This post follows up on my previous post about "The Grainsayers."

This week I enjoyed a wonderful conversation and some great food at Shanghai's best and healthiest bakery (IMHO), Nancy's Bakery on Weifang Street in PuDong District. Nancy is a Shanghai woman who has traveled to Europe and Brazil to study the culinary arts and bring back great international cooking. With imported European flours, her breads are the best in Shanghai, and she offers a variety of other dishes with top-notch, healthy ingredients that Westerners and Chinese love. Her amazing bread has attracted one of the great entrepreneurs of China whom I got to meet on this last visit to the bakery. That's another story I hope to share someday (teaser: he's strengthening and transforming China, with the help of Utah, of all places).

While dining at Nancy's, after an exotic main course, a hearty soup, and some other items, she brought my little group (my wife and I plus my Chinese teacher and her boyfriend) a vegetable dish of dark, chopped greens. "Ganlan" she said. "Ganlan?" I asked. "Doesn't that mean 'olive'?" She nodded, though maybe she didn't understand me. I looked at the greens and thought there's no way this came from an olive tree, but I've learned from shopping and eating in China that the names for plants can be confusing and variable, especially for foreign plants but even native Asian species pose plenty of trouble, so no need to make a fuss. Just be grateful and move on. But later I got out my handy Pleco app on my iPad and looked up the word "ganlan." Yes, ganlan means olive, but there's another "ganlan" with different characters and different tones that literally means "sweet blue" or "sweet indigo" but is translated as Chinese broccoli, or cabbage, or "gai larn" according to one dictionary, "wild cabbage" in another, "white cabbage" in another and "cabbage" or "kale" in yet another. I think "kale" is probably the best fit from the dictionary choices, though I thought it was mustard greens.

Such difficulties occur frequently. Some parts of the country or even neighbors on the same street call a given species by two or more names. The tomato, for example, is described as a type of eggplant (fanqie, where qie = eggplant) by some, or as "Western red persimmon" (xihongshi) by others. Grains, herbs, spices, fruits, birds, fish, mammals--there can be multiple names to cope with for a single species that may not reflect sound scientific logic, and this is in a single modern language. Add centuries and the complexity of translating terms to different languages and you can have all sort of confusion.

So when Mormon mentions some plants and animals that were had among the Nephites and the Jaredites, what did he mean? Had the Hebrew word (or its late Nephite derivative) typically translated as "wheat" or "barley" come to refer to grains native to the Americas such as maize or quinoa or simply New World barley? Did those words refer to many different grains depending on which Nephites or Jaredites in which century and which location you talked to? Did Mormon even know what particular species was meant in the records from centuries ago that he was drawing upon? Maybe Mormon did his best to specify a particular grain. But what if he used a term that, in Hebrew, often means wheat or barley? Is it wrong to use those terms in the translation? What if he wrote "quinoa"? How should this be translated when Joseph Smith through his divinely aided translation processes comes across the passage, but has no such word in his vocabulary? Is the "meaning" that needs to be conveyed that the Nephites planted and harvested grains, or is it important for the peer-reviewed Book of Mormon that the correct scientific name be delivered such as Chenopodium berlandieri?

Better yet, why not prophetically give the scientific name and the future bibliographic references for peer-reviewed journals that will announce the discovery of the specific domesticated grains? Wait, my mistake--maybe the Book of Mormon was not intended to impress scientists and critics on its technical merits. Maybe there's some other purpose to the book that leaves plenty of latitude in how peripheral flora and fauna are specified. Maybe the natural complexities that occur in the naming of things across language groups and across miles and centuries need to be considered when we encounter a term like "wheat" in the Book of Mormon or "ganlan" at Nancy's Bakery.

If you're having trouble with the Book of Mormon over allegedly anachronistic plants and animals in the text (such a minor issue, really), then I sincerely would like to suggest that you get out more often and join me in Shanghai at Nancy's Bakery, or even a simple grocery store, and begin exploring first hand what happens to names when cultures and languages collide.

Yes, I want the peer-reviewed version of the Book of Mormon someday with all the technical details filled in, but for now, I have to remember what the book is actually about.
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