei e sua cugina, Jennie Fiorito, collaborarono per creare un’intera ala di un aerosilurante perforandola con più di 900 fori, lavorando pelli e usando 3.345 rivetti, tutto in modo impeccabile, in un tempo record di sei ore. La prima pagina del New York Sun così si intitolava: “Rosie e Jennie hanno stabilito un record di Rivet”. Quando un’altra squadra batté quel segno, Rosie decise di fare squadra con Susan Esposito e stabilirono un nuovo record di produzione. Nel corso della guerra, quasi 19 milioni di donne diventarono “Rosies”. 

Naturalmente, molti uomini si sentivano a disagio con donne che svolgevano lavori tradizionalmente tenuti da uomini. Quando la guerra finì, molte industrie costrinsero queste donne a cedere i propri posti di lavoro qualificati ai veterani ritornati in patria. La propaganda all’epoca si affrettò a descrivere il lavoro delle donne come temporaneo e suggerì che sarebbero tornate ai loro ruoli di casalinghe una volta che la guerra fosse finita. Rosie è stata in gran parte dimenticata durante gli anni del baby boom dal 1946 al 1964.

Negli anni ’80, le femministe andavano in cerca di immagini del passato che simboleggiassero l’emancipazione femminile. Avevano preso in considerazione anche il dipinto di Rockwell, era protetto da copyright e conteneva un riferimento alla guerra: il Mein Kampf.  Il poster di Westinghouse era più generico. Combattendo la diffusa discriminazione sul lavoro e sui salari, le femministe volevano dimostrare che le donne potevano svolgere lavori tradizionalmente maschili e farli altrettanto bene, se non meglio. Mentre “We Can Do It!” era originariamente uno slogan di guerra, il poster e il suo slogan ora volevano dire che le donne possono fare tutto ciò che pensano e vogliono. 

Rosina Bonavita non ha guadagnato soldi per nessuna delle illustrazioni di Rosie.  Riteneva il suo lavoro come un dovere patriottico. Ma voleva che le donne avessero parità di retribuzione e pari opportunità. Debilitata dall’osteoporosi, è morta il primo dell’anno 1996. Suo figlio, un medico, era convinto che le sue ossa fossero state indebolite dalle tossine di piombo inalate sin dai primi giorni di rivettatura.

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Rosie the Riveter

During World War II, more than 12 million men and women served in the United States military.  Among them were more than a million Italian-Americans (about 10%) even though some Italian nationals were classified as “enemy aliens” and interned in the United States during the war against Germany and its allies.   While millions of men were shipped overseas for combat, millions of American women went to work in the factories, shipyards, aircraft and other war industries.

The image we associate with female patriotism during the war is a poster of Rosie the Riveter wearing a red bandana and flexing her muscle.  The poster’s caption is “We Can Do It!”  Yet this poster, designed by artist J. Howard Miller, was displayed for only two weeks in Westinghouse Company factories.  Very few Americans saw it during the war years.  A year earlier in 1942, Rosie the Riveter made her first appearance in a nationally broadcast song.  Then, Norman Rockwell’s painting of Rosie the Riveter appeared on the May 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.  Depicting a muscular woman holding a riveting gun casually desecrating Mein Kampf, this drawing of Rosie was the most well-known wartime image of her.

Who was Rosie the Riveter?  While three women lay claim to the title, one stands out from the rest.  Rosina Bonavita of Peekskill, New York (her family originally came from Naples) was a riveter at a General Motors plant in Tarrytown.  She and her cousin, Jennie Fiorito, teamed up to create an entire wing of a torpedo bomber plane by drilling more than 900 lap holes, fitting skins and driving 3,345 rivets, perfectly, in a record six-hour period.  The front page of the New York Sun read: “Rosie and Jennie set Rivet Record.”  When another team beat that mark, Rosie partnered with Susan Esposito and set a new speed record.  Over the course of the war, nearly 19 million women became “Rosies.”

Of course, there were many men who were uncomfortable with women in jobs traditionally held by men.  When the war ended, many industries forced women to relinquish their skilled jobs to returning veterans.  The propaganda at the time was quick to depict the women’s work as temporary and suggested that they would return to their roles as homemakers once the war was over. Rosie was largely forgotten during the baby boom years from 1946 to 1964.

By the 1980s, feminists were looking for images from the past that symbolized female empowerment.  Even if they had considered Rockwell’s painting, it was under copyright and contained a reference to the war—Mein Kampf.  The Westinghouse poster was more generic.  In fighting widespread job and wage discrimination, feminists wanted to show that women could perform jobs traditionally held by men and do them just as well, if not better.  While “We Can Do It1” was originally about the war, the poster and its slogan are now meant to say that women can do anything they put their minds to.

Rosina Bonavita did not earn any money for any of the Rosie illustrations.  She saw her work as a patriotic duty.  But she did want women to have equal pay and equal opportunity.  Debilitated by osteoporosis, she died on New Year’s Day 1996.  Her son, who was a physician, was convinced that her weakened bones were caused by the lead toxins from her early days of riveting.

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