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robert brown

The American Way of Eating

70 posts in this topic

My point about travel and passports -- which I didn't make very clearly -- was that an insular nation will have more difficulty accessing culinary traditions of other countries and hence developing a body of consumers who are critically aware and demanding of quality.

Only if said "insular nation" also does not have immigrants that bring their food and culture along with them.

That is most definitely not the case with the U.S.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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There is a small elite(not necessarily an economic elite) which gives importance to eating but for the great majority it is just fuel. Second there are only a few cities where good restaurants are concentrated but the vast majority of the country is a culinary wasteland. I lived in New Jersey in 93 at Princeton and we could not find a decent place to dine out.

One thing that I would like to point out in response to this post:

There is a very large segment of the US population which is being overlooked in this analysis. Millions of Americans living in small towns across this country devote a significant amount of time to planting gardens and to fishing and hunting. The popular conception in the media is that this activity is a hobby, more akin to sport or relaxation than to a search for better food. I am sure that this is true for some, particularly as regards certain hunters & fishermen. But most gardeners are after better tasting items to put on the table. In the little town where I grew up (and where my parents still live and put in a large garden every year), there are no good restaurants. You can't even find chain restaurants and fast food without driving 20 miles. But probably 30% of the families there have significant gardens. Granted, they eat convenience foods from the grocery too. But they spend a lot of time in pursuit of better food, as anyone who has worked to properly maintain and harvest from a large garden can attest. Why is it that we praise this when it occurs in other countries, but assume it is beneath notice in the US? If these people do not care about eating or the quality of their food, why do they go to such lengths to grow their own?


Those who do not remember the pasta are doomed to reheat it.

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The shop where I buy my cheese has a cellar for his cheese ripening.

Formaggio here in Cambridge, Ma.

My friends in France are surprised we have never been in a mcdo's or drink coke. my American friends are surprise we shop like the French. One place for bread, one for cheese and so on.

Quality is of importance, I believe for health.


Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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Even when it comes to the culinary world, who is producing a body of literature comparable to what the US is producing? The US is surely the world leader in the academic study of food.

What US programmes or literature are you talking about here? There is actually a lot of serious food writing in France, although some of it goes under categories other than gastronomy -- e.g. anthropology. There is a deep tradition of academic food writing in the UK, again, under a range of disciplines.

I was reminded of this thread, which I hope will continue, by a comment in the most recent issue (Number 64) of The Art of Eating quarterly. In an essay on "The Pleasures and Challenges of Elizabeth David," Melissa Pasanen writes:

A few months ago, to the disappointment and even irritation of some in Britain, the Schlesinger Libarary at Harvard announced that it was acquiring Elizabeth David's papers; it already has those of Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher, as well as more than 16,000 cookbooks. Apparently, no Biritish library was interested in or able to take on the extensive David collection, and the Schlesinger, as the leading research library for English-language culinary history, was the best home that could be found.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This was in the press back in January. Jill Norman, Elizabeth David's editor and literary trustee, got tired of storing a hundred or so cartons of papers in her home. If I recall correctly, Norman offered them for sale through a dealer such as Sotheby's. This provoked angry reactions amongst British foodies, who had expected these papers to join Elizabeth David's book collections, housed in the Warburg Institute at the University of London and at the London Guildhall Library. But Norman wanted to sell them, not donate them, and none of the British libraries had the resources to buy the papers.

More a reflection of the poverty of British libraries and universities in general than anything specific about food, I would guess.

Press release from Radcliffe: click here


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I though alot about the "American Way " of eating when I was developing my restaurant which is billed as an American bistro.

I cannot say whether I grew up typically American in my eating habits...

my early years spent on the South Fork of Long Island we relied heavily on seasonal produce my stepfather went fishing we had chickens who we got eggs from but everything else was from either the A&P or when feeling flush Dean & Deluca...then spent months in India where I ate next to nothing but can remember fondly the roasted corn w. lemon & hot pepper they sold on the street and the best chinese food ever in a chinese restaurant in Puna that looked exactly like the one in East Hampton, red leather & red velvet w. gold dragons & muzak playing the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (it was 1978) oops I digress..when in NYC with the other half of my family..we went to very nice restaurants & every Sunday it was bagels & lox etc brunch w. my grandparents & Chinese Food for dinner (case you were wondering we're Jews).

As an adult in NYC I shopped the Union Square farmers market, went to the Ukraninan butcher on First ave, went to Murray's cheese shop , the bakery etc where my grandmother went to do her shopping as well. Supermarkets were for cat food, paper goods & veg/fruits in the winter and the occasional frozen mac & cheese for days when I was hungover all of which was generously supplimented by the myriad of "ethnic foods" in my city. Just within my nieghboorhood (Murray Hill/Gramercy) we had good Indian, Turkish, Mexican, Thai,Chinese, Japanese, French, Afghan, Italian and thats just if you didn't want to take a cab. Not to mention I spent much of my teenage years eating at The Gotham since the guys my Dad worked for owned and frequently visited San Francsico & Seattle I got to eat some great food. I remember the first night at the Gotham when Alfred sent out the cutest tiniest lamb chops and I had pasta primavera (I was young) and it came in a deep rounhd light green bowl w. sugar snap peas and wee carrots & asparagus and for years I have wanted to eat exactly that but could never do it and for dessert we had cookies & milk

My food pedigree though throughly American is cannot be defined as anything but that. Sometimes we ate in front of the TV sometimes we ate at the table where sometimes we talked and sometimes we read and alot of the times we'd fight. We rarely drank in the house so wine with dinner was an out thing unless it was a holiday. In the summer we ate outside on the porch in the Hamptons or Fire Island or out in a restaurant with better Air conditioning.

So when I opened a restaurant an American bistro I wanted it to reflect all of my food history. The basis was local products with what ever influence works the best for them. American food is the ultimate fusion cuisine as Americans are made up of so many different types of people all bringing thier own tastes and flavors with then upon thier arrival.

At the moment on our menu we have Cajun, French. Italian, Thai, Argentinian, Spanish,Isreali, German, Japanses, Polish, African flavors all under the umbrella of American food, while so dish is singularly one of the above ( ok except the basil pesto) we have things like Zaatar Seasoned local lamb with salad of locally grown tomatoes, cucmbers & goat feta, fried free range chicken w. fresh corn & mashed potatoes (a nod to the all American Swansons TV dinner), PEI Mussels in chorizo wine broth w. chimichurri mayo, pigs in a blanket, grilled tuna w. gazpacho vinaigrette, cherry bere-bere glazed duck.

I consider all of these menu items to be "American" my ways of procuring ingredients I learned from Alice Waters ( my idol) & my mother & grandmother and my recipes come from things we all like to eat that we've eaten in America served to us by people who are Americans whether their families have been here 200 years or 1 year.


"sometimes I comb my hair with a fork" Eloise

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Aliwaks, this evocative post captures for me both the glory and the tragedy of American cuisine.

The glorious element is that this is truly a cuisine without borders, one free to absorb the best that any country has to offer. (Though I will say that British home cooking and London restaurant cooking have made huge strides in this regard).

The tragedy is that the tendency to adapt and modify, coupled with an American love for technology and labour-saving methods, means that the adaptations of classic dishes are so often a compromise; hence the "shock of the new" that many of us have when eating in France or Italy for the first time.

Alice Waters is something of an exception. Where Julia Child said that her masterpiece could have been subtitled "French Cooking from the American Supermarket", Waters has been uncompromising in her search for perfect ingredients and authentic methods. Her cassoulet recipe is rivalled only by Paula Wolfert's in its severe completeness. One of the Chez Panisse books (Paul Bertolli's, I think) includes, in the bread chapter, instructions in grinding your own flour.

But for the most part, the tendencies to modify, soften, streamline and simplify are very strong. Hence, in far too many places in the US you find "French", "Italian", "Mexican", "Chinese" food that would be almost unreognisable to people from those countries.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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If I could change a few things about how your typical American eats they would be:

1. Fast food eating: Why do people eat so dang fast? What happened to conversation?

2. Get rid of the Wonder: It is a small miracle when I actually enjoy the bread on the table. Of all things, why oh why do Americans have to ruin the staff of life?

3. Freshen up: I miss the extra fresh veggies and fruits from home. I could kill for a good tomato. The veggie offerings in restaurants are often either grey, soggy, and cheese-sauced or are potatos.


9 out of 10 dentists recommend wild Alaska salmon.

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Perhaps one further cause of "The American Way of Eating" (both positive and negative) is that the vast majority of Americans don't leave their country that often. Most Europeans (and virtually all Australians) hold passports from a very early age; I'll bet that the proportion of Americans who hold passports is, by comparison, very small.

It's 20%. Only 20% of all Americans hold passports.

Let's put this into prospective... I wonder how many of those that hold them have actually used them more then once. 5%? 10%? :hmmm:

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Alice Waters' ... cassoulet recipe is rivalled only by Paula Wolfert's in its severe completeness.

Or, taken a step further, Alice's pastry chef Lindsey Shere's six-day "Cassoulet for Groundhog Day", which ideally begins half-a-year earlier with making your own confit. I've done several variations and it's repeatedly declared by widely-travelled food writers to be the best cassoulet they've ever eaten. Like so many classic dishes, it's not difficult, just time- and labor-intensive -- any restaurant that attempted it would have to charge the price of an Arpege menu degustation. It's anthologized in _The Open Hand Celebration Cookbook_.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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. Hence, in far too many places in the US you find "French", "Italian", "Mexican", "Chinese" food that would be almost unreognisable to people from those countries.

Jonathan,

you will notice that I mentioned I use the flavors of other cuisines rather than saying I have Italian food, chines food etc. on my menu. American food is evolutionary...I use classical techniques none of which are chosen for thier labour saving we play around with the flavors if lemon worked in the classical french why wouldn't sumac work in our adaptation for example or teh other way around if shiso works in the classical japanese application why not try using meadow mint.

There are obvioulsy dishes that in themselves with out change are wonderful and perfect and have thier place in teh culinary world and an esteemed place it is, but we as innovators should have the opportunity without regret to adapt & change and create new dishes without it being supposed that we neglect & shun the "old masters as it were"

the classical cuisines of have thier place much as a Michelangleo does but thier has to be welcome room for the Jasper Johns & the Basquiats


"sometimes I comb my hair with a fork" Eloise

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Thus, we are in the process of creating that culture. And by "we" I mean us, literally, this group right here.

This quote combined w/the amount of name dropping I’ve read in the above posts, so much for one posters wish of “Snobbiness. Definitely. It's gotta go.”

We are all preaching to the choir on this site. No wonder most friends/colleagues I've turned on to this site, turn away.

The most important issue I see is spreading a passion about food to those who don’t have it, OK maybe passion is too strong, but at least get someone to care about how/what they eat. I know most would like to think that they assist in spreading the “good word of food” but in reality;

Client wants to dine at famous restaurant X even though you know it is overpriced junk. What happens, you take the client to restaurant X.

Kids are tired/hungry and you are the single parent, yeah just look up a slow food recipe that is the answer, no you take the kids to McDonalds. (please no stories about how you are the terrific know it all parent and we do XYZ w/the kids).

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m seeing more chains/much more processed foods when I travel outside the US. There is a reason, (hint $$$)

If all your friends want to dine on cutting edge, truly ethnic, or slow food dinners, Congratulations but then I would refer you to the quote, “Snobbiness. Definitely. It's gotta go.” If you are like my wife and I, our friends do not all share the food passion and choosing a restaurant/food can be a taxing issue when trying to convince someone to try something new.

Baby steps are how America will learn to have passion and care. I saw on FoodTV recently a story about a Scandinavian restaurant from NYC that opened a branch in Minneapolis with the same menu. Did not fly at all. The restaurant had to “Americanize” and offer more familiar items to make a $ (after all that is what EVERYONE is trying to do, (again please no stories about how you are so different and are not just about making a $)) The restaurant has earned the trust of the local public and now offers more “exotic” fare. I think the show was "a Cook's tour"

I know baby steps are how I’ve had to convince friends and colleagues to try new food experiences. Come to think of it, baby steps are how I developed the food passion.


"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"

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All that this website is obligated to do is to please those it set out to reach. If there enough such people to make it viable, then it has achieved its purpose. It is not obliged to speak to those whose primary concern is entertaining clients or children.

As for my own preferences, I often find eGullet too upmarket. I'm no longer particularly interested in restaurant meals that cost a bras and a gigot. But there is much useful information here, and so I continue to visit, occasionally offering a comment or a suggestion or even a mild protest, but no longer attempting to convert anyone to my way of thinking.

There is indeed snobbery here. But out there is arrogant mediocritizing anti-snobbery which offends me even more.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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All that this website is obligated to do is to please those it set out to reach. If there enough such people to make it viable, then it has achieved its purpose.

Whoa, not much of a purpose IMO and I hope one that is not shared by many others.


"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"

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. If anything, too many Americans fall into one of two camps when it comes to food: 1) Totally ignorant; or 2) Overly intellectual.

Fatguy,

Does this mean that if I sit down and enjoy a meal and 1) think about it 2) discuss it a little, but not too much, that I am ok and can continue to read and think about food without having to see a therapist?


Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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I'm new to egullet, so forgive me for putting my two cents in:

I'm an American. I've had the pleasure of traveling and dining in countries on just about every continent sans Antarctica and Australia, so I think I've managed to pick up a decent sense of perspective, culinarily speaking.

A story comes to mind, once during a business trip to a small city in Germany, a local businessman and I went to dinner. Having long ago learned to never try to outdrink a European, I paced myself. Unfortunately, the fellow didn't notice, and got quite plastered.

Walking him back to his home, one arm across my shoulder, his shirt half tucked in, his hair a mess and his glasses askew, he turned to me and said: "You know what's the problem with you Americans? You're all so unstructured." I nearly dropped him from laughing so hard. :rolleyes:

I think that's the word you want to describe the American Way of Eating. Unstructured.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for it.


Be polite with dragons, for thou art crunchy and goeth down well with ketchup....

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I think that's the word you want to describe the American Way of Eating.  Unstructured.

In regards to our eating habits and our society, I've heard many respected folks tell me we are uncivilized. I agree.

Through food preparation and food discussions, I've found most people look for comfort food. They are not interested in trying something new, but rather migrate to something familiar. Something that they know is to their liking no matter what their background might be. How many people do you think order a completely unfamiliar dish on an empty stomach, dislike it and eat it anyway? How about if one has purchased enough ingredients to make a new recipe and it's not to their liking? Then what? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone? In a society where there aren't enough hours in a day, unless one is a foodie and loves to tread in unfamiliar waters, the average person is going to eat a very limited variety of food which is going to cause the rest of us to scratch our heads why they aren't eating ____ or are eating ____. Truth is, they don't know any better and have no interest in this subject. To them, eating is a way to fuel the body, not fuel the soul.

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:biggrin: I think it's about individual choices and consciousness. The "natural"

food restaurants where I live are no different from others, so I choose not to go

there. I just got the book The Raw Truth, and it's all about foods TOO high in

sugar and salt.

I see many people flood our farmer's markets. We have FIVE a week, not just

on the weekends.

I eat salads for dessert. We have all been highly educated about what foods

are good for us. How much protein, etc. I spent the summer in Paris, the food

was not healthy. It's no different anywhere else, except the care taken with

ingredients, and fresh produce. My neighbors grow there own vegetables and go

to the Farmers's Market.

I go with the Chef, Isabelle, at Citronelle. She KNOWS the freshest produce and

best at the Farmer's Markets. So which restaurants use organic produce? Those

are the one's I go to.

I think we are blessed with an abundance of great products and knowledge

of what we need to stay healthy and fit.

I am a dental hygienist, and taking good care of your teeth, can mean a healthy

heart. So we can choose to value and respect our bodies, or ignore it with the

attitude "I Know so-and-so who drank and smoked and lived to be 90."

It takes time and energy and respect and love to take care of our bodies

and thankfulness for what we have. Loving good food, loving how we treat

one another and the LANGUAGE we use, and how our words and actions affect

one another.

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Time, in my opinion, is what drives the American public's diet. Granted, there are those fortunate few (a lot of them are in this forum) who have time (and $) to go to lengths of finding "good" dining places or practice "good" dining habits (food and company that really feeds the soul more than the stomach). But for the average Joe, its all about fast food or convenience foods (TV dinners).

As far as Joe is concerned, what they eat is decided mainly by a food scientist and a businessman more so than a chef. I'm a chef at a food manufacturing plant, and to be honest, it scares me what winds up in the stuff at fast food chains and grocery stores. Sure, I can make a fine Japanese vegetable bowl with shitake ginger sauce (coming soon to a "healthy food store" near you), but by the time all issues are addressed (shelf-life, deterioration of products/preservatives, the $ aspect), you get something loaded in artificial color, flavor, texture that is loaded with chemicals only a biochemist would understand. But.............it sells! It bothers my conscience so much that I'm going back to the hot kitchen life. But I'm sure someone else will take my place and keep the "American way of eating" going.

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I'm annoyed when people drink coffee throughout a meal. That's just me, though.


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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