Forkways #12: What does studying food tell us?
Self - The problem with the self identification of an American through food is that so much of American culture has been borrowed from other cultures. Adaptation and diversity have been key ideals to the success of individuals in this nation and the shifts in various cuisines throughout the geographical borders off the United States. There are some food that are deeply and inherently American, but they are likely less common than you might think. The way that any individual interacts with food is extremely complex. We look to food to shape and build who we are. We look to food to define the edges or our culture and our connection with something greater. Food is sustenance. Food is sin. It is easy to see how the connection between the self and food can be tricky. Especially the misconception that food will make us fat.
Adaptation - People are forced to make the best of the food that surrounds them, but it can also shape and adapt who they are and how they see the world. So many aspects of food are an interplay of internal and external forces. Historically, so many people have been effective at living off the land. The ability to gather and grow many food items is often overlooked. And while there is a cyclical trend of self sufficiency, it is also amazing how disconnected people have become from the growing and production of food. The most recent adaptation may be that of ignorance. Grocery stores have made shopping for food so easy. Nearly no thought has to go into considering where food comes from and what steps need to be taken to preserve these sources.
Diversity - When humans became agrarian societies, they lost a lot of diversity in their diet. Despite the ease and wonder of the modern day grocery store, we are limited to only a few types of apples out of the hundreds that are available in the world. Marketing and transportability can really impact how we see these types of foods. Diversity is also about the meals you remember growing up eating. This can change region to region and generation to generation. Originally food diversity in America was based on access, now it is based on interest. Cuisine is based around the ecology of a growing system. Many traditional dishes are based around seasonality and location. What plants mature at the same time? What plants grow by each other?
Identification - The labels we use to define ourselves are important to shaping and understanding who we are and how our experiences shape us. I think this can only be realized when you leave the culture of your upbringing. We use race, regionality, religion, economic status, and time period to frame and explain who we are as a person and how we eat the foods that we do and why they appeal to us.