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"What is American Cuisine?"


Busboy
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Hi Heather,

I've not read the book on sugar but I'm told it is great reading.

Below is a quote from a chapter entitled Cuisine: High, Low and Not at All?

"A 'national cuisine' is a contradiction in terms; there can be regional cuisines, but not national cuisines. I think that for the most part, a national cuisine is simply a holistic artifice based on the foods of the people who live inside some political system, such as France or Spain. 'Cuisine,' more exactly defined, has to do with the ongoing foodways of a region, within which active discourse about food sustains both common understandings and reliable production of the foods in question."

Mintz, Sidney. Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996, 104.

I had to write an essay on this for my studies. I have to say that I loved it and I got really sucked in. As a former scientist, I never thought this would happen to me! I'll post more on it tomorrow!

Cheers,

G

Edited by Doc-G (log)
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America is so bloody enormous that it would be tough to even consider a "national" cuisine until this past century of high speed communication and transportation.

And what is a national cuisine anyway? Other countries get a "national" cuisine defined by outsiders. National is the cuisine of the capital city, or main trading city, at least at first, and all else is 'country fare'. Within each country, food still feels much more regional than national - witness the eGullet series on the regional styles of Italy. The US has regions that are larger than Europe entire. Do we need a national cuisine beyond the "peasant food" - our beloved burgers and dogs? Why is not having one thought to be a failure by some /so many? And if having one is some important symbol of a country's identity, then perhaps we should take into account our still relative newness (and for that reason, cut the kiwis and aussies some slack. They've got less to work with and have had less time to work with it. :wink:<yes, taubear, ive been there.:raz::wink:>)

Edited by Kouign Aman (log)

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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This has been said many times before but the reason why there seems to be no American Cuisine is because we're living inside of the culture. Ask a Chinese person what "Chinese Cuisine" is and they'll be similarly baffled. "Well, I suppose theres a lot of Cantonese food and Szechuan Food and I guess rice, soy sauce and tofu are fairly universal... but there really isn't a Chinese cuisine as such...".

To the outsider, we lump the entire heterogeneous country into one giant cuisine with no regard to the regional differences and thats what other countries do to America as well.

American cuisine to them is burgers and pizza and BBQ and ketchup and clam chowder and mashed potatos and corn and tacos and california rolls and fried chicken. It's only with a more intimate knowledge that such lumping breaks down.

PS: I am a guy.

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we are not a nation of fine diners.

I'm not sure there is such a thing as a nation of fine diners. I suppose France comes the closest, but even there I doubt most people have much experience of haute cuisine. Historically most French people ate the peasant cuisines of their regions.

Well I'm not sure there is one either, but we certainly are not it.

I'm a bit surprised that more people didn't pick up on that point. I was trying to be as provocative as possible with sandwiches & salads as well as insulting our dining habits.

Was also trying to get the discussion off of its high intellectual plane & down to earth.

Guess I'll have to be more forthright in my put downs in the future.

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Simplistic reply. Salads and sandwiches....

I used to work with a woman from Bolivia. She commented to me once that she didn't understand how Americans could consider a sandwich a meal. She said "In my country, a sandwich is just a snack...something you eat between meals." It was an interesting perspective to compare against my own, having grown up eating grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's soup for lunch.

I'd also like to suggest that the answer to the question of "What is American Cuisine?" is also dependent upon time & culture (as others have pointed out). Ask the same question 50 (or 100) years ago and the answer would have been quite different to those that have been bandied about in this current discussion. And it will be different 50 years from now. A lot of our cuisine is immigrant cuisine.

I think one of the reason hamburgers, hot dogs and sandwiches come to mind so quickly is that they are easily transported and can be easily eaten with one hand and eaten in the car and/or on the run. We are a drive-thru nation thanks to our automobiles and the general lack of well thought out public transportation (major cities being the exception). McDonald's owes the automobile industry some thanks for part of its success.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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This has been said many times before but the reason why there seems to be no American Cuisine is because we're living inside of the culture.

I live inside of the culture and have no trouble seeing American cuisine. First, because I've traveled cross-country so many times on extended trips that focused on eating, it has been vividly apparent that there are many regional cuisines in America. Second, because I read books and follow other media, I know about those cuisines.

Again, a good starting point for all this is the Knopf Cooks American series. You can't read even one of the regional books in that series and walk away thinking there's no American regional cuisine any more than you could deny that there's such a thing as Piedmontese or Burgundian cuisine. Some of the books:

Dungeness Crabs And Blackberry Cobblers: The Northwest Heritage Cookbook, by Janie Hibler

The Florida Cookbook: From Gulf Coast Gumbo to Key Lime Pie, by Jeanne Voltz and Caroline Stuart

Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson

etc.

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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America is so bloody enormous that it would be tough to even consider a "national" cuisine until this past century of high speed communication and transportation.

And what is a national cuisine anyway?   Other countries get a "national" cuisine defined by outsiders.  National is the cuisine of the capital city, or main trading city, at least at first, and all else is 'country fare'. Within each country, food still feels much more regional than national - witness the eGullet series on the regional styles of Italy.  The US has regions that are larger than Europe entire.  Do we need a national cuisine beyond the "peasant food" - our beloved burgers and dogs?  Why is not having one thought to be a failure by some /so many?  And if having one is some important symbol of a country's identity, then perhaps we should take into account our still relative newness (and for that reason, cut the kiwis and aussies some slack. They've got less to work with and have had less time to work with it. :wink:  <yes, taubear, ive been there.:raz::wink:>)

Unfortunately, the attempt to neatly define a national anything usually ends up as an exercise in tossing about stereotypes.

Food historically was most certainly a regional issue. What people ate was driven by economics and geography as well as influences from outside the region migration into and out of the region, trade etc. Today, transportation and science have impacted what we eat no matter where we live.

As for the US, suprisingly, we are no different. We are a nation of regional cuisines--from New England to the low country of the Carolinas and Georgia to California cuisine to Tex Mex. and so on. To try to boil it all down to hot dogs and hamburgers or fast food is IMOP a hopeless task.

Worse--doing so is either an indication of ignorance or an attempt to be provocative. Hard to make one's case with clam chowder and she crab soup as the set up for "obesity" and "diabetes."

We could have a debate over spaghetti: pasta--Italian or Chinese? And tomato sauce? Where exactly did those tomatoe come from? :wink:

All pointless and too often driven by jingoism--Gosh we (insert country) are so much more sophisticated than those (insert country) or self loathing: gosh those------- are so much more sophisticated than we ---------. (insert the country of choice).

Of course, it would be nice to take a serious look at the development of local foods and cooking--I have a problem with "cuisine" it has taken on some connotations that I believe are somewhat pretentious.

That would be illuminating and fun. Especially looking at the impact across regional and national and cultural borders.

But alas, it is so much easier rolling around in stereotypes. i gotta take my super sized diseased body out for some of my national cuisine at MacDonalds--or maybe i will cook at home--I have a can of spam i've been meaning to open.......gotta go!

Edited by JohnL (log)
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This has been said many times before but the reason why there seems to be no American Cuisine is because we're living inside of the culture.

I live inside of the culture and have no trouble seeing American cuisine. First, because I've traveled cross-country so many times on extended trips that focused on eating, it has been vividly apparent that there are many regional cuisines in America. Second, because I read books and follow other media, I know about those cuisines.

Again, a good starting point for all this is the Knopf Cooks American series. You can't read even one of the regional books in that series and walk away thinking there's no American regional cuisine any more than you could deny that there's such a thing as Piedmontese or Burgundian cuisine. Some of the books:

Dungeness Crabs And Blackberry Cobblers: The Northwest Heritage Cookbook, by Janie Hibler

The Florida Cookbook: From Gulf Coast Gumbo to Key Lime Pie, by Jeanne Voltz and Caroline Stuart

Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson

etc.

here! here!

I would add that a lot of James Beard's books reflect American regional cooking quite well.

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I'm surprised nobody has brought up barbeque, bar-b-q, or even bbq! I'm pretty sure the USA is the only place pulled pork has evolved ... although I'm sure I'll be corrected at some point :wink:

HERE is a link to a similar discussion we had on Canadian cuisine a while back. I'm not sure cuisines in the "New World" can be defined in the same way "Italian" and "French" or even "Chinese" can since they evolved in isolation and under different socio-economic conditions.

A.

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However, I like the jazz analogy because through its diversity we see the spectrum of American culture and American food. Scotch and milk anyone?

And I like the jazz analogy because through that form we are free and even encouraged to do "riffs", intensely full of personal style.

From my second foodblog:

I usually take the jazz rather than the classical approach to preparing foods I am intimately familiar with like meatloaf, so the amounts I am about to give you are definitely approximations, unless you see the word "(measured)" after them.

Of course, the "jazz" here refers to proportions, and I think as far as that goes, most good cooks are jazz artists at some time or another, going by taste or some other sense of what works rather than the strict proportions called for in a written recipe.

I also like the jazz analogy because there is (or was, initially) a sense of rebelliousness. Things don't have to be done the way they always have been done. Tradition can be thrown high in the air and tossed around to make different shapes.

From the article where Melissa got the excellent quote from Sidney Mintz, perhaps the apotheosis of the jazz analogy:

[...T]he secret is California's population and produce. Side by side with artichokes, fava beans and haricots, California's fields burst with bok choy, Chinese broccoli, lemon grass, Thai basil and Vietnamese mint. Summer brings heirloom tomatoes and tomatillos, avocados and Asian pears, infinite varieties of peppers. Nothing but the freshest ingredients means you can still recreate much of the world's food.

All of which gives rise to fusion cuisine, the newest and sometimes strangest phenomenon on the US table. The notion behind fusion is to take ingredients from more than one cuisine, mix them together and create something new. Needless to say, the consequences can be exquisite or disastrous.

Now if this isn't playing jazz with food, what is?

Moving on to the person who registered mild protest at the characterization of hot dogs and hamburgers as "national cuisine": First, perhaps "national dish" might be more like it -- the hamburger certainly qualifies there and would probably still qualify had Ray Kroc never met the brothers McDonald. Second, these two common food items work here because they are a sort of gustatory lingua franca -- while they might have origins in a specific culture or area, like the English language, they have come to transcend their origins and thus in a way belong to everybody (and maybe nobody too).

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I cant remember who said it earlier on, but I think an important point was raised earlier which was that it is difficult to recognize the existence of any sort of 'National' cuisine whilst residing in that given nation. This is interesting as it brings in the idea of the ‘culinary Other’, that is you only realize that you are different when comparing to something that is different to ‘self’.

With regards to Mintz’s provocative statements on National cuisine, they are based on a premise proposed by Benedict Anderson, who states that ‘nationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that word’s significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artifacts of a particular kind’. To further clarify this statement, he goes on to define the idea of nation (which was created towards the end of the eighteenth century ) as ‘an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign’. He further states that a nation is ‘imagined because the member of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion’. Further more, a ‘nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations’ and that it is ‘imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm’

This is the argument that Mintz uses to promote the idea of the non-existence of National cuisine (ie that as the idea of Nation is 'imaginary', so too is the idea of a National cuisine) and that the only real cuisine is regional as this is representative of something 'tangible' and that National cuisine is really an amalgamation of regional cuisines.

That being said, I think that US regional cuisine is fantastic. It is highly variable, it is accessible to everybody and IMHO really tasty!! Then again, I say that for the food of just every region of the world.

Someone mentioned earlier that the idea of National cuisine is a pretty simple concept (ie if blindfolded and taken into a Chinese or Indian restaurant, it wont take too long to guess what sort of food we are eating). I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree. The case put forward by Mintz was most likely done so in order to stimulate discourse rather than state that National cuisine does not exist per se. I personally think it best to take his argument with a pinch of salt but use it as an interesting stepping stone to further the discussions on issues such as this.

People here have been mentioning stereotypical ‘American’ foods such as Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Sandwiches etc and others have mentioned that they already belong to cuisines of different ethnicity. One only has to look however as ‘Fat Guy’ mentioned at the Chilli which has found a spiritual home in Asia and even in Hungary as Paprika, Potato’s in Ireland, Tomato’s in Italy and one of my favourites, ‘Thai’ Sweet Chilli sauce in Australia to see that the idea of culinary fusion is an idea as old as ‘the hills’. People often refer to these American ‘fast foods’ in a derogatory manner but what they fail to see is that the ‘fast food’ versions of these originally ‘noble’ foods are the same as the bastardized versions of ‘Vindaloo’ curry we see in the British high street when compared to a home cooked Indian meal or the ‘Sweet and Sour Pork’ versions of Chinese cuisine when compared to the genuine article. This is like saying that ‘Asian’ food is bad because you can buy packet noodles that give you the runs every time you eat them (at least with me anyway!). I think Americans have every right to be very proud of the ‘real deal’ versions of these foods. The fact that large corporations have managed to bastardize them for SERIOUS amounts of cash belongs perhaps in another thread.

Also, someone mentioned that cuisine should really be associated with haute cuisine and regional food with cooking. I personally don’t feel comfortable with this idea as cuisine has every right to associate itself with regional roots. Again from the same paper, Mintz defines cuisines as, “'Cuisine,' more exactly defined, has to do with the ongoing foodways of a region, within which active discourse about food sustains both common understandings and reliable production of the foods in question”. Here it not only implies that cuisine has to do with food of a particular region but also with the discourse relating to common understandings which implies the input of people. Cuisine by its very nature is therefore regional and I’m sure Mintz ‘bent’ his definition of cuisine to support his argument against the idea of National cuisine.

Finally, to answer the question of what is American cuisine, I think the answer whatever your ideas of nation and cuisine are that American cuisine is the amalgamation of the regional cuisines of the United States of America. That is not to say that a fusion of all of them into one dish is ‘American’ but rather to say that Gumbo is as American as Smoked Brisket is as American as Po’ Boys etc…

Forget one anyone says about America’s contribution to culinary culture as being bad. These people are just referring to the bastardized versions of what were originally great foods and that are for the most part if you visit the places of their origin still very much alive and kicking. The only thing I would like to add is that this is most likely true for cuisines of all ethnicity.

Again, another interesting thread. I look forward to seeing how it develops.

Cheers,

G

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Regarding responses to Shalimese's cautionary post about the difficulty of an insider analyzing something about her own culture, the opposite point of view has often been used in arguments. "You can't understand what is going on in X because you are not here like I am." Different perspectives on American culture are interesting whether those of De Tocqueville; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Dorothy Day; Alastair Cooke or Isabel Allende.

If by "American" only The United States is taken into account, a lot has changed since James Beard wrote the first cookbook I ever owned. However, signs of its current and future state are there:

1) regionality, a feature shared with just about any country of any scale

2) hybridity: more than most nations, I'd argue, given:

a) the importance of immigration and numbers of inter-marriages that lead to intrafamilial multi-culturalism at the table. This factor also brings many so-called "ethnic" restaurants to places beyond major urban areas.

b) given the relative youth of the country, many transplanted food traditions have not been fully assimilated, even if they are regular parts of our diet.

Therefore, while salsa may have replaced ketchup as a favorite bottled condiment made from tomatoes, it is still viewed as "outsider" or "Mexican" food by many US citizens. "Quesa fresca" is not as familiar as words like "spaghetti" or "pizza", so you're bound to see Spanish text on the packaging of the former, with little Italian written on boxes containing the latter. Nonetheless, there are uses and forms of all three items--i.e. the cheese, pasta & pizza--that would be unrecognizable to citizens of the countries of origin.

I'm not sure of the simplest way to put this, but I'd contrast this with dishes that Italians adapted from French courts in Naples centuries ago and French dishes that developed from Italian dishes yet are now fully French.

3) in continual flux, given factors listed in #2 above

Lasagna (vs. lasagne in Bologna) may be codified as dried, broad noodles, boiled and layered with tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan, but it's fiddled with constantly whereas Italians will fight about what is truly authentic. The closest thing to that way of thinking in the U.S. that I know is Manhattan vs. New England clam chowder.

4) tied to marketing and commercial forces of the food industry, whether in the spheres of individuals who eat at McDonald's regularly, rely on Lean Cuisine to accommodate a busy schedule, or "foodies" who take their cues from the Food Network, the latest article in The NYT, their magazine subscriptions or the specials at their favorite stores.

Given factors that include the size of the country, social mobility, education, class and geographic mobility, there is also a rather schizophrenic quality to the degrees to which so many of us are democratic, showing an open-minded acceptance of new, foreign, innovative types of food on the one hand, yet on the other, we are remarkably provincial, close-minded, monotonous or simply content with our own family's traditions which are not necessarily boring or unhealthful. This second, overly generalized tendency may be tied to geography as well. We're not as close to the very different cultures of other nations as Europeans or some Asians, Africans, or Middle-Eastern residents are, nor do we belong identify with diverse groups the way that members of the European Union might.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Of course there is also the "cuisine" of the restaurant (at differing levels of "haute" or not) and the "cuisine" of the home. Two different things, as in other cultures.

Our food, or cuisine, is also affected by regulatory agencies that may or may not have a stronger hand in terms of control than in other places, but I would suspect the hand is stronger. This is both limiting and helpful in various ways.

On the limiting side, it affects what ingredients are available in a general widespread sense, which affects what restaurants or the home cook can obtain and serve (and often, due to heavy rules, keeps a foot set down on new restaurants that would open due to the high cost of meeting regulations) and also what streetfoods might be available (usually only an issue in cities, but I daresay many a roadside BBQ has not been opened due to the high level of health code requirements and the cost of meeting them, making operations prohibitively expensive as opposed to profits expected).

On the helpful side, we are known as being one of the most sanitation-minded people on the planet when it comes to food, and that translates into a more easy assurance that one will not become ill from the food they eat, perhaps more than in some other places.

(The oft-quoted phrase heard from traveller's lips worldwide: "Why did you go to McDonald's?!", and the answer given. . ."It was clean.")

Not to say that I don't see lots of grimy-enough places around here. :rolleyes:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Kiwichef has embedded a provacative question in this post, the relative portion of which is
I'm not sure where American cuisine fits into this debate. What is American cuisine, if it isn't a copy of French, English, Italian, or South American cuisines. Burgers, fries, and pizza?

So, what have we to offer the world, besides McDonalds and a few handy basics like corn, tomatoes, the peanut and potatoes? e one believe.

To the original question, I'd say that American cusisne isn't so much a "copy" of the cuisines that people brought with them when they came here, but a distillation of it. In the same way that the current generation of Americans includes a fascinating and endless mix of DNA (more so than most countries, where the immigrant population has always primarily been from one specific country or region), because the premise on which America was founded is unlike that of any other country to begin with.

Can you find one or two dishes that may be original to the USA and not descended from any other cusine? Maybe. But I can live with the concept that American cuisine is primarily a distillation.

To the second question of what we have to offer the world, I'm always very surprised when chefs I know from other countries want to come here to sample the food. I hope they're coming for the variety. When they want to come to New York, I hope it's so that they can sample the tremendous array of choices, and that they're not coming in hopes of finding some "American national dish" that they think is a secret only to be discovered here.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I notice that that wuss Kiwichef has yet to come back on to defend his statement, I am still interested in hearing his elaborations and will continue to engage in juvenile name calling and cheap nationalistic slurrs (did they name the capital Wellington because the country looks like a boot?) until he responds. :laugh:

For all the interesting writing on American culinary culture (note: when I use "culinary culture" or "National/regional" cuisine, I'm talking about the totality of the experience: haute, low, home cooking, celebrations, raw materials etc.) the line that drew my attention that somewhat bleary night was "I'm not sure American cuisine has a lot ot be proud of," a comment that has been well-rebutted.

As many glowing tribute as have been paid to various regional dishes, I wonder if there are some characteristics that transcend region to make our culinary culture somewhat characteristic, despite the coroprate homogenaity and regiona differences one finds.

Now, before I start listing, let's recall that these are general principles, there are always exceptions. So let's not get all nit-picky. :wink:

So, here's a couple:

A healthy distrust of pretense and ceremony

An unhealthy fear of novelty and formality

An ability to integrate immigrant cooking into a local culture, sometimes by "Americanizing" it and sometimes not.

No tradition of alcohol consumption, especially wine (interesting chart)

"Foof Holidays" are more about the holiday -- and the family gatherings -- than what is served.

Few elaborate preparations. We like it simple.

No sauces. Lots of gravies.

Anyone else?

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Looks like some of us have repeated one another re some of the points nicely distilled above. While there are exceptions to just about any general rule, I'd take issue only with:

No tradition of alcohol consumption, especially wine (interesting chart)

I've noticed that beer is standard at some American tables and is associated with consuming very American foods such as lobster, hot dogs at baseball games, chili...

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I think the American inferiority complex about food extends even to most of American cuisine's defenders. I would caution against assuming that most European culinary traditions are as old as most Europeans want to think they are, and I'd also suggest that 1492 was a long time ago, as was 1776, especially from the standpoint of culinary history. There were also Native Americans here before then, and several of our culinary traditions derive from them.

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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I would caution against assuming that most European culinary traditions are as old as most Europeans want to think they are, and I'd also suggest that 1492 was a long time ago, as was 1776

Or our culinary traditions for that matter. Food in 18th century America was quite different from industrial America, and the amount of alcohol consumed (including a lot of wine, especially Madeira) in the former was staggering, no pun intended.

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For all the interesting writing on American culinary culture (note: when I use "culinary culture" or "National/regional" cuisine, I'm talking about the totality of the experience: haute, low, home cooking, celebrations, raw materials etc.) the line that drew my attention that somewhat bleary night was "I'm not sure American cuisine has a lot ot be proud of," a comment that has been well-rebutted.

Well, countries (and our own regions) are not always seen by others in their best light; sometimes by cliches and stereotypes.

To return to the analogy with jazz for a moment. On the jazz music boards I visit, there are actually frequent discussions whether jazz is the truly uniquely American musical contribution to the world's culture, and people on those boards actually do say, without a speck of irony, YES, jazz is. Then come the tortured arguments justifying WHY so many of our musical genres are NOT uniquely American. Blues? No, came from Africa. Hillbilly? No, came from Scotland. Cajun? No, came from France by way of Canada. Tex-Mex. No, came from the mixture of Spanish and German settlers but it is definitely nothing unique. Bluegrass? Gospel? No, they are not artistic enough to be considered. Quite unbelievable! Arguments like that devalue great contributions that should give us pride.

To me the argument that nearly all of our cuisine is merely derivative and not uniquely American strikes me as equally tortured.

[This thread has combined two of my passions, food and music, and raised my hamburger and pizza induced high blood pressure! No uniquely American music or food to brag about? Wow!]

Scorpio

You'll be surprised to find out that Congress is empowered to forcibly sublet your apartment for the summer.

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I notice that that wuss Kiwichef has yet to come back on to defend his statement, I am still interested in hearing his elaborations and will continue to engage in juvenile name calling and cheap nationalistic slurrs (did they name the capital Wellington because the country looks like a boot?) until he responds.  :laugh:

You go Busboy! It's your birthday! Go Busboy! It's your birthday!

:biggrin:

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To return to the analogy with jazz for a moment. On the jazz music boards I visit, there are actually frequent discussions whether jazz is the truly uniquely American musical contribution to the world's culture, and people on those boards actually do say, without a speck of irony, YES, jazz is. Then come the tortured arguments justifying WHY so many of our musical genres are NOT uniquely American. Blues? No, came from Africa. Hillbilly? No, came from Scotland. Cajun? No, came from France by way of Canada. Tex-Mex. No, came from the mixture of Spanish and German settlers but it is definitely nothing unique. Bluegrass? Gospel? No, they are not artistic enough to be considered. Quite unbelievable! Arguments like that devalue great contributions that should give us pride.

To me the argument that nearly all of our cuisine is merely derivative and not uniquely American strikes me as equally tortured.

And for the same reason: Without many of those musical influences cited above--especially but not exclusively the blues--jazz would not have developed as it did. What makes it so uniquely American is how it took many previously existing influences and turned them all into something new and different, yet nonetheless recognizable.

American cuisine is American in large part precisely because it also played fast and loose with a bunch of culinary traditions and practices from elsewhere and transformed them into something new and different, yet nonetheless recognizable.

And Shaw is right to point out the Native American contribution. How many European cuisines do you know that use corn so much? (The British use it mainly to distill spirits, and that's about as far as I can cite corn as a major ingredient in European cooking.)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Polenta in Italy is the big one, but when it comes to corn-based recipes North America certainly dominates. Indeed, I'm often amazed at how corn-resistant French chefs are even when they operate restaurants in the US. They all recite the same platitudes to the press about the wonderful American ingredients they've found, but you go to these restaurants in August and there's not a kernel of corn on the menu.

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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