The identity of the American people has been a very well discussed topic for the past few centuries. What makes American’s their own unique people and culture has been thoroughly questioned and pursued up to the modern times. Food has been used time and again to tell us why we are the way that we are, why we act in certain ways, and why we hold certain values. Historians, especially those focusing on food, love to refer to French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s declaration, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.” Searching for reasons to explain the American culture, as well as being used to explain other cultures, this quote has been utilized to show ...view middle of the document...
The role of women within the scope of food is a prime example for this and has evolved greatly in recent times. Food thus is a contradictory indicator for how a nation can be perceived by others as well as how they perceive themselves.
Books written with the goal in mind to uncover some of the reasons that Americans are the way that they are through the use of food as a lens have come into prominence in the last decade or so. They examine multiple areas of interest related to food and seek to relate the historical, social, and political to explain the what, how, and where we eat what we eat. Harvey Levenstein’s Revolution at the Table and Paradox of Plenty, Donna Gabaccia’s We Are What We Eat, Warren Belasco’s Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food, as well as other writings are all great examples of the burgeoning amount of books written on food studies. These sources of written material are great for uncovering the different aspects of food and how it directly relates to who we are as Americans.
The “American” Cuisine
Given the geographical, social, economic, and ethnic diversity of the United States, the discussion on a specific “American” cuisine can be somewhat tricky to pinpoint. Food indeed has been a good way to view the history of the American people, though according to Levenstein, food to the “mid-nineteenth-century man, much taken with the idea of the human body as an engine, food was seen mainly as fuel, and it mattered little” what it was composed of. This idea would lead one to think that American’s wouldn’t use food to decipher their own identity as a nation. Unfortunately, American cuisine cannot be so easily dismissed, as the foods of America have changed vastly over the history of the nation. Such occurrences throughout the history of America, such as enclave businessmen and fusion food, suggest that there is in fact a high amount of preference to what foods Americans wanted to eat, and how they approached the differences in ethnic foodways.
How Americans have adapted to the differences that come with having a country populated heavily by immigrants from all over the world directly comes into how we can see American cuisine as being unique to the nation. Gabaccia states “the American penchant to experiment with foods, to combine and mix the foods of many cultural traditions…is scarcely new but is rather a recurring theme in our history as eaters.” This inclination to mix the foods of different cultures is one of the unique ways that America has approached food and makes it an arguably national style of cuisine. “Through enclave businessmen…immigrants and other culturally conservative eaters would first sample the products of other groups and corporations.” It was with these enclave businesses that we can see how foods highlight a “kind of American tale. [It highlighting] ways that the production, exchange, marketing, and consumption of food have generated new identities” over the course of American history. With...