Food is traditionally considered as a simple means of subsistence but has developed to become filled with cultural, psychological, religious, and emotional significance. Consequently, food is currently used as a means of defining shared identities and symbolizes religious and group customs. In the early 17th and 18th centuries, this mere means of subsistence was considered as a class maker but developed to become a symbol of national identity in the 19th centuries. In the United States, food has been influenced by various cultures such as Native American, Latin America, and Asian cultures. Consequently, Americans have constantly Americanized the foods of different cultures to become American foods. The process on how Americans have Americanized different cultures' foods and reasons for the Americanization is an important topic of discussion.
As previously mentioned, food was traditionally considered as a mere means of subsistence, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. The early history of food involved its use to define shared identities and reflected religious and group customs. Furthermore, food was filled with psychological, cultural, religious, and emotional significance. During this period, a unique court tradition of cuisine and sophisticated table manners emerged to distinguish the social elite from the ordinary people. However, during the 19th century, the history of food slightly changed as it became a defining symbol of national identity. This period was characterized by the association of several dishes to particular countries and cultures (Mintz, par 1). For instance, American hamburger and tomato-based Italian spaghetti are cultural foods that were invented in the 19th or 20th centuries.
The history of food took a significant turning point during the European discovery of the New World. This change involved the westward movement of foods that previously unknown in Europe and Africa and unknown in Americas such as potatoes, tomatoes, cassava, beans, cattle, sheep, and pigs. Moreover, foods grown in the New World such as coffee, sugar, and chocolate became the foundation for the first real multi-national consumer-centered industries across the globe because of the movement of foods across borders.
In the United States, the history of food was a story of relatively unique regional customs that originated largely from England until the late 19th Century. Earliest migrants in America had a tendency of holding strongly to conventional food traditions. For more than two centuries, English food cultures and customs dominated American cuisine. However, experimentation and innovation was eventually encouraged with the presence of new ingredients and interactions between various ethnic groups. Since American cuisine was dominated by English food customs, there were four major food traditions in America, each with English roots before the Civil War. These four major food traditions were a New England tradition, a Southern tradition, Quakerism, and backcountry diet (Mintz par, 4).
A New England tradition associated plain food preparation with religious faithfulness and hostility towards highly-seasoned and fancy foods that were considered as a means of sensual luxury. This tradition was characterized by rigorous diet emphasizing boiled vegetables, boiled and baked meats, and baked pies and breads. The Southern custom was a combination of English, French, African, Spanish, and Indian foods characterized with high seasonings and stressed on simmering and frying. Quakerism was a characteristic of the middle Atlantic areas where the diet was usually plain and simple and emphasis on boiling, which included boiled dumplings and puddings. The backcountry diet included several ingredients that were used as animal feed by other English with an emphasis on grits, pork, griddle cakes, and greens.
One of the distinctive characteristics of food in the United States from an early period was the large quantity of meat and purified liquor. Corn from abundant and fertile lands was given to livestock as fodder while the rest was converted into whiskey. Actually, by the beginning of the 19th Century, adult men were consuming approximately over 7 gallons of distilled liquor annually.
Americanization of Different Cultures' Foods:
In the 19th and 20th centuries, American foods have changed significantly because of increased Americanization of foods from other cultures. While this change is brought by various factors, food has generally become a major cultural battleground in the United States. Generally, America is widely known for its production of greasy, processed food with high fats and in carbs. However, the nation is also a country of immigrants whose citizens and residents have benefited from combination of different cultural heritages. These immigrants tend to leave the homeland or cultural lifestyles in exchange for the American lifestyle. Consequently, the country is currently characterized with the presence of several non-American cuisine restaurants (Jevgenijs par, 1). One of the most notable features of the existence of these non-American cuisine restaurants is the Mexican food restaurants.
Culture is basically described as the beliefs, habits, knowledge, and customs that are shared by a group of people. While these elements are not inherited behaviors but learned, they are passed from one generation to another. In essence, each ethnic group or country has its own culturally-based foods and food habits. Nonetheless, these customs have partly been influenced and embraced through contact with the mainstream culture. As a result, foods of these cultures have been influenced by the existence of varying ethnic cultures.
The American diet and cuisine is an amalgamation of foods from different cultures and cuisines. In order to understand this diet and the Americanization of foods from different cultures, it is important to study the conventional foods and foods habits of several minority groups as well as the interaction between the majority culture and cultures of ethnic groups. There are three large segments of the American population who's ethnic and regional food practices influence the American diet and cuisine i.e. African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Asian-Americans.
The African-American cuisine is partly based on certain health beliefs that are passed from generation to generation. For this group, academic background and socioeconomic status are crucial to meal planning and nutrition education. The conventional African-American soul food is rooted on various food customs and practices that were shared by white Americans in the southern part of the country. Some of these practices and customs include the consideration of corn as a mainstay food item, breading and frying of meats, and use of various green leafy vegetables as staple soul food. Generally, the African-American soul food stresses vegetables and complicated carbohydrates.
The food consumption practices of Asian-Indians in the United States shows that they tend to select American and other ethnic foods for main meals and substitute conventional sweets with various food items like doughnuts, cookies, and other American pastries. There is a tendency by these individuals to decrease their consumption of butter and ghee and substitute them with margarine based on the length of their stay in the country. Generally, the diet of this community has changed from one consisting low-fat, high-fiber foods into one with higher-fat animal protein, high levels of saturated fat, and low fiber foods. In addition, Asian-Indians tend to prefer fast foods and convenience foods as compared to other ethnic groups in the country.
While food is an important part of the Mexican-American life, the conventional Mexican diet is high in fiber and low in fat. The food preferences of Mexican-Americans are a variety of healthy foods such as corn, rice, and beans. However, this population tends to consume foods that are familiar and culturally acceptable.
Based on this analysis, it is relatively difficult to define American food or diet because of the lack of a single dish that represents the expansive country. This is primarily because food in the United States is developed from various cultures because the country is a melting port for different cultures. In reality, every single food in the American diet is traced back to certain ethnic groups or group of immigrants.
The Occurrence of Americanization of Different Cultures' Foods:
The major way with which Americans have Americanized foods from different cultures is through a greater emphasis on salt, sugar, and frying. Generally, Americans like things including foods that are fast and easy since the need little personal and economic sacrifice (Ikerd par, 2). The emphasis on frying, salt, and sugar is influenced by the fact that Americans like sweet things and things that look good. In essence, foods from different cultures are Americanized through using cooking techniques that require individual and economic sacrifice. This process sometimes involves the elimination of certain ingredients that are not considered sweet or necessary in the specific cuisine.
The other aspect of the Americanization of different cultures' foods is lessening the spiciness of certain foods. For instance, foods from Thailand usually have a significant amount of heat and spice based on the Thai food culture that largely incorporates vegetables. In this case, Americans lessen the spiciness through changing a major ingredient of the ethnic cuisine in order to prepare an Americanized Thai cuisine. Therefore, Americans have primarily Americanized different cultures' foods through simplifying cooking techniques and changing major ingredients of the native cuisine.
Even though many chefs across restaurants stick to the authentic recipes of various countries…