Food History in North America Term Paper

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Food History of North America Cuisine

What is the geographical location of North America and why it would have an effect on the North America cuisine? (i.e., what is the weather condition in North America and does that play an affect as to why they eat the foods they eat and what foods do they eat mostly).

North America is a vast area that has many different geographical areas and so, they have an amazing affect on the food that North Americans eat. The long shorelines provide every kind of seafood from Alaskan king crab to Maine Lobster. The interior of North America is made up of prairie, both in the U.S. And Canada, and it is fertile, flat soil that is easily farmed. The area provides food to the entire world.

Because the area is so vast, the weather is different throughout North America, and influences the foods eaten throughout the area. For example, the Southern part of North America is nearly tropical, and areas like Florida and Southern California have large citrus industries. They also provide many other warm-weather crops, like olives, avocados, and many of the fresh vegetables and fruit we enjoy throughout the winter months. In the North, game is prevalent, and that is what the first immigrants survived on as they moved across the country. Along the seacoasts, fish and shellfish are more popular, and in the middle of the country, much of the cereal grains are grown, like wheat, corn, rye, and even soybeans. Each area has different weather that indicates what can grow there, and because we have such different geography and weather in the area, we enjoy a wide variety of foods -- from soup to nuts!

2. Historically, which groups had an influence on the North America cuisine?

A. Historically, there are so many groups who have had an influence on North American cuisine that it is hard to name them all. The Native Americans may have been the first to influence eating and cuisine in North America, but so many immigrants have come since the first settlers came here that just about every culture on Earth is represented in North America, and many of them have influenced local and national cuisine.

B. African-Americans have influenced much of Southern cooking with recipes and foods that were first native in Africa. For example, gumbo actually comes from the African word for "okra," the vegetable pod that is often used to thicken gumbos. Gumbo is a thick stew filled with meat and vegetables, but it is much more than just a "stew." Most histories credit the creation of gumbo to the French in Louisiana, and think that it is an Americanized version of French bouillabaisse. However, the word and much of the preparation is strictly African-American. Barbecuing came to us from the Caribbean, (barbacoa) is the word, and of course there is Italian food from the Italian immigrants, Asian food from Asian immigrants, Mexican and Latin American food, especially in the Southwest that developed into Southwestern cooking, and many, many other influences that have become commonplace in American cooking and eating habits.

C. The earliest influence came from the Native Americans who grew a variety of crops like corn, peppers, tomatoes, squash, hunted game in the forests, and fished the streams and oceans. Many of their foods have become common everyday American foods such as corn on the cob, popcorn, pumpkins, acorn squash, and even maple syrup, which they showed the white man how to make. The Plains Indians had more and different crops, and used the buffalo and other game as main staples of their diet. In fact, all the different Native American tribes have added something to the American diet, from wild rice in the North to chilis and peppers in the South. One food historian notes how the very survival of the early 1600s Virginia settlers depended on the Native Americans. She writes, "The land was rich in game, the waters alive with fish, the woods full of edible berries, but if it had not been for the generosity of the Indians they would have starved" (Tannahill 222). Another historian adds that exploration too depended on the Native knowledge of food and game in the area. He writes, "The explorers were dependent on the Indians for food, despite the rich resources they themselves described; in addition, much of their geographical information came not from the instruments and expertise of which they were so proud but from their Indian informants" (Kupperman 357). In addition, one of the most famous Native crops, corn, has become the staple of the world, and America is one of the largest producers. Another food historian writes, "The United States owe a large part of their economic prosperity to it [corn]. The 'corn belt' has proved to be a golden girdle. The headquarters of the world maize exchange is in Chicago and determines rates worldwide" (Toussaint-Samat 173). The Natives may have been the earliest influence, but there were certainly many others.

D. As more European immigrants came to America, the cuisine changed to be heartier, with meat and potatoes central to the diet. Much of New England cooking still shows that today, where traditional dishes include clam chowder, baked beans and brown bread, a New England boiled dinner which includes meat (usually corned beef) and vegetables (usually carrots, cabbage, and potatoes) cooked together like a pot roast. Western cooking tends to be lighter, especially in California and along the coastline, where seafood is common, and it tends to be more influenced by Asian cuisines, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Thai. European influence tends to be more on the East coast, because that is where many European immigrants settled once they came to this country.

3. What are the practical and social rituals associated with the North America cuisine?

A. Like the influences, there are so many practical and social rituals associated with North American cuisine that it is hard to list them all. For example, common rituals associated with cooking in the various regions include backyard barbecues, where the man traditionally grills meat on the barbecue, and the wife prepares side dishes to go with the meat. These usually happen during the summertime, but they can occur during just about any time of the year.

B. Another common ritual is the "tailgating" party that happens in the parking lot of sports stadiums before games. They started out small but have gotten much more popular and complicated in recent years. People cook food somewhat like a backyard barbecue, but often with themes that go along with the sports team. For example, they might serve bratwurst and cheese in Wisconsin at a tailgate party, or serve fruit, seafood, and margaritas at a party in Arizona or Florida. The area's fresh food has something to do with menus, and so does the ease of making it in a parking lot.

C. Perhaps the most common rituals in North American cooking are the elaborate holiday dinners that accompany the most popular holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Each holiday has certain foods associated with it, such as turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, squash, pumpkin, and nuts associated with Thanksgiving. The meals are usually huge, and it takes all day or more to prepare them (unless they are bought at the supermarket), which is also becoming much more common. The meals include a gathering of all the family members, and a celebration of the holiday, along with television shows, presents, or Easter baskets, and other accessories that make the celebrations special. They are important family events that all revolve around a lot of cooking and eating.

D. There are also literally a ton of regional cooking and eating traditions that are well-known. For example, in New England, clambakes are a popular way to cook clams, lobster, mussels, corn, and other items, while enjoying the seashore. In Hawaii, luaus are a common method of cooking an entire meal in a hot pit (a variation of the clambake), and they are extremely popular with tourists as well (Tannahill 222-223). In Southern California, grunion (small fish) hunts occur in the summer during full moons, and afterwards the hunters cook the grunion on the beach. In the Northern areas, hunting is regular form of adding to the food supply. Each region seems to have its own food traditions based on the foods that are available in the areas and the immigrants who settled there. In Louisiana, the Creoles, a blend of French and Indian rule the food with gumbos, jambalayas, and other regional specialties. Each area is the same, and they combine to make a very jumbled but enjoyable cuisine!

E. Another very unique American food tradition that is growing in popularity are "cook-offs" and food competions. They all began with chili cook-offs in Texas in the 1970s, but now, they are a form of entertainment and enrichment (Sutherland 160-161). If you tune into the Food Network, you'll often see cooking competions, in…

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