If you’ve watched television shows like Parts Unknown or Ugly Delicious, it’s clear that food varies around the world, and it has a massive impact on our experiences with cooking, eating, and community. Each country and city has its own take on traditional dishes or local delicacies that shape the culture around them. But food is more than about trying new things. It’s about connection. It’s about experiences. It’s ever-evolving. And tying together people from around the world solely on food? That’s pretty amazing.
Americans have a unique experience and understanding of food by bringing together people from all over the world in large and small cities alike. You might be asking “why is food important in culture?” Let’s explore the relationship between food and culture within the United States and what makes American food so distinct.
What Is the American Food Culture?
Some people argue that American food culture has devolved into fast food based solely on its popularity and convenience. While it’s not insignificant that we eat out frequently, American food culture is wide-reaching and has roots in tradition. From New England seafood to Southern comfort foods, American cuisine varies from city to city, from coast to coast, and naturally drives the culture of communities passed down through the generations.
Food culture is diverse in America because it originates from many different cultures. Colonists’ cuisine is heavily rooted in their European heritage. They transported plants and animals they were familiar with to survive on a new continent. It wasn’t until the Revolution that colonists decided to break away from English food and create distinctly American cuisine. Africans introduced several new ingredients to America and, as slave cooks, created recipes new to the South. And with many other peoples migrating to the United States, so too came more new ingredients and cultures to influence American food.
Of course, some foods are distinctly American. Right? Not exactly. When thinking about traditional American food culture, several foods come to mind, but it’s not so cut-and-dry.
- The hamburger was brought from Hamburg, Germany, during immigration of Germans to America, but was perfected in America and further popularized by White Castle.
- The hotdog originated in Germany, though Vienna, Austria claims to have invented them. They were first sold in America at Coney Island. The addition of the hotdog bun was introduced by a German, most likely at Coney Island, but became popularized in Chicago.
- Macaroni and cheese has roots in Italy, where Thomas Jefferson got the recipe. Although it wasn’t Jefferson who prepared the meal. James Hemmings, his enslaved black chef, is the person who learned to cook it.
While these foods are unmistakably American, they are heavily influenced by people from around the world.
Food culture in the United States is more than just a burger and fries—debatably the quintessential American meal. It’s about community and collaboration. This is most evident with fusion-cuisine, which takes elements from different cultures and combines them into their own style—Mexican-American food like fajitas and Margaritas (that’s right, the margarita isn’t an authentic Mexican drink); American-Chinese food like orange chicken (in 1987) and General Tso’s chicken.
So what is the current American food culture? Generally speaking, it’s influenced by food from all over the world and has become a combination of cultures. It’s easy to see a heavy influence from different cultures within the United States. There are Chinatowns and Little Italys spread throughout large urban areas across the country, leading to a diverse collection of delicacies in a melting pot.
What Roles Does Food Play in American Society?
Food plays a massive role in our everyday lives. In American society, the importance of food in culture relies heavily on connection. Whether that’s a hotdog at a baseball game in Chicago, a taco from a truck in LA, or cake at a birthday party, food brings people together. Shared meals are an opportunity to share your thoughts and experiences with others in your community. Gathering around a dinner table and passing grandma’s secret recipe fried chicken brings you together with those you love. Exploring new foods can give you cultural understanding through your experiences with others.
Not only that, but food choices differ by family, region, religion, socioeconomic status, and cultural background in the United States. It’s no wonder that every person experiences food differently. Suffice to say, food is about more than getting full in America.
Experience Food Culture
If you want a taste of a variety of ethnic food to prepare at home. It can be difficult figuring out what you need while standing in a grocery store aisle. Instead, you can order online from OjaExpress. Our platform connects you with a culturally diverse selection of food no matter where you live in Chicago. You can experience cross cultural foods without the need to shop and haul your groceries home. Visit our website to get a delivery of cultural groceries today!