FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Does An American Cuisine Exist?

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Is there an American Cuisine?  This was a topic that James Beard, “the father of American cuisine” was often questioned about.  When asked the question in 1980, “Do you think we will eventually develop a cuisine?” he said:  “Well, I don’t think that’s necessary.  I think we can stay as we are.  I think we have good food and we don’t have to label it.  We have one important thing that grew up in this country and that is the definition of regional cooking… we have a breadth of view and understanding”.

The James Beard Foundation in 2007 organized a Taste America festival and as part of this endeavor took this question to the people who are interested in food and culture along with a few food experts.

From various sources they accumulated a total of 248 responses from food lovers around the country by asking three primary questions:

  1. Do you believe there is an American cuisine?
  2. If you believe there is an American cuisine, how would you define it?
  3. If you do not believe there is an American cuisine, why not?

They were also asked to name five dishes they believe could be considered primarily American.  I thought it interesting to see what they said, so here is a collection of responses from the survey. All responses are from The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America Survey, 2007.

Question 1 Do you believe there is an American cuisine?

YES 90.8%

NO 9.2%

Question 2  If you believe there is an American cuisine, how would you define it?

Words Used in % of Definitions
“region” or “regional” 34.2%
“culture” 16.2%
“comfort” 9.0%
“melting pot” 8.1%
“native” 8.1%

American Character

  • “American cuisine is straightforward and honest”
  • Hearty, soul-filling, familiar, comforting, progressive, quintessentially wholesome”
  • “American cuisine is still the simple meat and potatoes-type meal it as when we were a nation of farmers, ranchers, and explorers”
  • “The synergistic fusion of the world’s cultures with our unique soils and species has produced a moving, multifaceted cuisine, constantly changing, constantly improving superior to any other in the world”

From MOM

  • “American cuisine is the home-cooked, from-the-farm recipes created when the world was a smaller, simpler, place and people ate what they raised”.
  • “American cuisine is the comfort food I crave so much because that’s what I grew up eating”.
  • “ It’s the dishes my mom learned from her mom”
  • “Moms cooked in the 1950’s and 1960’s, food that the Cleaver family, Donna Reed, and Father Knows Best would eat” All the food since that time has been brought in from other cultures, therefore it is not truly American.”
  • “Health concerns by the Baby Boomers created the trend toward less fried foods and high calorie foods, but is not what Americans wanted to eat.  We grew up with casserole, Jello-O salads, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Miracle Whip and Velveeta.  That’s American cuisine and I miss it”.

Cultures

  • “North American comfort food. 95% of Americans are immigrants. Each culture brought their cooking methods, food, spices to America. They farmed the soil, hunted game, and incorporated their ways into the food of the land”
  • “America is a melting pot. It was formed by the hard-working people that emigrated here from lands as far east as China and Japan, as far north as Russia, and of course, Europe. They took staples of the land and prepared them in ways that satisfied their appetites.  True American food is an amalgam of this passed down from generation to generation”.

Regional

  • “American cuisine is based on a regional interpretation of local ingredients”
  • “American cuisine is a regional, that is, region by region cuisine. So, it’s not one homogenous cuisine, but one defined by local product, the culture, ethnic group that first settled in the region and was probably influenced by the American native population as well”.
  • “Each region in the U.S. has its own take on what constitutes American cuisine.  What we have is a regional American cuisine. Steak and potatoes (American), lobster and seafood (New England), fish, oysters (Pacific Northwest), stone crabs (Southeast).  But when I true American, I think Thanksgiving dinner”.

American Foods : List the five most iconic American Foods

Iconic Foods Included in % of Responses
Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers 44.4%
BBQ 38.3%
Fried Chicken 31.6%
Macaroni and Cheese 29.1%
Apple Pie 26.5%

Do we have an American cuisine?

Perhaps James Beard said it best, “We have a great tradition of home cooking and restaurant cooking that spans three centuries.  We are now, I hope, in a new epoch of gastronomic excellence that, with a liberal seasoning of common sense, will draw on the best of old American cookery as well as on the technological advances of the new”.

Oh, if we only could, James.

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