This paper is a brief discussion of how American culture is defined through food. Many nations and regions throughout the world have established distinct identities, some of which can be articulated through the dishes and preparation methods that make up their distinctive cuisines. The United States, however, is made up of groups of individuals from all across the globe, and its food reflects this diversity. The foods that Americans have made popular reflect both the distinctive identity of this cultural melting pot and the conflicts that continue to define its society.
Author Sidney W. Mintz is careful to clarify his definition of what constitutes a national cuisine. He writes, "Cuisines, when seen from the perspective of people who care about the foods, are never the foods of a country, but the foods of a place" (96-97). He argues that a cuisine, to fit his definition, must spring from social roots and a sense of community. Cuisine is determined by several factors, including the availability of ingredients. Food helps people establish a distinctive identity that says a great deal about how people in a specific region see themselves and what values they consider important.
In the United States, this has evolved into a complex combination of national identity, regional specialization, and cultural heritage. Mintz observes that some differences arose because of differing environments: fresh cranberries grow well in New England climates, while they could never be raised in the southern California desert, for example, and therefore they are important ingredients in Boston recipes and virtually unknown 3,000 miles away.
The ethnic groups that settled in different regions have also helped to dictate regional specialities. Southwest cooking is derived from the heavy reliance on chilies, corn, and other ingredients inspired by the Spanish roots of settlers in that area, while Pennsylvania Dutch cooking comes out of the e...