Open thread: Food culture

What kind of food culture represents the US? What is the “food” legacy are we leaving for our kids? What foods are part of your (American) culture? Do you incorporate ethnic foods? How do you involve your kids?

Thanksgiving is my favorite food holiday. I think it’s safe to say that turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and sweet potatoes are part of the American food culture. Also regional parts of the country have specialties (Northeast – clam chowder; Louisiana – Cajun and Creole; and on…). For more info: Cuisine of the United States

Does a food culture of burgers, hot dogs, fries, etc represent the US accurately? And why do we feed that to kids at school?

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68 thoughts on “Open thread: Food culture”

  1. Among school food services directors, there is a difference of opinion on whether schools should be feeding kids first and foremost what kids like (pizza, potatoes, corn, burgers) or try harder to kid kids to eat more healthful foods. Unfortunately, schools only are reimbursed by the federal government for meals that are actually served. So if the kids turn up their noses at what the schools are offering in the reimbursable lunch line, it hurts the food budget directly. That's why schools need more money from the Child Nutrition Act (currently being considered for re-authorization in Congress) and from their local governments. As it is, schools on average operate at a 35-cent deficit for every meal they serve. As long as school food budgets are underfunded, the food will suck.

  2. I really don't think they do. Did our folks grow up eating that junk on a regular basis? I know mine didn't. Mom's family grew up eating eggs, toast, and tomatoes for breakfast and either a sandwich or pintos, potatoes, and cornbread for lunch and dinner six days a week unless it was in the summer when there where tons of fresh vegetables coming out of the garden or a holiday. They got to choose from a pizza, spaghetti, or taco kit as a "treat" on Friday nights. From what I've heard, that was pretty typical in the area back in the late 70s and early 80s.

    Given the fried or loaded down with shortening aspect of MOST traditionally Southern food, I've been trying to make the traditional foods in a healthier way and branch out what I give to our family. Instead of several days a week, I only make biscuits every few weeks. I can't stand the smell of anything frying, so we just go without fried chicken, okra, squash, and whatever else in favor of baked or roasted. I really like learning a few foreign dishes and the challenge of making restaurant foods healthier and cheaper than what you get eating out. Actually, our household food culture is a mix mash of traditional Southern food with a twist, Southwestern, and Italian, with a sprinkling of dishes from other European countries. It's largely limited there by the spices we prefer.

  3. Burgers and hot dogs are most certainly part of our Food Culture. We can't deny that. When they are well done (quality not temp) they can be something we can be proud of.

  4. I grew up at my mom's side, learning everything she did in the kitchen. It took a few more years to be as diligent about washing dishes as cooking my own food, but I never would have gotten there without her. It always starts with the family.

    People in developed countries have come to think of food not as fuel, but as entertainment. Food can still be enjoyable and part of your culture without that. But if what you're eating isn't satisfying your body or soul, you probably need to eat different *and* start thinking different into the bargain. It doesn't help that we're increasingly taught by almost every message, from family or mainstream media, that we can do whatever we want — either to others or themselves — without having to face the consequences. It's amazing how much hostility I've noticed from some people when I politely say "No thank you", but that's what happens when you elevate culture to the level of religion.

    Our current school lunches are a result of bad science and politics. Most notably, Nixon's food czar was given the task of making sure nobody went hungry and thus didn't vote for Nixon. Result: Big Agriculture, and a ton of cheap crap that ends up finding its way into everything. Try to find prepackaged "food" on your grocery shelves that doesn't contain some form of wheat, corn, soy, or other heavily subsidized crop. WIC encourages the consumption of "baby formula" that's mostly corn syrup solids, as well as pushing "healthy fruit juice" that hits your child's body like a glass of whiskey without the buzz. Your body needs premium fuel to be all it can be, and it runs on sugar only slightly better than your car would.

    Someone, I think here, mentioned the other day that in India, there are local vendors who sell fresh food to the kids every day. Sourcing from farmers instead of local fast food franchises would go a long way toward reducing bad options and increasing good ones. Of course I'd rather see compulsory attendance laws, subsidies, etc., abolished, leading to more choice *and* more opportunity (including financial resources) for people to take advantage of that choice.

  5. I think American food culture represents our broader multi-cultural make-up. In California, for instance, we have the luck of being able to grown very high quality fruits and vegetables year-round, and we also have a large Mexican population with cheap (and usually pretty healthy) Mexican food available in every town.

    With so many different cultures representing our make-up, and especially in California with our agricultural abundance, I really think it's a shame that kids don't have access to this food in their schools. In my school the most exotic food served was pizza–if you could really call what they served pizza.

    Being a vegetarian, there were very limited options available to me if I chose not to bring my own lunch, and many days in high school I had to stick with candy or cheese pizza or a bagel if I didn't have time in the morning to make something healthy to bring. Needless to say, I spent my high school years with little energy to concentrate because of the crappy food I was eating in the afternoons. Thankfully, healthy food was always available for me at home, but for many students I went to school with that wasn't the case. We don't allow tobacco, drugs, and alcohol on school campuses because of their damage to healthy bodies and learning, but aren't these saturated fats and over-processed, over-packaged foods filled with preservatives and everything artificial dangerous and damaging to the body as well, yet we still encourage our kids to eat these daily by serving them in what's supposed to be a safe environment of learning?

    I can't speak for every state, but there are a lot of vegetarians/Muslims/Jews in California who can't eat what's being served in schools because of dietary restrictions. And if a large population is prohibited from eating what's being served, then I think it's safe to say that what's being served isn't a good representation of the population. Yes, hot dogs and hamburgers are part of American culture, but so are freshly grown fruits and vegetables, baked vegetable casseroles, multi-cultural cuisine, hearty soups and stews, whole grains from the midwest, un-processed cheeses, and a long history of focusing on not being wasteful that until fairly recently was such a big part of daily Ameircan life.

  6. I've really enjoyed reading these comments from such intelligent followers (except anonymous).

    Growing up I ate a school lunch everyday for 12 years…and hated it!! After I became a teacher I never ate a school lunch in the 5 years I taught even when I forgot my lunch. I preferred to go hungry. Just because students are being offered these foods at school doesn't necessarily mean they will all embrace them (burgers, pizza, fries) as they grow older.

    I think the food culture of our country really depends on geographic location. Leith, above, from California mentions how much fresh fruits and vegetables are available all year long where she lives. But here in the midwest, Illinois, the grocery stores have merely the basics. Apples, bananas, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. I don't often see a wide variety of veggies any time during the year but I try to make do with what there is. It's definitely better than McD's drive thru.

    I have two 5 year old boys and we have been cooking together a lot lately. Stir frys, and German food have been the extent of our ethnic adventures, so far. I've been trying to teach them to make healthy choices. Sometimes it works. One son likes pop but he knows it isn't good for him and he can only have it occasionally. However the other son refuses to even try pop (yay!) no matter how often it has been offered to him.

    My boys will be starting school this fall and I am not looking forward to the school lunches, in fact I am planning on packing their lunches. I don't think school lunches are representative of everyone's food culture. I wonder though, if more students packed their lunch which would adversely affect the budgets of schools, would those schools change their menus?

  7. Yes, there's regional cuisine, but as far as actual "American" food goes? It's pretty much convenience foods. Okay, maybe meatloaf and mashed potatoes. And even then I have to raise an eyebrow at that.

    I've been getting a foreigner's perspective on American culture (food or otherwise) on a regular basis since our department took on an intern from Germany. I regularly turn my nose up at frozen meals and other processed foods and he laughs at me and says, "Why don't you like junk food? It's part of your culture!" He's been having mostly $1 frozen pasta for lunch and I say to him, "That's not REAL food!"

  8. I just recently moved to another country, and one of the first things said to me by the friend who picked me up at the airport was "Do you want some American food? There's a Burger King here." At first I was shocked until I realized that it really does seem like that is a big part of our food culture.

    I guess that "food culture" for the US varies though. Where I'm from, there is a lot of homecooking, and where my boyfriend's from there's a mix of homecooking and usually Mexican food in restaurants. But I visit friends all around the country and I've been places where "food culture" seems to be nothing but fast food and barbecues.

    I have to say though, that this blog made me appreciate my old highschool. The food wasn't the most delicious ever, but in terms of both health and taste it seems to be a step above this school's. We did have pizza day on Fridays, but Wednesday was salad bar day (with mostly healthy toppings, as well!), and many of our meals were balanced and healthy. There was also peanut butter and jelly available daily, and toward the end of my highschool career they began offering wraps for lunch every day as well.

  9. I don't know about the food culture for the rest of America, but our regional food culture involves a lot of beans, taters, cornbread, and garden vegetables. I'm Southern hillbilly from the mountains of NC. We eat things called leather-britches (dried, reconstituted, oh-so-tasty green beans), and potlikker is still considered food for many in our area.

    Our public school food doesn't seem to reflect our local food habits, and it is killing our children's knowledge of their own local culture. They actually think hamburgers are the only American cultural fare. There's probably a political statement to be made about that, but I lack the energy to make it.

    As homeschoolers, my kids get their nutrition from someone who actually cares what they eat, so I don't have a horse in this race, really. It just makes me a little sad to see what our assembly-line education system is doing to our regional personalities, and not just where food is concerned.

  10. It's so true, when foreigners think of what American's eat they immediately think of fast food.
    It's really sad that schools keep that stereotype alive by serving us that kind of food during lunch.

    -Juliette from WhereForArtThouRomeo

  11. One word sums up America's food culture:


    Americans want food now. Not only do we want our food quickly when we're hungry, but we want it produced quick and cheap. That's why we feed corn to cows…. we can have a full grown cow in way less time than it would take if we fed it grass. We breed chickens that grow bigger and faster. We eat foods that are produced with insane amounts of chemicals because we want to be able to have lots of food in our pantry with long shelf life so we can just grab something and go.

    Honestly, many Americans don't even care about how their food tastes. They just want it to be fast and cheap.

    Americans want their food to be convenient more than any other single thing.

  12. I am going to echo what a lot of readers have said and I don't think hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries represent the U.S. Yes, they are a part of our food culture but they are not the whole picture. The U.S. is a multitude of mish-mash cultures and I don't think there is one cuisine that is "American." Sure, there are spins on ethnic food that are totally American but I still don't think the U.S. has one type or style of food that is purely American.

  13. I don't believe that hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries accurately portray and sum-up American food culture. Sure, these types of food have a significant importance in our culture and they do represent a part of the U.S. but they are not the whole picture. The U.S. is a mish-mash of cultures. With these cultures comes the food. Some of these foods have been highly influenced by American styles and have changed to become more American but I don't feel that any one food is totally American.

    It is sad that the American school system is teaching children that burgers and fries are the norm. There are so many wonderful cuisines out there that our children should be experiencing. I think if we continue to feed kids the same foods we are teaching them to be more close-minded about foods. This does not do any good for our society from a health stand point. We become accustomed to the high-carb, sugary, excessively fatty food that have become so "American."

  14. I've heard so many times that America does not have a food culture and more and more I'm inclined to believe it. Take a look a Japan, for example. They have a very distinct food culture. Food presentation is an art form to them. I don't know. I think we're such a melting pot that all the food just melted in there too.

  15. I see no one has mentioned the indigenous peoples of our continent. Maybe we should look to the original "Americans" for our food culture cues..? I don’t think they ate burgers and stuffed-crust pizza.

    For me, American food is a mix of so many cooking techniques, ingredients, meanings and stories of transition and adaptation. I really don’t know how all of our food history and roots have been washed away by the tide of reheat-and-eat frozen chicken fingers and other garbage that fills the shelves of the grocery store.

  16. America does have a food culture, but I think it wasn't as strong as that of some other countries to begin with.

    Actually, America has a lot of food cultures, due to being a multicultural melting pot nation. One could argue that we don't have any original foods here. After all, hamburgers (Hamburg steaks) and hot dogs (frankfurters) came from Germany, pizza came from Italy, tacos from Mexico, etc. Cajun/Creole food is a mixture of French, African, and Native American influences. Our foods are descended from immigrants just like we are.

    But then once they're here, they're "Americanized", which is not always a bad thing. It's the result of immigrants adapting to their new home. American Chinese food, for example, is not like what Chinese people eat, but most of it was invented by in Chinatowns in American cities. Chef Boyardee was a real person, an Italian immigrant who invented a way to get his pasta to non-Italians who considered pasta to be exotic at the time. One is supposed to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a dinner of corned beef, but corned beef is not eaten in Ireland. Irish immigrants to America got brisket cheaply from their Jewish neighbors and started eating it with cabbage instead of the pork they use to eat at home. Does that make it an inauthentic Irish dish, or an authentic Irish-Jewish-American dish?

    The problem is when foods from various cultures are taken out of context, especially the cheapest, easiest to make dishes that country has to offer, leaving behind the healthier dishes. Southern food gets a bad rap because of fried chicken, but what about the collard greens and sweet potatoes? All cuisines have "junk food", but it seems like the junk foods are the ones mainstream America is most likely to pick up.

    I personally like living in a country where I can explore all different kinds of food, but it does have its downside.

  17. My family travels in the USA for 3 weeks of every year, and during that time, we eat out in restaurants.

    It's hard to base a food culture strictly on mid priced restaurants, and I don't think it's particularly fair. However, this is what we have noticed all across the western US.

    1. portions are MASSIVE. I don't just mean large, but so much food that it's embarrassing. We are always shocked by the size of things and often resort to kids menus, seniors menus, or sharing a meal.

    2. most things are fried, breaded, covered in bacon, cheese, gravy, etc. or deep fried. Even salads are loaded with cheese and bacon. Some restaurants (ie Applebees) are worse than others.

    3. Kids menus feature the same items; hot dogs (or corn dogs), kraft dinner, pizza, hamburger, grilled cheese, etc. All come with fries. I have only encountered ONE restaurant that offers healthier options (Mimi's Cafe)

    4. Vegetarian options are almost impossible to find, and heart healthy options always have horrid things like cottage cheese with them. I mean, ew. Can't places offer something a little better than THAT?

    We are the family ordering salad (dressing on the side) instead of fries, wheat bread, skim milk, hold the bacon or cheese, a SINGLE decker BLT, grilled chicken, etc. We get looks like we are very strange, especially when we order just simple toast for breakfast. Waitresses marvel at how little we eat when we share items and tell us how some people will order TWO of the same items, just for themselves.

    Everything, right down to a cup of coffee or stick of gum, is portioned larger.

    I know this is likely not how Americans eat in their homes, but there has to be some kind of market for it when those restaurants are packed everywhere we go. When I think of American food, that is how I see it.

    We always sigh with relief when we come home to Canada and can order a really good salad and a normal sized, veggie loaded, non fried meal.

  18. What kind of food culture represents the US?
    Unfortunately, I'd say it's not only fast food, but processed food in general: things that come out of a bag or a box, rather than fresh fruit, veggies, and fish/beef/chicken.

    What is the "food" legacy are we leaving for our kids?
    Well, the generation of kids now is the first to have a life expectancy that is LOWER than that of their parents, so for starters, we're leaving them with a shorter life span. Not something to be proud of. We're also leaving them the legacy of edible products that don't resemble real food.

    What foods are part of your (American) culture?
    I agree with what you say about Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving dinner. I have lived outside the US for years, and I'd say the most American things in my diet (or that I wish were in my diet) are: eggs for breakfast (rather than coffee and toast or croissants, which is what's eaten here in Argentina) and turkey (which I love but can't find down here).

    Do you incorporate ethnic foods?
    Yes! I love ethnic foods and spices. Both to eat out and to cook at home.

    Does a food culture of burgers, hot dogs, fries, etc represent the US accurately?
    Well, unfortunately, I do think it does represent the US accurately. But maybe school lunches shouldn't accurately represent the average US meal. The important thing is that they should be healthy and include fresh ingredients, not processed dishes. And that's not so hard to do.

    And why do we feed that to kids at school?
    First, it's what people are used to eating: processed meals, so it's easy to get away with feeding it to kids. Second, it's fast and easy. Third, I think a lot of people assume kids won't eat real food.

    Is there a link anywhere to where you were covered on ABC? I'd love to see it.

  19. I agree that convenience is an excellent descriptor of American food culture. I also think that school districts (like many other people) are forced to make economical decisions about what is served. Let's face it, the foods that are the worst for us nutritionally are those that are the least expensive. This reality is reflected at the grocery store and at restaurants.

    I think that there needs to be advocacy at the policy level to make healthy foods more economically accessible–not just for school districts, but for everyone.

  20. American food culture is rapidly disappearing, even as foodies and superstar chefs try to bring it back. Until people actually begin to cook again, in their homes, making regional dishes with regional foods and incorporating cultural food ways, this sad excuse for a food culture will continue…or maybe I am a pessimist.

  21. Burgers and Hot Dogs became a part of American food culture because they're social foods. People congregate at a backyard barbecue, baseball game, tailgating before a football game, going to the amusement park, fourth of july main street festival, etc… and eat food that can be served quickly in large quanitities. While the food has remained, the culture has dissipated. Now instead of making it on the grill with beer and friends and family or eating it during a social gathering, it's handed to us by a stranger in a paper hat without the inconvenience of us having to exit the vehicle.

    The food represents American culture insofar as to say that it is associated with American cultural events. Kids prefer these foods because of that association, as food is a major cultural hallmark. Eating hotdogs and burgers is associated with celebration and entertainment. The demand now is for constant entertainment and stimulation. Kids are on the computer constantly, and they read things on the computer screen usually while watching a video or listening to music. Something as simple as reading has become a multi-sensory experience around a core of entertainment. The burgers and hotdogs and pizza they prefer at lunch is based around the same principle. The food, culturally speaking, is built around a core of entertainment, and will evoke the same sense of social gathering when they sit with their friends and eat the food.

  22. I grew up being active in cooking at our house- even when I was too little to get near knives and the oven/stove, I got to add pinches of seasoning, be a taste-tester for whatever was cooking, knead dough, etc. And it really helped me learn a lot about how to cook good healthy food and not need to eat take out or fix hamburger helper all the time. When I have kids, I want to do the same for them so they'll know how to cook healthy foods that they enjoy.

    Culture-wise I think food is a huge part of every culture. Yes, American cuisine does involve the burger and hotdog, it also involves lots of other regional cuisine since we're a melting pot. I eat a lot of Mexican, Italian, Asian, and Indian, but I'm from the south so I still eat fried foods occasionally, make mac and cheese, and Cajun food (I love me some seafood gumbo).

    I think a lot of our 'American' cuisine is stuff like sandwiches, chicken and vegetable soups, salads, steak and potatoes, fried chicken, etc. Unfortunately a lot of it is bland (like our UK settlers' food), which is why I tend to prefer eating on the melting pot side.

  23. I agree with what most people are saying about thinking kids won't eat "real" food. Its sad that they won't even try to serve them. My cousin's 2 year old will grab a cheeto before she'll reach for an apple, but its only because the only option she has been given is the dang cheeto! If you want kids to eat better, then maybe instead of only giving them the option of processed sugary crap, we should start giving them better food

  24. I am from the central valley of California, where the majority of the WORLD'S fruit is grown, picked, and then shipped all over the globe. It is safe to say that Fresh Fruit is one of this country's best resources…and yet so precious little of that nature's goodness is ending up in the school lunches of our own nation's children.

  25. I am also a teacher and I take my lunch to school every day. It'll be like "A Clockwork Orange" before I eat a 'chicken fry'. (If you've never seen these things let me know.)
    In my lifetime the Southern food culture has been overtaken by agri-business. I am in my fifties. I grew up eating the regional foods of the Southern United States: corn and all the things that are made from it like grits and cornbread, beans, tomatoes, squash, eggs, greens, and mostly chicken and pork for meat. I remember helping my mother cook custard puddings on the stove and making cakes from scratch. We all helped my grandmother "put up" food for the winter from her summer garden. America has regional cuisines that have been lost to pizza, hamburgers, fries and chicken patties. There is a lifetime of difference between home fried chicken and KFC and McNuggets. It is sad that today's children don't know that milk comes from cows, fries come from potatoes and eggs come from…eggs.

  26. I discovered this blog on Wednesday and am love with it.

    It's sad… the first things that come to mind when I think "US food culture" is fast food and other convenience foods. Then we have hotdogs and hamburgers, which, as NLPC said, if done right, can be excellent for you. But usually they're not. I think of meat and potatoes as American, you know, heavy meat and starch…but that really predated us with the Eastern European countries. Another thing about American food culture is larger portion. And Dinner being the largest meal of the day (as opposed to breakfast or lunch in many other cultures).

    But… I don't really know if we can say the US has a food culture. We're too young. But since we haven't had one from the beginning… Is it too late to develop one now? Also, since we're so large – the size of many other countries combined – can we really have a collective food culture?

    The only food I can really see as uniquely American, and not taken from our ancestors of other countries, is Southern food. That cuisine is American. And think about it…all the possible negatives of it have been magnified and spread throughout the rest of the country: lots of fats, deep fried, etc. Southern food can be great…but we've taken what little we have of a food culture a marred it.

    Growing up, I had pretty much meat and starch meals. My dad is incredibly picky with foods, so unfortunately, I only had non-starch vegetables when we went out to eat (Luckily my mom loves everything, so she exposed me to veggies as much as she could). Unlike most kids, I LOVED vegetables, possibly because I never got to have them.
    We also had Cuban food growing up, since my dad's Cuban. Noche Buena is a big part of my Christmas culture, and rice & beans a part of my food culture in general.

    Being a new-found adult, I try to eat healthily. It's hard to do when you're a college student with little money, but I do my best. Luckily, I live in NYC so I have plenty of opportunities to find healthy, varied foods. I've become a little obsessed lately with being healthier. And not just with what I put in my body, but what I put on it (the chemicals that are in our shampoos, soaps, washes, toothpastes, lotions, etc are astounding).

  27. I have never been to the US, and the American food I make comes mainly from recipe books. I thank the USA for peanut butter! Chili Cornpone Pie, Several wonderful Beanfeast dishes, Hoppin John, Pumpkin Pie. Like the US, Australia has a wonderful Italian tradition that has enriched us, and Greek, Chinese and Indian, (and more) that have been Australianised and embraced. I see recipes echoed in cookbooks by American Italians, Chinese etc. Wonderful food!

  28. Yes, in the New York City school system, and I am sure in most others, our motto should be:

  29. I do admit that we need to improve the way we eat and need to eat more organic and less processed. Problem is, it has to be a slow, gradual change. We, like all other living things, adapt and change depending on our conditions. If we swich to unprocessed foods too quickly, our system might have an adverse reaction, considering that our bodies aren't used to processing all of our food on a regular basis anymore.

  30. I go to a private college where we pay almost over $5 a meal, about $1,800 for 19 meals a week. Almost every person I have talked to believes that our food isnt worth that much money. I am a vegeterian and can barely find anything to eat half of the time. We do have a sandwich / wrap station but on the weekend it is closed and they are getting rid of many vegetables do to their price. The fruits that they put out are mostly unripe or over ripe. They will also serve a dish until it is gone and that can be for several days.
    Nutrition is very important for me. I believe everyone should have accesse to nutritious food esspecially if we are paying for it.

  31. Mrs Q:

    I applaude your bravery! I grew up in England where we had an hour's break for lunch…more than enough time to eat and have 'recess' before the afternoon classes. The food was nutritious…with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
    I've looked through every page of your blog and, to be perfectly honest, if I never see a slice of pizza again, it will be too soon! They're feeding pre-processed and packaged foods to the kids each and every day? Not only is the nutritional value suspect, but most of the food you've taken pics looks downright disgusting! I wouldn't feed that junk to my dog (if I had a dog). I have found very few meals on this page that I would even venture to try.
    As I said at the beginning…I applaude your bravery!

  32. I've been vegetarian for almost 20 years and my daughter has grown up that way, so for us, burgers and hot dogs aren't part of our culture. That being said, I've found that people from Europe and the UK immediately assume all Americans eat at least one meal a day at McDonald's, so the stereotype is alive and well.

    Is there really no regional food served in schools anymore? I moved around the country quite a bit when I was in elementary school, back in the 70s and early 80s, and in most of the states I lived in, there was a meal that regularly appeared on the cafeteria menu and was unique to that state (red beans and rice at lunch in Louisiana, grits at breakfast in Texas). Even as a kid, I thought that was kind of neat – it's a shame if it's all been replaced by chicken nuggets and pizza.

  33. Oh my! I love this idea! I teach first grade in Texas, and ate school lunches for about 2 weeks while I was in the process of moving (no kitchen while staying with friends). Ugh! It was no fun and I gained 5 pounds. Seriously.

    I will do a post or two inspired by you, and will link to you when I do it. This idea is GREAT! Can't wait to see Jamie Oliver's food revolution, too.

  34. The “American food culture” is represented by sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and freedom fires (French fries) I am a Chef who specialized in Mexican and Latin American cuisine. Growing up in Mexico (I am first generation) I remember as if it was yesterday an aunt of mine saying she did not want to come to the USA and visit, because she stated she did not really like hot dogs or hamburgers, so what does that tell you? Why is our cuisine represented so poorly? I think we have each other to blame. As Americans and parents I find it is our responsibility to change this. We need to start to feed our children at home and in school a nutritionally balanced meals. We hold our countries future in our hands, so why not feed them the best? I find however we blame this on social economics, but why? It should not matter if you are on government aid, food stamps or wic, lets start to make better choices for ourselves and our children, it should not cost more to purchase a can of tuna or salmon, an avocado, organic tomato and a whole grain bread then a pack of corn dogs and processed fries!!. I hate to say this but we have become lazy and we have settled for less. It is less complicated them it really seems, if schools eliminated 50% of the paper products and none recyclables the school could use that money towards purchasing a higher quality raw product, e.i rice, beans, low fat cheese, yogurts, all parts of the chicken and not just the processed horrible chicken patty. I believe this is an area that has really been neglected for a long time and things need to change. Now I am not saying I have not allowed my child to eat hot lunch at school, I don’t have a problem with her eating on “Dominos Pizza Day” or mac and cheese day, but when she comes home from school I make sure she has a healthy snack and I try for her to finish her veggies. I strongly feel our children are being poisoned, we have the right to request change.

  35. Foods that almost every American has had:
    mashed potatoes, peanut butter, white bread, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, pancakes, corn bread.

    American food culture is hard to pin down. We haven't had hundreds of years of our grandmothers, great grands, great great grands all making the same recipe. By nature, our food culture is a melting pot. I think "fusion" food and convenience food would sum it up.

  36. Part of the reason an organic tomato costs more than a corn dog is because the true cost isn't shown on the grocery bill. We pay for the corn through taxpayer subsidies and pay for the subprime beef, also through feed subsidies, so in effect, corn derived foods are government-subsidized whereas wild salmon, organic tomatoes, and avocadoes are not.

    I wonder how much a corn dog actually costs if you take into account subsidies for the corn, animal feed, and oil for frying plus the environmental cleanup costs from the non-organic farming and ranching (i.e., nitrogen pollution from industrial fertilizers and manure lagoons damaging potable water.)

  37. I think "Food Culture" is as variable as any other culture throughout the US. In the Midwest its a lot of corn, potatoes, and meaty meals. On the East Coast it could be a lot of the corn and potatoes but probably a lot more seafood than the interior. In the south its cornbread, grits, barbecue, and fried foods. In the southwest there's gonna be a lot of Tex-Mex offered. Here on the West coast I think the food culture is really varied. From what I've seen there is a focus on an almost Mediterranean style food culture. There is very little of the Midwest fare I grew up with. You can find it, but finding good Midwest fare is hard. Trying to find good Southern barbecue is even harder. The Tex-Mex is pretty easy to come by, though and that is almost loosely incorporated into the Mediterranean culture.
    As a nation on a whole, though I believe we embrace the "fast food" ideal well and it is representative of our culture of speed and need. Hamburgers and hotdogs are food you see at Independence Day celebrations, and not because they grill well but because we've grown up with them at 4th of July celebrations. As a population we are very busy, over-scheduled and easily lose interest in anything that takes longer than 30 minutes to do in whole. Parents don't have time to fix and fit in 2 hours of prepping, cooking, and serving a meal when they work until 6 or 7, their kids get out of school, have extra-curricular activities, and then everyone has to be to bed by 10 to start again the next day. Its easier to throw a frozen meal in the nuker, or pick up a dinner of fast food burgers, chicken, or some mystery meal by product. Our employers embrace that because they get to work us longer, the industries encourage that by advertising like they do, and the proof that we embrace it is in the visible McDonald's or Starbucks on every corner. We are a Fast Food nation, we love our cheap, processed foods because we don't have to prepare it ourselves. By the time we get it to our kitchens we have about 2 steps to finish the process and its done, our gurgling bellies are fed, but only satisfied for about 2 hours.

  38. I'm at an art school in Canada, it's a public college and I feel really lucky. We get really healthy choices. 4 choices of fresh salad, vegetarian wraps or meat wraps, choice of 2 soups, and specials of the day like lasagna. They have bags of chips and things but their usually healthier choices like baked chips. My friend who goes to another college pays for meal packages gets fast food at their caf, pizza, burgers, and junk, maybe the occasional salad.

    I'm just so surprised because my school gets a lot less funding than they do, but they get crappier food than us.

  39. The gawd awful excuse for "food" they serve our kids is nothing short of appalling! Processed mierde!

    The "food" they give makes McDonald's look like haute cuisine!

    This is not EVEN about junk food.

    Who are they kidding?

    I have always maintained that just give the kids a regular sandwich.

    Parents, just pack your kid a lunch! Anything less, borders on child neglect! Now you know.

  40. My school has half a dozen German exchange students right now, so this is an easy one. They all say that they think bbqs, hamburgers, hot dogs, and "american mexican" food. They also noted pizza-not real pizza but American pizza, as they have all spent a lot of time in Italy as well.

  41. It seems like the US has one large national food culture – the "convenience" foods, burgers and fries. The assembly line mentality of fast food fits right in with the US' industrial heritage. However, there are a lot of smaller regional cultures that offer higher-quality and more varied foods. New Orleans cuisine is different from New England cuisine is different from Southern cuisine is different from Pacific Northwest cuisine and on and on.

    It's also important to remember that the US is both pretty young and geographically HUGE. You can't get fresh everything everywhere in the country. It makes sense that the stuff that's readily available in most markets – meat, dairy, and grain products – make up the majority of our "food culture".

  42. First of all, I just found your blog today. Thank you for raising awareness. In your own way, you're saving the world just a little bit =)

    As a vegetarian/vegan who loves to cook everything from scratch, in spite of having two jobs and being in grad school, I have gotten so distant from the food culture I can't even fathom it anymore. I'm looking at these meals and am horrified–they seem to be missing my basic food groups. Where are the leafy greens? Where are the whole grains? Where are the legumes?

    As a kid, I grew up in a family where both parents worked multiple jobs, but we always had family dinners–based around a meat product. Roast chicken, fried ham, a roast. We also had a starch–potatoes, stuffing, the eternal biscuit–and a vegetable. Mom always cooked everything in butter. I never bought lunch. You could say I grew up on east coast southern food. In the summer, we'd add whatever veggies were in the garden to this.

    This changed completely in high school, and I do remember being unable to eat nearly anything in school lunches because I stopped eating meat. We weren't too short on money, but my mother was very sick, so my little sister and I did all the cooking, housekeeping, etc and predictably we never packed our lunches and didn't eat very well. I think I ate nothing but salads, bread, and soup for lunch for a year. I made the salads out of the condiment bar for burgers. Mmmmm iceburg lettuce and onion rings…

  43. Part of the problem here is that while we had many regional food cultures in the past, many of them CANNOT be revived because the resources simply no longer exist. For instance, here in eastern North Carolina, since colonial times (actually, thousands of years before that!) herring were really important. People ate a lot of fried herring, shad, and shad roe. But unfortunately, by the beginning of the twentieth century the herring were mostly fished out, and now they're pretty much gone. We still have a festival for the herring run in the spring, but we have to truck them in from somewhere else.

    Similarly, a lot of our regional cuisines were based not only on local wild food, but also on the food preservation technologies of the past. I'm a native Floridian, and I can tell you that Key Lime Pie was invented because, back before widespread refrigeration, people in the Florida Keys imported a lot of canned condensed milk. I love Key Lime Pie — but do you really want to go back to canned milk?

    I think we can create a new food culture, based on local ingredients in Alice Waters style, but we have to recognize that it will be based on the local ingredients that are available now (or in the future), not necessarily the ones our great-grandparents had.

  44. The food culture of the US is convenient, cheap, food. The fact is that our changing economy has created a situation where people simply do not have the time to really understand what the food they eat does to them and the even home cooking can seem overwhelming. This has created a culture where the foods that are consumed have to be "fast food". We have also as a general matter forgotten a lot of what we have been taught by our cultural ancestors – they knew how to preserve food for "fast" eating at a later time. That knowledge has been lost so that what is left is a culture that continues to rely on often false information from food companies designed to make us feel good about eating nutritionally deficient food. I do believe though that if we start educating the children, we can reintroduce that information back into the culture and change what is commonly understood to be the "American Diet".

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