Monday, February 1, 2010

Is Tradition Important?

The United States is a food melting pot that is challenged to identify any singular type of cuisine that might be labeled as "traditional". Rightfully so, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of food in the U.S. is diversity. With each of our introductions last class we all shared something unique to each one of us that reflected on our families traditions or individual memories that stood out. Come to think of it, I would be shocked if multiple people in the room were to identify the same thing, be it their favorite food or even a similar story that produced their most memorable food moment. Across the board the U.S. has specialized in localized cuisines in each of its regions ranging from fresh coastal seafood to southern barbeque. We have appropriated foreign specialties to fulfill our desires and mastered food distribution at all scales, speeds, tastes, quantities, you name it, we got it. Where I think our strength lies is in our hybridization of both foreign + local cuisines and local + local cuisines. However, this identity of the food melting pot that gives us such a unique diversity is all too often overshadowed by the fast food industry that threatens to take root as our "traditional" cuisine to future generations.

In the two readings regarding Mexico's evolution of their tortilla industry and Russia's introduction and hybridization of McDonald's into their society, both authors articulate extremely clear arguments that identify how both cultures have transitioned from dependence on tradition to incorporating fast food into their daily lives. Mexico clearly identifies the tortilla not only as a traditional food but with a traditional way of life. It governed the lifestyles of families, especially women, so much so that it would be impossible to imagine life without it. It was during this reading that I had to admit that I have always taken the wide variety of food available to me for granted. Despite cooking on a daily basis, my daily way of life and routine is not governed by food, instead I govern the food that fits my daily way of life. This has left Americans in an extremely dangerous position that enables us to eat what we want, when we want it. I feel that this general lack of tradition has set the stage for many American families to adopt unstable diets.

In the case of Christine Dougherty who argues that eating fast food can actually help you lose weight, she has positioned her diet almost entirely around the fast food industry. “I don’t like to cook, and I wanted to be realistic without changing my lifestyle too much.” (Ellen, 2010) By eating exclusively off of Taco Bell's Fresco menu and incorporating daily exercise into her life, Christine has become the staple image for the franchises new "healthy" menu. The point being that despite the fast food industries attempts to offer healthier foods, the implications on Christine's life and future children could be severe if her daily life has been dependent on fast food simply because she doesn't like to cook. If we compare and contrast this to the Muscovites hybridization of fast food into their culture, we recognize first and foremost the importance of tradition - or nash - to their culture and that tradition extends to the point of familiarity, trust and comfort. Thus we see efforts to blend elements of the public food industry with the private and establish a relationship between the two. This relates to our discussion in class when we discussed potential pros and cons of fast food and I brought up that despite the pitfalls of fast food, it is critical that we as individuals do our part to live active healthy lifestyles and maintain a healthy diet.

It is important that we find a median somewhere in between adapting our diets to our daily lives and adapting ourselves to our diets. We live in an age that technology and industrialization has provided us with the tools to aid in the food production process, but that does not exempt us from educating ourselves of the essential vitamins and nutrients our body needs to sustain a days work.

Where fast food has threatened to brand American's with a new 'traditional' cuisine, this does not have to be the case. We have seen the efforts of Mexico and Russia to find a way to balance the two despite struggles to overcome both cultural and nutritional consequences. I have never interpreted the U.S. as a whole to truly be a fast food nation as I believe that the country has its roots in its various pockets. But these pockets are disappearing fast and family dinners along with them are to become nothing more than a myth.

Is fast food really taking over? Do you think that we should try to find some kind of balance if one doesn't already exist? Whats the first thing you think of regarding U.S. food? And lastly, how important is tradition to our diets? Does the U.S. have any one tradition in which we can all find common ground?

Sources:

Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Industrial Tortillas and Folkloric Pepsi: The Nutritional Consequences of Hybrid Cuisines in Mexico. M. L. Caldwell and J. L. Watson. The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating, A Reader. (pp. 235-247). Blackwell Publishing.

Caldwell, Melissa L. Domesticating the French Fry: McDonald's and Consumerism in Moscow. M. L. Caldwell and J. L. Watson. The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating, A Reader. (pp. 180-192). Blackwell Publishing.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/fashion/28SKIN.html?ref=nutrition

2 comments:

  1. Hi there! I'm not in this class, but came across this blog because I'm extremely interested in discussing food issues.

    You wrote that America's strength is the hybridization of foreign and local cuisines. Is the Americanization of foreign foods something we should commend? I don't think so, because Americanized foods often manifest as fast food. For example, how many Americans consider "Panda Express" as Chinese food? You don't truly see a "melting pot" except in urban cities.

    You also pose some very interesting questions. I don't know if they have been discussed in your class yet, but I would like to read what your fellow classmates say. I think that, yes, fast food is taking over. As more people are taught to aspire for high-paying jobs that require long hours, less people will have time to cook up healthy meals at home. In the U.S., less and less of our income is being spent on food, and unfortunately, the public likes it that way. But cheap food comes at a cost, both to our personal health and to the environment.

    People will always want convenience, and we should support businesses that offer it without compromising our health. Chipotle tries to balance fast food with healthy, organic, and seasonal foods. Unlike other places, they don't use meats raised and processed in factories.

    Sadly, when I think of American food, I *do* envision fast food. Maybe because I was not raised in an area of the U.S. that had a specific regional cuisine. But what is American food, anyway? Foods have been imported to this country since the beginning of colonization. Even apple pie isn't truly American (it was imported from England).

    I believe tradition is extremely important to eating. America really has no tradition, which is why we so easily succumb to food fads. Every other culture in the world has their own traditional foods, and they are extremely healthier than Americans, no matter if they are Inuits who consume large amounts of seal blubber or Indian Hindus who eat little or no meat. I also don't believe a country as large as the U.S. can or should try to find "common ground" with regards to food. We should celebrate the diversity of regional cuisines instead of trying to water them down to fit everyone's palatte. In China, for example, foods vary greatly between north and south, east and west. Each region has developed and strengthened their own specialties. Trying to find a "common ground" in America would be akin to popularizing General Tso's chicken in China.

    I hope that, as an outside commenter, I can help fuel more comments at this blog. It would be great to turn posts into discussions instead of simply op-ed pieces.

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  2. Yeah I think our introductions showed a large amount of diversity. Surprisingly large in fact compared to the other people I met here. I think part of that reason is the nature of the class. Many people seem to have a strong affinity for food which may have led them to take the class.

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