The question, “What is America’s food culture,” produces many responses and almost always uncertainty. As Pollan mentions, America is a melting pot of many different cultures, each one bringing their own culinary traditions. New York City, where I grew up, is the epitome of this culinary melting pot. You can find almost any food from any culture if you look hard enough, from Polish bakeries, to Chinese restaurants, to burrito food trucks. You can even find fusions of these culinary traditions in restaurants, for example, a Spanish inspired sushi restaurant featuring yellowtail tacos. New York City has also latched on to the local movement. Farmers’ markets are popping up in many (upper-middle class) neighborhoods. Farm-to-Table restaurants are all the rage, showcasing produce, meat, and dairy from nearby farms. New York City is not unique in this regard—many other cities across America both have a huge variety of cultural cuisines and also promote local food. I want to think that this is the American food culture: diverse and local.
For many Americans, however, both inside and outside these cities, this food culture is out of reach. Schlosser writes that a meal of a hamburger and French fries from a fast food chain is the “quintessential American meal.” He also says that fast food, along with pop music and jeans, is one of America’s biggest “cultural exports.” This is unfortunate and true. Other countries bring their food traditions to America and they are celebrated, studied and eagerly adopted. Americans bring our food to other countries and it is seen as less sophisticated and less delicious. McDonald’s is now all over the world. This is of course an impressive feat for a company, but the food it sells is not should not make American’s proud.
I remember seeing a McDonald’s in Madrid and having two reactions. At first I felt warmth seeing the golden arches. McDonalds reminded me of home in a place where everything seemed unfamiliar. But then I thought to myself, “why would any Spaniard choose to eat this food when they have so many better options that are equally well priced?” McDonalds had upped its game a little bit in Europe—there was a focaccia burger on the menu (which I ordered)—but it didn’t compare to the ham sandwiches, potato and egg tortillas, and paella sold by the countless small restaurants on nearly every block of the city.
It will be very hard to alter the fast food culture of America. Just as I felt that slight sense of comfort seeing McDonalds abroad, many Americans love fast food because of its familiarity and consistency. I don’t know if there is a way to change the American love of fast food. I hope, however, that the local, seasonal, and sustainable food movement takes an even greater hold across the country and that this type of food becomes accessible to more people. Of course, other countries have been eating this way for a long time. (Last week we read the about Italian Petrini’s Slow Food movement.) Other countries take pride in what is regionally produced. I hope that Americans can claim this type of eating—celebrating what American land can produce rather than what can be created in a factory—as our new food culture.