Soy burgers and molecular gastronomy aside, the foods that Americans expect on their dinner menus and dinner tables fill only a short list. Despite our claims to ethnic diversity, we cannot claim to be adventurous diners. How did Americans develop their tastes for hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes? Who put the comfort in large servings of ice cream, fried chicken, and nachos?
Before you stop for that next bucket of chicken, unwrap your next juicy hamburger, or buy another case of diet soda, consider their history. Until Americans started assembling automobiles, sewing shirts, and manufacturing steel, they grew or hunted their own food. If a family wanted bread, they grew and harvested wheat. Someone had to mix and knead the dough for that bread, too. A chicken dinner required killing and dressing a chicken as well as baking or frying it. Americans ate substantial meals because they needed the calories for daylong physical labor in their fields, forests, barnyards, and kitchens. Cooking meals was a fulltime job; it required chopping wood, picking vegetables and fruit, butchering animals, canning produce, and milking cows.
It wasn’t until the introduction of mass production at the dawn of the Industrial Age that Americans chose quantity over quality and efficiency over conviviality. Clearly, freedom from kitchen duties, satiation, and convenience reward the fast food consumer. Indeed, at the height of the Industrial Age, Americans were content to consume Velveeta cheese, green Jell-O, strawberry Kool-Aid, and Chef Boyardee canned pasta. Not content with the ease of preparing dinner from packages of powders, canned carbohydrates, and frozen vegetables, Americans invented the microwave oven, Pop-Tarts, and the drive-through restaurant. Now that Americans have achieved excellence in the speed of delivery and the size of portions of food, what’s next? Is it possible to have convenience and good health, too? What do you think? Read more about this issue right here in the next few weeks.
© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011