Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Does the Unted States Have a National Cuisine?

Do you think a national cuisine of the United States even exists? It is a question I have been pondering for the last year and quite honestly it is an issue of quite heated conjecture at times with my friends and I. I myself used to spout off about how we are a capitalist economy, and as such the fast-food model of hamburgers and fries fits the bill. Simple, economical, fast like main stream America. It is also exportable, as there are now American fast-food joints all over the globe.

I eventually earlier this semester, amended that proposal to state that there is a "meat and potatoes" diet that stemmed most probably from Protestant simplicity from our colonial roots. Especially when I began to read about how mutton and other English ingredients were no longer eaten as boycott against the various "Acts" Britain placed upon the colonists, and the Scottish and Irish immigrants began growing larger amounts of cattle for meat during that time (See Townshend Act, Stamp Act, Boston Port Act, etc.) In addition, colonists began growing more potatoes as they were easy to grow and kept well, where as most wheat for bread at the time had to again, be imported from Britain and the West Indies.

Strengthening this was our national leaders, such as John Adams, who was an avid beer drinker and tea drinker, but changed to cider and coffee as protest against the "acts" as did much of the burgeoning country. Linked together with presidents like Thomas Jefferson, whom were isolationist, we get a picture of self-dependency. However, what many of us miss is the alliance with the French during the American Revolution, which brought many of them to our country and then afterwards the French Revolution that brought even more of them to our country to open restaurants and work for men like Jefferson.

So we then arrive at the arrival of this giant melting pot that people spout off about all the time. "We can't have a national cuisine because we are a country of immigrants." Well where do you think all of the other people came from prior to the founding of France, Italy, Germany and most of the other Western cultures, mostly from the Eastern cultures and other areas. Pretty much all nations at one time were nations of immigrant, well most Anthropologists will argue, not Iraq or most of the Middle East, but that isn't really the point here.

Everybody came from somewhere else, and in order to create a cuisine, you need a model. A model built from a previously acknowledged cuisine to map your upon. Is there such a map available today? I think there is, and it is part of my current study of American cuisine and building around another persons work to help identify ours. We live in an age where books are easily printed, restaurant guides proliferate, not only the amateur rated Zagat guide, but also the Guide Michelin is in the US now, along with the Mobil guide and AAA which rate restaurants now.

The chef of Alinea (who happens to have tongue cancer right now, which is heart breaking for someone so young 33 years old) Grant, along with Charlie Palmer of Auorele fame, and Wylie from WD-50 all claim to be New American Cuisine, what is New American Cuisine though.

What about James Beard, did he not write the book American Cookery in 1972? Seems like a while ago, but it really isn't. Then we have the changes to The Joy of Cooking, starting back in 1997 the book is now edited by a large number of chefs in the United States, and food writers that specialize in certain aspects of cooking, many considered to be American cookery as well the once ethnic recipes all have American equivalents written with them.

I think I have seen a little light turn on back in perhaps the 1970's that has been slowly getting brighter and brighter and I believe we may be on the cusp of what could actually be called a national cuisine. I figure I'd post this and get some people's opinions.

Currently reading :
James Beard’s American Cookery
By James Beard
Release date: 30 Septem


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