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American Food : Conclusion

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In concluding this series on the cuisine of the United States, we will recap what we have discovered in our exploration of cuisine, both by region and by dish. The United States of Mmmerica series started a discourse to find an answer to the question, “What is American cuisine?” Though it seems like a simple question, its answer is complex and difficult to define, much like trying to concisely explain who Americans are in an attempt to classify our people and culture. The cuisine of the United States is as diverse as its people.

In our first post, we wondered which cultures influenced the creation of American foods the most, and whether specialties in the United States were brought by immigrants or if they were created in the New World using indigenous resources and the techniques of the native peoples. Throughout this series, we have seen how cuisine is a reflection of the nation’s history and its people, showing patterns of immigrants and their movement across the nation, leaving a path of internationally influenced foods behind. We have seen how settlers and immigrants to the United States have blended the cuisines of their homeland with the natural resources of the Americas and the culinary styles of other cultures they have met. The early colonists were assisted by the Native Americans in the region they settled, which helped them figure out how to survive on the produce available in their new home, which brought new foods and cooking techniques to the Europeans.

The relationship between food and people can be seen in the popular metaphors regarding culture in the United States, one calls it a melting pot and the other, a salad bowl. In the melting pot concept, the people or foods are mixed together, assimilating and absorbing the flavors of one another, becoming one. The salad bowl theory posits that people are tossed together, intermixing but remaining separate ingredients with different flavors, though they can complement one another. So which metaphor is more accurate? We’ve found that the answer is probably a little of both. Assimilation is inevitable, though much less so in enclaves within the United States such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, who have been more influential on the rest of the country than they have been influenced. With the passing of time and new generations born in the United States, the distance grows between the people and their homeland and traditions become more difficult to carry on. But as we have seen in this series, the passing of time does not mean that the regional and international influences will disappear from our society. Instead these influences carve out their places in American culture, leaving a legacy of the immigrants who first brought them over.

Culture, including cuisine, evolves and adapts as it is exposed to other cultures. And today, with globalization effectively shrinking the world, culture and cuisine are mobilized, enabling trends to spread more quickly around the country. With this, we may soon see less regional variation, as local specialties are more easily able to reach other parts of the nation or even the world.

To define cuisine of the United States, we first had to narrow down the foods we discussed, choosing specialties from each region that we felt best represented the culture and history of the region. Some regions have a wide variety of culinary specialties, while others showcase their abundance of natural resources like fresh produce or wildlife used in their cuisine instead. We also featured a few nationwide specialties of the United States like barbecue and sandwiches, which we have seen also vary by region. For obvious reasons, we could not cover every single specialty of each region, but we would love to hear what our readers think we should have included or left out of each list.

Finally, in the quest to define the cuisine of the United States, we’ve found that the United States is a combination of its history, the ancestors of the people and their homelands, but despite our variegated roots, we have formed something that is distinctly American. The culture and cuisine of the United States, though influenced by so many other cultures, has become its own unique hodgepodge that is not found anywhere else in the world.