About Nitty Grits

Nitty Grits is the international culinary dictionary. It is the most expansive and inclusive dictionary/thesaurus, which includes the most multi-language translations of food names from around the world. It includes the vernacular as well as scientific terms. Have a look around by using the search box.

Nitty Grits is based on the work of Suzy Oakes, who authored the culinary dictionary, WhatAmIEating.com. Suzy’s work, compiled as a labor of love, contained over 64,000 entries and was an organic, growing site, which was the definitive on-line culinary dictionary. Her work was halted by her untimely death in 2011. Upon learning of her illness, Suzy, in her generosity offered her work to the SoFAB Institute. We are honored to carry on the work that Suzy started. It is an incredible body of work and a useful tool for anyone eating, buying food, and learning about the food of the world. As was Suzy’s practice, we plan for this to be an organic work that will continue to develop.

SoFAB has named its version of the international culinary dictionary Nitty Grits. The name is a reference to American South, which is a part of the mission of the museum. It also is a reference to the phrase “nitty gritty” or the complete set of facts. We hope that this will be our motto in continuing Suzy’s work. It also allows WhatAmIEating.com to continue as a legacy site without there being any confusion.

WhatAmIEating.com received technical support from Jane Skinner. She will be maintaining the legacy site.

SoFAB is grateful to Suzy and her husband, Stephen O’Rahilly, and to Jane Skinner, for their generosity and continued cooperation. We hope that this generosity of spirit will continue its legacy in Nitty Grits.

Suzy Oakes (also known as Suzy O’Rahilly)

29/3/1950 - 31/7/2011

Picture of Suzy Oakes

Suzy Oakes was born on 29th March 1950, the third child of William Lyness and Joan Ann (nee Squires) Oakes. Bill, a naval dentist in WWII, set up a successful dental practice in Gloucester, England, where he and Joan raised Wendy, Bob and Suzy. Suzy had an idyllic childhood: running free in the countryside, being utterly tomboyish, learning to climb trees, going out “ratting” at night, playing just as spontaneously with “Prog” (as they called Prince Richard of Gloucester) as with village children of more humble origins, and loving her small, gentle but intellectually stimulating primary school. At the age of 11 she was sent to board at Malvern Girls College, which she detested. She left the school at 16 with 5 modest O Levels and a sense of relief, to go to a secretarial college in Cheltenham. There she fell in with a literary and intellectual set. When she was 17, she responded to an ad in “The Lady” seeking a “Companion to the Lady Newell” in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Suzy was rescued from the clutches of the Newells by the Lubbocks, old friends from Gloucestershire who were wildfowl experts. Suzy travelled with them down the US Eastern Seaboard, following the snow goose migration and landing eventually, in Beaumont, Texas. Suzy talked her way into a temporary job as a ranch hand on the Star C Quarter Horse and the Running N Ranch, where she lassoed calves and shot fish in the bayous.

Suzy later got a job as a secretary in the Department of Botany in Bristol with its then head, Professor (now Sir) David Smith, an expert in symbiosis. Suzy made a trip to Iran, Syria and India. But Suzy’s wanderlust persisted. Soon after the Indian trip she was off again to Mykonos, where she tended bar. Her tsatsiki is legendary. She learned classical Greek belly dancing, becaming good enough to teach it to locals and tourists. She returned to Bristol University, saved a bit of money, and was off to Greece again. This time to the island of Allonisos.

In 1982 she returned to Britain, becaming the coordinator of a Type 2 diabetes study, despite her lack of research experience and dearth of academic qualifications. Suzy’s penchant for hard work, her organisational flair, superb communication skills and extraordinary emotional intelligence made her the perfect person to charm hundreds of physicians, nurses and dieticians around the UK into rigorously adhering to a protocol and keeping this landmark study going for 10 years. Unusual for an administrative position, the job actually involved Suzy seeing the Oxford patients and doing basic checks of nerve function. She was very popular with patients learning amazing details about their lives. The UKPDS proved, for the first time, that certain ways of managing Type 2 diabetes were better than others. The findings resulted in improved care for millions of people around the world.

Suzy and Stephen O’Rahilly were married in Boston, MA in September of 1990. Soon after arriving in Boston, she volunteered to work in the Harvard School of Public Health. Within a matter of weeks, she had a desk, a salary, and the job of setting up the Women’s Health Study, one of the flagship longitudinal studies of factors influencing female health and mortality.

She and Stephen returned to Cambridge in 1991. Suzy was working at the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer, setting up a huge prospective study based in Norfolk with her customary zeal and thoroughness. However, Suzy suffered from premature osteoarthritis of the hips, and her first hip replacement had never properly bonded. This remained undiagnosed for years and she was finding it increasingly hard to cope with the travel and activity needed for her work. During her recovery from a second hip surgery she got the idea for whatamieating.com. She predicted that the world would become more “IT” connected (she was definitely right there) and that, when travelling in a foreign country, one should be able to quickly look at a menu item and get reliable information from a handheld device about one’s selection. When, a few years ago, Stephen got a sizeable pay rise, Suzy gave up her work at the University to concentrate on her website. This now has over 70,000 entries in more than 60 languages. All entries have been personally entered and fact-checked by Suzy using the compendious food library that is now our home. Her dear friend Jane Skinner will be the “keeper” of whatamieating.com into the future but the database has also been given to an organisation called the SoFAB Institute.

Suzy was a wonderful cook, a sensitive and entertaining hostess and a terrific photographer. She was thrilled when Eileen O’Brien, the landlady of our local pub, the Six Bells, asked to put some of Suzy’s photos on her wall. A passing customer liked one so much that they bought it. Suzy joked that, at last, she was a professional “something.” She danced like an angel (even after a hip replacement) and swam like a dolphin. I am thinking of her now, slicing through the azure water of a sunlit Mediterranean pool.

Stephen O’Rahilly July 31st 2011