With Independence Day being celebrated in the U.S. this week I have been reading the customary “What makes America great?” articles in the newspapers. One article in particular caught my eye as it discussed favorite American foods (“American” meaning only the United States rather than Northern, Central, or South America. Sorry neighbors!). I thought about this and tried to come up with food items that were exclusive to the United States.
My first thought was apple pie and hot dogs. I mean seriously, what could be more “American?” However, apples were introduced by early English settlers and hot dogs are essentially frankfurters hailing from Germany, so those two don’t qualify.
The only food item I could come up with was corn, specifically popcorn (although this probably came from South America). As it turns out, there are quite a few delicacies that are uniquely “American.” According to the Daily Meal, chocolate chip cookies, S’mores, Cracker Jack, and Key Lime Pie originated here. There are also others listed but to my mind Twinkies are essentially pastries (if you must classify them as food), meatloaf has been around for a while, and corn dogs fall into the hot dog category.
What struck me about this little mental exercise was the diversity of locations from which our food originates. Each wave of people immigrating to the U.S. brings with them their customs, values, spiritual beliefs, and yes, food.
The United States has been called the “Great American Melting Pot” because people from all different cultures can blend together. This seems a noble thought on the surface but reality is a bit different. From one point of view you don’t want to lose the customs and values of your heritage to be replaced by ideals that are foreign to you. These values are what make you unique.
My thought of the melting pot is akin to a beef stew. You add beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, peas, and whatever else you want to throw in and coat with gravy. Sounds good and in truth most stews are delicious. However I notice that the bite of carrot tastes just like the bite of potato, which tasted just like the bite of beef. All of the ingredients have blended together into a yummy dish that ends up only having one flavor. Tasty, but bland.
Like with apple pie and corn dogs, we here in the U.S. tend to tweak recipes from all cultures. I don’t want to say we improve recipes but we certainly do modify them. Frankly some of our “modifications” are simply gross. Like deep fried butter on a stick. Not kidding, it does exist:
The point of all this is that we are one nation but made up of many different cultures. Each is distinctive and should be celebrated as such. “Great American Melting Pot” doesn’t really take into account the diverse make-up of this great country. Diversity is what makes life really interesting. It would be extremely boring if we all looked, talked, and acted exactly the same. It would be like having only one choice for dinner: Mushy. No thanks!