One cookbook, many countries: how we judge a book by its cover.

Xa Shaw Stewart
14 October, 2015

The language of food is universal, but have you ever thought about how the same books look in different countries? Cookery editor Xa Shaw Stewart of Bloomsbury Publishing explains how, when it comes to great covers such as River Cottage Veg Every Day!, it really is about love at first sight…

We are a global society.

Right round the world, from Bradford to Tokyo, people have access to Starbucks, iPhones, Celine Dion ... and their favourite cookbooks. Thanks to new design and production technology, cookbooks that are loved by top chefs and home cooks alike can be printed in a more sophisticated way than ever before – and wherever you have wifi, you have social media, so someone in New York can cheerfully salivate over a bit of Instagrammed food porn from a plate in Rome. But global cookery publishing is not the walk in the park that it may seem.


Language is the first hurdle.

For a book like River Cottage Veg Every Day!, the audience isn’t limited to home cooks in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s native UK. There are people all over the world who want his recipes for cooking with more veg at the heart of a meal, and cutting back on meat. It’s a topic that’s been talked about a lot over the past few years, relating as it does to global attitudes to the environment – as well as hitting the culinary target of dishing up something speedy and delicious without breaking the bank. So naturally the book has been published in all sorts of places, including the United States. Although we may share the same mother tongue, we Brits don’t have the same cookery vocabulary and measuring system as our American cousins; not only do they use cups and ounces instead of millilitres and grams, but an American pint is smaller than a British pint. They measure butter out in ‘sticks’ instead of weighing it, and references to arugula, cilantro or flapjack (rocket, coriander and, confusingly, pancake) will have you running for Google Translate. It’s a bit of a minefield, and although that is all very well if you are a keen cook who is prepared to make allowances for something especially tasty, what if you don’t even speak English as a first language? What if you’re Dutch?


Publishers know that in order to get people to buy a book, they need to package it in just the right way.

When rights are sold, foreign publisher can change anything they like – and they do. We really do judge books by their covers, and the way that we interpret a jacket will depend hugely on what we’re used to seeing in our local bookshops and on our friends’ shelves.


Take River Cottage Veg Every Day.

This book has travelled all around the world since it was written, and here are just a few of the covers it has worn.


River Cottage in… the UK

River Cottage

 The home edition of the book features Hugh holding something deliciously veggie that he’s just made. River Cottage books are always fun and colourful so the text is a rainbow of bright fuchsia, acid green and sunshine yellow. The word ‘veg’ is maxed up, just in case you forget what the star of the show is.


River Cottage in… the USA

River Cottage Veg America

For the Americans, it’s more about the food than anything else, and they’ve cropped in close to a fresh green salad. To liven things up, some of the illustrations from the inside of the book have been pulled out and stamped on the front cover – so it doesn’t look like just another cookbook. It says, ‘This one is special!


River Cottage in… Switzerland

River Cottage Switzerland

The Swiss don’t care so much about what’s on the plate as who cooked it, and they’ve got a picture of Hugh ducking out of a rainstorm with an impromptu leafy umbrella. Here it’s the sense of fun that matters more than anything else: clearly the audience just trust that whatever’s inside will be delicious.


River Cottage in… the Netherlands

River Cottage netherlands

This cover is fab! It’s covered all over with illustrations like the ones inside the book, where ‘potato stamping’ has been taken to a whole new level. The cover is like a huge neon sign, ready to stop people in their tracks and encourage them to find out what’s inside.  

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