Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Food as Definer of US Culture


Carrot Top
 Share

Recommended Posts

I don't think that the hotdog, hamburger, salads, and yogurt are likely to lose nationwide appeal any time soon.

Actually, you've made me realize that I'm talking about two slightly different concepts here.

The first is the idea of "cultually defining foods". Which of course would be what a cultural anthropologist would find signs and proofs of when looking into a specific time and place.

The second is the idea of "cultural icons" which are clearly understood "signs" that represent a culture.

And I think they *are* different things, due to how we communicate ourselves and how we are understood.

At first, I was thinking in terms of culturally defining foods, myself. The hamburger, hot dog, and pizza popped right into my mind of being the three things that defined US culture. They are everywhere. (As are so many of the things that others added on this thread!) Then I switched to thinking of cultural icons, and "pizza" did not fit, for that also represents Italy, naturally, and I was looking for something that defined solely one place, in this case, the USA, in a broad and clear swath that anyone who thought of the food would think of the place.

.........................................................

Interesting answers, anyway, from everyone. Maybe when I total them we can take yet another "vote" (the democratic way :biggrin: ) and see what comes out tops. (I'll do two categories, the "culturally defining" and the "culturally iconic". :wink:)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The first is the idea of "cultually defining foods". Which of course would be what a cultural anthropologist would find signs and proofs of when looking into a specific time and place.

Actually, following that thought along *logically* (something I personally rarely bother to do :biggrin: ) "Chinese Take-Out" would have to be on my list of our culturally defining foods.

I read somewhere that the average-size town in the US has five Chinese take-outs in the area.

Here, we have six. :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was thinking of what Americans would identify as their top picks, and what non-americans would choose as the top 5 "American" foods found here. Then for the next fifty years I took a stab at what America might be known for in the future. I keep reading about how American spirits like bourbon are gaining noteriety abroad, as well as the increasing quality of wines, so within fifty years USA-alcohol products might gain "iconic" status and therefore be in significant demand.

That goes for indigenous fruits and veges, which lead into indigenous dishes eaten for milenia by native Americans. There is scant evidence of recipes now, but who knows if some will be brought to the surface and re-developed - could be all the rage someday.

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That goes for indigenous fruits and veges, which lead into indigenous dishes eaten for milenia by native Americans.  There is scant evidence of recipes now, but who knows if some will be brought to the surface and re-developed - could be all the rage someday.

Cornbreads, tortillas, beans, grits, roasted or baked potatoes, smoked or dried meats, popcorn, tamale, roasted meats, cob corn, roasted squash, dried squash, tomatoes, peppers as flavoring both dried and fresh - very visible in the culture and all Native American. In both cultivation and consumption.

They have been on the surface and been redeveloped over several millenia - just not recognized as such. Yep, all the rage, and a worldwide impact.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Then I switched to thinking of cultural icons, and "pizza" did not fit, for that also represents Italy, naturally, and I was looking for something that defined solely one place, in this case, the USA, in a broad and clear swath that anyone who thought of the food would think of the place.

In another way of looking at it, pizza could be the USA's quintessential culinary cultural icon.

Pizza is an immigrant, like the vast majority of us, and was transformed by our culture into something only faintly resembling, in most manifestations, the original product. The transformed product, (Italian purists might use the term "bastardized"), has become the internationally recognized form of pizza.

The fact that people all over the world think of Italy when confronted with a pizza is the result of American marketing rather than any knowledge of the foods actual place of origin.

If we look at Pizza Hut as a representative example of Americanized Pizza, we notice that while they currently have operations in over 100 countries, thay have none in Italy!

SB (likes pizza)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Name five foods that you think represent the United States as "cultural icons" (across the board, as a nation, not focusing on the regional) during the years 1950 to 2000.

Do the same, per your best guesses, for the years 2000 to 2050.

Whose culture?

Whose United States?

Certainly, there are foods one might identify as culturely significant across much of the continent (Hawaii did not become a state until after your timeline begins). Many I'd list have been named, I'd imagine. I know I'd fight for pizza given the solid reasons srhb provides as well as the consensus of a small group of Italian cooks who, on a recent visit to Manhattan, ate pizza, and in part, liked it, though declared it something utterly different from "real", i.e. Italian pizza.

Just as you could argue there is Chinese, French, Spanish or Italian food as well as Szechuan, Burgundian.....specialties, I think you can and ought to acknowledge the central role of regional dishes when thinking about the United States. Essentializing American cuisine distorts the picture. I know I'd want to introduce a foreign guest to the cooking of the Deep South as much as a lobster from Maine with corn on the cob and a tour of wine country in California, ending up at The French Laundry with a detour to hot dog and taco stands. Class should be taken into consideration in addition to location and histories of immigration. Unifying factors include the powerful media and corporations, including chain restaurants, Stouffers and take-out joints. After all, rich people and those with advanced degrees do eat Big Macs.

Wasn't there a fairly recent thread on defining American food that relates to your first question, if not the second about the future?

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whose culture?

Whose United States?

Certainly we could find many forms of the United States if the point was to separate and define.

And we do.

There is, however, a culture that people both in the country and outside the country think of as being simply "of the country", before they start sorting and separating. That was what I wanted to hear, from any individual who wanted to post, no matter where they were from or what United States was theirs or was not theirs.

:biggrin: That question (whose culture? whose country?) could be asked each time someone says "French food" or "Italian food" or "Chinese food" any other sort of food, and naturally the same question is cogent and valuable to ask in every culture or country.

This was just a "one size fits all" question, Pontormo. You know, bargain-basement type, not terribly deep or scholarly. A broad sweep of the brush.

As for threads that have some import upon the question, there may well be. If you come across them, I'd love to have a link posted . . .

To minimize the central role of regional dishes was never my intent. No thesis here, just a question or two about what thoughts might pop quickly into someone's mind if they were asked a question.

How I love that line Emerson wrote: "Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis." :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Then I switched to thinking of cultural icons, and "pizza" did not fit, for that also represents Italy, naturally, and I was looking for something that defined solely one place, in this case, the USA, in a broad and clear swath that anyone who thought of the food would think of the place.

In another way of looking at it, pizza could be the USA's quintessential culinary cultural icon.

Pizza is an immigrant, like the vast majority of us, and was transformed by our culture into something only faintly resembling, in most manifestations, the original product. The transformed product, (Italian purists might use the term "bastardized"), has become the internationally recognized form of pizza.

The fact that people all over the world think of Italy when confronted with a pizza is the result of American marketing rather than any knowledge of the foods actual place of origin.

If we look at Pizza Hut as a representative example of Americanized Pizza, we notice that while they currently have operations in over 100 countries, thay have none in Italy!

SB (likes pizza)

Agreed. I would fight for pizza, as it is known in the American vernacular, as well. It was an item that was imported, modified with idegenous ingredients, then sent out into the world as representative of our culture, and is very popular in our version worldwide and represents the general view of what a pizza is for the majority of individuals living on the planet.

I have had better versions of a thing called pizza than Pizza Hut, but that is beside the point and beyond the scope of the inquiry.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know I'd fight for pizza

I would fight for pizza

I made the post saying that pizza came to mind originally as belonging on the list (whatever the list is) then changed my mind (based on some other thoughts), so I guess it's me you're intending to fight against? Or is there a larger anti-pizza conspiracy I know nothing about out there?

I don't feel that strongly about it, really, and my boxing gloves have simply worn out from fighting about oh. . .what was it. . .too long ago to remember.

Fight if you must. Bravery and loyalty are wonderful virtues.

I will just continue to make lists, tally counts and add comment once in a while. Final votes will tell us whether pizza makes the cut or not. :laugh:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know I'd fight for pizza

I would fight for pizza

I made the post saying that pizza came to mind originally as belonging on the list (whatever the list is) then changed my mind (based on some other thoughts), so I guess it's me you're intending to fight against? Or is there a larger anti-pizza conspiracy I know nothing about out there?

I don't feel that strongly about it, really, and my boxing gloves have simply worn out from fighting about oh. . .what was it. . .too long ago to remember.

Fight if you must. Bravery and loyalty are wonderful virtues.

I will just continue to make lists, tally counts and add comment once in a while. Final votes will tell us whether pizza makes the cut or not. :laugh:

I think it is the implication that pizza might be denied, that arouses such passion.

Do you really want to come between Americans and their pizza?

Good thing you don't feel that strongly about it.

:biggrin:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it is the implication that pizza might be denied, that arouses such passion.

Do you really want to come between Americans and their pizza?

Good thing you don't feel that strongly about it.

:biggrin:

To my mind, it probably would come in as #1 (in some ways) as "definer". But then again, I have two teenage children.

Sometimes, I'd like to come between *them* and their pizza. :angry:

I just can't see it clearly named as "icon", unless it is specified as "American Pizza" or (something I was going to add to my proposed 2000-2050 list) "California Pizza" which stretches the boundaries that much further. :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just can't see it clearly named as "icon", unless it is specified as "American Pizza" or (something I was going to add to my proposed 2000-2050 list) "California Pizza" which stretches the boundaries that much further.  :wink:

Maybe pizza is not so much iconic as emblematic? But I couldn't think of any other food with quite as dramatic an impact, especially fitting within the 1950-2000 time frame.

The only other possible contender, the hamburger, was already popular fare before 1950. The fast food hamburger is iconic, but more for production and marketing innovations than food definition.

SB (likes non-fast burgers too!)

Edited by srhcb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it is the implication that pizza might be denied, that arouses such passion.

Do you really want to come between Americans and their pizza?

Good thing you don't feel that strongly about it.

:biggrin:

To my mind, it probably would come in as #1 (in some ways) as "definer". But then again, I have two teenage children.

Sometimes, I'd like to come between *them* and their pizza. :angry:

I just can't see it clearly named as "icon", unless it is specified as "American Pizza" or (something I was going to add to my proposed 2000-2050 list) "California Pizza" which stretches the boundaries that much further. :wink:

"California Pizza"? How can you leave out the iconic and creative applications of the ingredients and innovations that have taken place, and still do, in New York, Chicago and Philly? Besides, I thought California pizza was pretty much 1990.

:wink:

It also fulfills some of the basic characteristics of American food - that require well rounded nutrition in a portable conveyance that can be consumed on the go and generally with one hand. Like the hamburger, hot dog, taco, sub and tamale. They all contain a starch, a protein and some sort of vegetable matter. American food in a nutshell.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"California Pizza"? How can you leave out the iconic and creative applications of the ingredients and innovations that have taken place, and still do, in New York, Chicago and Philly? Besides, I thought California pizza was pretty much 1990.

:wink:

It also fulfills some of the basic characteristics of American food - that require well rounded nutrition in a portable conveyance that can be consumed on the go and generally with one hand. Like the hamburger, hot dog, taco, sub and tamale. They all contain a starch, a protein and some sort of vegetable matter. American food in a nutshell.

Well, I didn't post "California Pizza". :wink: Just said it was a thought, and really it is the name of the thing that is the reason why I'm still considering the idea of either "pizza" added to my list as "icon" or "California (or whatever) Pizza" added to my own list as future idea of (maybe) describer". We've taken pizza from the Italians (as they took the concept of baked dough with toppings from somewhere else likely at some point in time)(or maybe the Italians brought it here through immigration) and have kept the name and the same ingredients of one sort of pizza that exists in Italy, but then again the ingredients are *not* the same, they are more highly processed and the whole thing tastes like its the same family, but not the same thing. It's a problem of "words" or names, for me.

I agree with you on the last paragraph. Interesting, too, how our iconic foods seem to take this shape.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe pizza is not so much iconic as emblematic?  But I couldn't think of any other food with quite as dramatic an impact, especially fitting within the 1950-2000 time frame.

Emblematic? I've already confused things by saying "defining" or "iconic" but to be fair, I did try to describe what those things were supposed to be. :biggrin:

Que ce que c'est, this "emblematic"? Describe, please. :raz:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's the totals so far for 1950-2000. All combined in one category, for purposes of essentialism. :biggrin:

Top Defining/Iconic/Emblematic Foods of the USA:

Burger 10 votes

Fried Chicken 8 votes

Hot Dog 6 votes

Coke 5 votes

Pizza 4 votes (with the addendum added that two women are ready to fight for it. . . not a thought to be discarded . . .:laugh: )

Sandwich/Hero 4 votes

Apple Pie 4 votes

.............................................

There were twenty-seven other suggestions which had either one or two votes each.

And I'd like to add "potato chips" somehow. :huh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe pizza is not so much iconic as emblematic?  But I couldn't think of any other food with quite as dramatic an impact, especially fitting within the 1950-2000 time frame.

Emblematic? I've already confused things by saying "defining" or "iconic" but to be fair, I did try to describe what those things were supposed to be. :biggrin:

Que ce que c'est, this "emblematic"? Describe, please. :raz:

{Disclaimer: SB is not a linguist, or even an English major, but he has stayed at Holiday Inns, and sometimes has an interesting way of turning a phrase. :wink: }

Pittsburg's professional football team is the "Steelers", which is defining since Pittsburg is, of couse, the city where steel has always been made.

Pittsburg's professional baseball team is the "Pirates", which is iconic in that the city has, and is proud of, a slightly rough-and-tumble or rebellious reputation.

Pittsburg's professional hockey team is the "Penguins", which is emblematic because it suggests the activity more than any aspect of the city itself.

Similarly:

McDonald's slogan, "You deserve a break today", is defining, because the preeminent attraction of eating a McDonalds hamburger, and all fast food, is ready availability and convenience.

Ronald McDonald is iconic, representing, as he does, the carefree aspect of eating at McDonalds, and its appeal to children.

The Golden Arches are emblematic since they don't refer to food at all, but are a stylized reminder of the McDonalds brand name.

I doubt if this explanation cleared up much confusion, and may well have even compounded it, but you have to admit, it's interesting.

SB (nothing, if not interesting) :rolleyes:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aw jeez you didn't give us weekend warrior types a chance to vote:

1950 - 2000

Burgers

Dogs

Fried Chicken

Apple Pie

Pizza

2000 - 2050

Burgers

Dogs

Tacos

Pizza

Big Salads

Can't bring self to think of Coke as a "food," otherwise it would top bpth lists.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Pittsburg's professional football team is the "Steelers", which is defining since Pittsburg is, of couse, the city where steel has always been made.

Pittsburg's professional baseball team is the "Pirates", which is iconic in that the city has, and is proud of, a slightly rough-and-tumble or rebellious reputation.

Pittsburg's professional hockey team is the "Penguins", which is emblematic because it suggests the activity more than any aspect of the city itself.

Pittsburg is a city of about 15,000 located along the main line of the Kansas City Southern Railroad in Kansas' southeastern corner. I don't think it could support enterprises like these.

Perhaps, though, we could explore whether or not the Primianti Bros. sandwich is perhaps more emblematic of Pittsburgh than any of the foregoing.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

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

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1950 - 2000

Burgers

Pot Roast (is this american? Or am I WAY off?)

Fried Chicken

Apple Pie

Mashed Potatoes

2000 - 2050

Burgers

Tacos

Pizza

Ribs (Again..an American thing..right guys?)

wings/hotwings

"One Hundred Years From Now It Will Not Matter What My Bank Account Was, What Kind of House I lived in, or What Kind of Car I Drove, But the World May Be A Better Place Because I Was Important in the Life of A Child."

LIFES PHILOSOPHY: Love, Live, Laugh

hmmm - as it appears if you are eating good food with the ones you love you will be living life to its fullest, surely laughing and smiling throughout!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...