The connection between language and food is ancient and intimate. Not only is this connection deep, it’s universal. When we talk about translation in the food and beverage industry, we are talking about the potential involvement of every language spoken by every society large enough to sell or buy food products. All people participate in this field of human activity.
Another special aspect of food and beverage translation is that many of the words arise from the physical source or nature of the things they represent. The various Italian words for different pastas, for instance, describe their shapes and sound almost like endearments – for example, orecchiette means “little ear”; campanelle means “bell flower”; and capelli d’angelo means “angel hair.” Thus, they may involve difficult-to-translate elements such as idioms, historical connections, and other non-food allusions.
Pride is another element that accompanies discussions about food. Pride of place, family, tribe, history, ingredients, effort, quality, and technique. Many dishes, sauces, and drinks are named after the towns where they were developed and shared for centuries, or by the processes individual people do to make the final products. Again, skillful translators take what they can of these elements and carry them into the target language, while maintaining clarity.
Then there are the government regulations around food and beverages and their labeling – these are different in every country, and they are tied to legal processing requirements and forms. Food safety is integrated into the requirements for product labeling, and into texts about how to prepare foods, as well as the manuals for food processors and other appliances and tools. These special aspects of food and beverage translation often lead to the need for subject matter experts to handle technical details in instructions, ingredients accuracy, and regulation compliance.
In addition, there is the issue of customer appetites – literal appetites, not just purchasing desires. Great care must be taken to ensure that menu translations and food product marketing descriptions are enticing. This task is not as clear-cut as you might imagine, and that goes back to the issue of food being intimate. People are considering putting these products into their bodies, by way of their taste buds – it is all too easy to repel a potential customer with a single wrong or questionable word. And even if your descriptions manage to be accurate and not offensive, there is still, often, the possibility of simply bewildering your audience. The English dish called “bubble and squeak” for example, has nothing to do with either of those words, not literally. The name comes from the sounds of the ingredients cooking over a fire. For the translator unfamiliar with such a dish, research is required to properly name it in the target language.
Another food translation issue has become a more common concern than ever, and that is food restrictions, for reasons of allergies, religion, basic health, or ethical concerns. Every ingredient in every dish must be accurately and thoroughly listed and translated. Leaving off gluten in an item with gluten in it could sicken thousands of people. Mistranslating “peanuts” as “pine nuts” could kill some. The absence of accuracy in a brand’s food labels corrodes credibility until people choose to avoid the brand.
Documentation related to the sale and delivery of food items demands knowledgeable, careful translation also. Transportation of food items around the world involves government agencies like customs offices, shipping companies, truckers, and storage facilities. Contracts between sellers and purchasers require translation. And all of these processes and translations go on while the goods in question are, in varying degrees, perishable.
To summarize, the issues involved with translation for the food and beverage industry are best handled by extremely experienced language service providers because of the following issues:
1. Food is personal and every individual has complex preferences, but each is a potential customer.
2. The names and words associated with food and drink items often have cultural, regional history and emotional power.
3. Food and beverages are interwoven with identity and pride, for reasons ranging from the quality of their contents to the difficulty of their preparation.
4. Regulations about the handling of food products are extensive and vary from country to country.
5. Food product descriptions – from menus, to advertising, to cookbooks – must be enticing, which may require a translator with copywriting skills.
6. Translation accuracy is essential for people with food restrictions and allergies.
7. Documentation for food that is being traded, transported, stored, and sold to a foreign market is extensive and requires extremely precise translation.
Skrivanek is a global LSP that has been handling every aspect of food and beverage translation for decades. Our food and beverage translation specialists love this field, and their passion helps to ensure that your translations are handled not only with precision and legal compliance, but with a level of enthusiasm that results in excellent translations that resonate with your foreign markets.
J. V. McShulskis