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A Brief History of American Food

A Brief History of American Food

What do you think American food is famous for? Junk food? “Mom’s” cooking? Cake Boss? I’m not going to argue with you, because in a sense, they’re all true. The rest of the world might look down on typical “American” food, but it’s also important to remember what merits it has. Like Britain, American food has embraced food from all around the world, so it’s good because you could argue it bridges cultural divides.


It’s very easy to forget that before white settlers came, Native Americans had their own style of cooking. They fished a lot in the rivers, lakes and oceans, and hunted on the great plains and mountains of the country. They often grilled or spit roasted their meat and fish, and to boil water they put hot rocks into water until it boiled. Then, they could boil meat or vegetables in it. Neat trick! Some Native Americans even invented ways to steam food, by digging pits, putting hot rocks at the bottom, then layering wet seaweed or other plant material over them. This created steam, which could be used for meat, vegetables and even potatoes. It might have been simple, but it was by no means a “primitive” way of cooking.


When British colonists arrived, they tried to live in a similar way to how they had done in Europe. They tried to grow crops like apples and wheat, but they weren’t always successful. However, the British colonists weren’t the only ones to settle in North America. There were also French, German and Dutch settlers. Whilst there wasn’t any big problems with the Dutch or the Germans, and these people even integrated into British life somewhat, the French colonists were a huge rival to the British. As existed at home, there was a lot of anti-French sentiment on the part of the British. This spread to cookery. French cookery attracted a lot of criticism, because it was basically too fancy and fiddly. Weirdly enough, this criticism fit in with the American style of political and religious writing at the time. This was because it was a situation where the fancy, refined cooking of the elite came up against the hearty but simple cooking of the average farmer. As many thought an independent America should be a nation of “yeoman farmers”, criticising French food indirectly supported this idea.


Since then, many more immigrants have come to the US and made an impact on the culinary landscape. Perhaps most notably are the Italians. Italian-American meals like deep-dish Chicago pizza, spaghetti Bolognese and chicken parmesan are all a product of this immigration. Hamburgers and hotdogs arguably come from German immigrants. Other influential cuisines include Indian, Chinese and Japanese. More recently, millions of people from Latin America have migrated to the US and brought their food over with them. Fast food chains like Taco Bell and Chipotle all serve Mexican-style food, but home cooking in America has become increasingly oriented towards various types of beans and spices, some of which come from Latin America.


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