Americans are rude, fat, and lazy. This is the pessimistic perception that many people from outside, and even within, the United States have of our own society. These associations and stereotypes come from many different facets of our culture, but are often evidenced by our relationship with food. While this relationship may not always seem to be the most savory depiction of American food, when looking at the situation with a more critical lens, American food can also be representative of the many constructive values present in our culture.
American food can be summed up by its convenience, decadence, and use of fusion. While many choose to view these descriptors as negative, intention and situation must be considered in a country with a population as diverse and unique as America’s. The desire for convenience is often viewed as laziness, but that is not fully considerate of Americans who work long days and do not have the time or energy to cook an entire meal when they get home. Also, the decadent nature of many American associated foods is often considered unhealthy and unnecessarily indulgent. However, people are not eating this way for every single meal.Decadence is a larger part of the empowering “treat yo self” culture which is important when done in moderation. And to fulfill these desires of convenience and decadence, new food concoctions are constantly being made. Sometimes these dishes are considered appropriative of different cultures, but this is an incredibly grey area. Food fusion shows the resourcefulness and innovative spirit of the American people. When social positionality, self care, and creativity are considered, American food can be viewed in a much more positive light.
Americans are cooking for themselves less and less. The rise of food television and availability of readymade foods have both contributed greatly to this phenomena. Eating out and buying from the frozen food aisle is less nutritious in most cases, but it is understandable when the situation is put into the context of our modern economy. Since the 1960s, Americans work an “added 167 hours — the equivalent of a month’s full-time labor — to the total amount of time [previously spent] at work each year” . That is an incredible amount of time! It is no wonder people want to just relax when they get home. Why should they have the patience to make a home cooked meal when they can pick up the phone and get it straight to their door in half the time? And for these people, the rise of food media allows for the satisfaction of cooking without actually having to participate in it. With fast foods so affordable, it makes sense that people would want to be diligent about how they spend their hard earned cash. Nutrition is not necessarily a person’s top priority when they are also worried about how they will pay their rent or electricity bill. I understand the concern that this decline in cooking will strip us of an essential aspect of human identity, but as the working culture and economy shift, food culture has to mold to it. People see the benefits of cooking, but it is not an easy option for everyone in American society.
In the same way that convenient foods are looked at negatively, decadent foods also have a negative connotation. The word literally means a state of decline. These indulgent foods are not always healthy, but there are pros to eating foods that makes you feel good. Healthy diets often pigeonhole a person into eating very specific sorts of food. Everyone needs fresh fruits and vegetables in their life, but there should always be room for tasty foods that can brighten your mood. Americans crave “sugar, fat and salt; these are three tastes we are hardwired to like” . While too much of these things should not be incorporated into anyone’s diet, that does not mean they should be avoided entirely. The extremely health conscious culture blossoming in American society is not the perfect way of living for everyone. Every body is different, so what constitutes a healthy diet can not be one size fits all. The shaming of decadent foods is unwarranted, especially without considering the context of the consumer’s specific ingestion habits. Indulgent foods are present in American culture because they taste good and make people feel good. When eaten in moderation, this defining aspect of American food acts as a well deserved reward for hard work. Positive reinforcement is a constructive value of our society that the idea of decadence represents.
American culture is guilty of appropriation in many ways and has been accused of doing such with food. However, not all fusion should be seen as appropriation. Often times, the availability, and lack thereof, of certain ingredients leads to the fusion of different foods. An example of this is early Italian immigrants adapting to the affordability of meat in America and adding it to their staple dishes, thus creating the American classic of spaghetti and meatballs. There are also foods like General Tso’s Chicken that were not actually invented in the United States, but have evolved greatly here due to the flavor demands of the American people. The line between fusion and appropriation is thin and should be considered in the creation of new dishes, but this consideration should not inhibit the ability to innovate. There was a case recently where Oberlin students grew outraged over dining hall foods that they thought were being culturally appropriative and insensitive. It is also mentioned though that “low-wage dining hall staff [are just] making do with sub-optimal ingredients” . I think there is a greater issue with calling new foods by the name of a culture’s signature dish, but that does not mean that these new foods can not exist and be productive creations. These fusion dishes were inspired by different cultures and do not have to represent it exactly. Some of the best American dishes have been created as a result of making do with what you have. Southern staples like chitterlings resulted out of it being the only parts of the animal available to black people during the time of its creation. Fusion is definitive of American food culture, and while there are instances of misuse, it is representative of our country’s diverse needs and people.
The general public’s views on American food often feels pessimistic. With widespread assertions of an obesity epidemic and the end of cooking, I can see why. Harry Balzer, a food consultant that has been tracking American eating habits for three decades, has lost hope in America’s food future because “[Americans are] basically cheap and lazy” . I would like to challenge his notion. Maybe instead of cheap, we are being frugal. Maybe instead of lazy, we are just tired. Maybe instead of appropriative, we are being innovative. Maybe when we eat unhealthy foods, we actually deserve it. American food is the way it is because our culture and country’s climate demands it. That does not make it perfect, but it does give it merit. Instead of working against the needs and wants of Americans, we should be finding a way to make these desires more feasible and healthy because they are not going away anytime soon.
- Pollan, Michael. “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.” The New York Times. August 01, 2009. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/magazine/02cooking-t.html.
- Friedersdorf, Conor. “A Food Fight at Oberlin College.” The Atlantic. December 21, 2015. Accessed May 10, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/the-food-fight-at-oberlin-college/421401/.
- Pollan, “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.”
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