Monday, January 30, 2012

All American Cuisine

After reading Vicki Ruiz’s article, Citizen Restaurant, which dealt in some respect with the Americanization of traditional Mexican cuisine, I began to think about what could constitute “American” food. Apple pie? Hotdogs? Southern barbeque? Upon brief inspection of that list, however, it becomes clear that the origins of American cuisine are just as much of a melting pot as the “American” ethnicity.

Histories of both apple pie and hot dogs have roots in German cuisine, with one of the earliest recipes for apple pie dating as far back as 1381, centuries before the American colonies were even a glint in England’s eye. Pork, along with sheep and cattle, was not even present in the Americas until Europeans came to the new world, and while pork barbeque quickly became a staple in southern food traditions, the cooking method has vague origins in Caribbean and Spanish cuisines. 

A more appropriate term than “Americanization” of certain foods would be the “industrialization” of ethnic cuisines, as America has become a fast food nation and the mass production and subsequent de-authentification of certain foods what one is really referring to with that term. The idea of the Americanising Mexican cuisine in a cultural sense is actually a bit ironic, as Mexico is in North America and the food has much more similarity than apple pie, hot dogs, or barbeque to what should be considered quintessential American food: Native American food.

According to the Digital History website, pumpkin pie and popcorn are the more appropriate symbols of truly American cuisine, featuring vegetables such as corn and squash that were staples in the Native American diet but unknown to Europeans until the discovery of the New World. Tomatoes, potatoes, yams, cassava, manioc, and many varieties of beans also make the list of foods the Americas introduced to Europe, with corn, squash, and beans comprising the trifecta of an American Indian diet. Interestingly, those three foods are interdependent on one another for germination and plot upkeep as well. When cultivated on the same plot, the vegetables utilize each others’ nutrients and structure to grow more efficiently together than apart (perhaps one could draw an optimistic connection between the symbiotic relationship of the grain, legume, and gourd to the relationship between the many varied ethnicities that make up the American demographic?) Native Americans also ate an abundance of wild meats, and even today traditional recipes can be found for grilled prairie dog, mutton, bison, venison, possum, beaver, and a slue of fish species at online. 

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