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Why isn’t there a cheese emoji?

Our man Rhodri Marsden bemoans the lack of cheese emoji icons, and longs for the latest Unicode 8.0 update. Plus: Rhodri's top tips on how to make existing emojis looks like swiss rolls and asparagus.

The absence of an emoji for ‘cheese’ is a constant, niggling problem in the digital life of the average Western foodie. We’re way, way too busy to be typing “cheese” when we want to communicate the idea (or even the reality) of cheese. Yes, there are imaginative ways around the problem if we want to refer to Edam 🔴  or to extol the virtues of Brie ⚪️ . But these two symbols alone cannot handle the colossal demand across the Western world for cheese messaging, and while some people insist in desparation that this is ricotta 💭, I’m not buying it.

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This year, however, a cheese wedge is finally due to be cemented into Unicode. Relief! Unicode is the industry standard for handling computer text, ensuring that symbols appear consistently across our various gadgets; the first set of emojis was hand-picked back in October 2010, and it included 59 foodstuffs that emoji users have become overly familiar with over the past few years. As the whole idea of emoji originated in Japan, it’s little surprise that it’s weighted heavily towards Japanese food, with symbols such as dango 🍡, oden 🍢, rice cracker 🍘, fish cake 🍥, sushi 🍣 and bento box 🍱. But emoji is now a truly international phenomenon; it only takes a quick look at emojitracker.com – which tracks the use of emoji on Twitter – to see that Japanese foods sit way down the chart. (The rice ball 🍙, for example, currently sits between the “white square button” 🔳 and “END with leftwards arrow” 🔚.) They’re effortlessly eclipsed in popularity by pizzas 🍕, burgers 🍔 and (thank God, as we were in danger of succumbing to scurvy) oranges 🍊.

The web’s go-to emoji resource, emojipedia.com, reveals that the most requested emojis tend to come from people experiencing distress over the absence of food items, namely the hot dog, the taco, the burrito, popcorn and, yes, cheese. These are ALL set to appear in Unicode 8.0, and will hopefully end up on our devices later this year, alongside the chilli pepper, a champagne bottle and a turkey.But we at olive feel very strongly that this doesn’t go far enough. How difficult would it be to bung a sandwich in there? The absence of the sandwich from our emoji arsenal adds literally seconds per year to the time we spend messaging – and don’t tell us that 🍞🐷🍞 is a convincing representation of a ham sandwich, because it isn’t. What kind of world do we live in where we can effortlessly send someone a roasted sweet potato 🍠 but have no way of expressing the concept of avocado without laboriously typing A-V-O-C-A-D-O? It’s inhumane, is what it is.

A few months ago, the journalist Kelsey Rexroat attempted to embark on a week-long, emoji-only diet – an idea sufficiently foolish to make for great reading. She restricted herself to the 59 food emoji, but in doing so missed an opportunity for a slightly more varied diet. If I’d been doing it I’d have foraged for a while in the plants section for some mushrooms 🍄, chestnuts 🌰 and a herb 🌿 that only looks a little bit like basil, but frankly that’s good enough for me. And amongst the animals, there’s octopus 🐙, frog 🐸, rabbit 🐇and much else besides; these things hold way more culinary potential than the unappetising-looking “pot of food” 🍲 or “curry and rice” 🍛. In fact, if you squint a bit, this could be some asparagus 🌵 and this could definitely pass for a Swiss roll 🌀 in an emergency. But we’re done with pretending, Unicode. Give us a lamb shank or some membrillo. We’re struggling, here.


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