American Food Culture & History
A summary of American food culture & history. We also explain why British TV chefs have it all wrong.
Food is central to life in America – especially when you live “in the middle” where the population density is low and life is pretty slow. Holidays such as Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas along with births, weddings & deaths mark the time more than years on the calendar. Food is a cornerstone of these events.
Americans, in general, are a nation of feeders. We love nothing more than to bring a dish to pass, have a family picnic, potluck or cookie swap. The dining table is really a serving platter to be filled with home-cooked food. When everything is ready, grab a plate, fill it up and then find a chair or sit on the floor to eat and enjoy.
Everyone has “their dish” to bring for any family event (mine is Mississippi Mud Cake). Leftovers are expected and distributed to older folks who have trouble cooking or to grieving families who have more important needs than figuring out what to eat.
Forks, Knives, and Fingers
It is common for Brits to note that Americans don’t use their knife and fork properly. In America, it is normal at BBQ or picnics or family feasts to not necessarily sit at the dining room table and for lunch. Americans normally eat on the run. Therefore, eating with your hands or being able to use just one utensil (like a fork) is preferred. It also saves on the washing up!
Americans, for example, will make a traybake instead of a layer cake simply because you can cut and serve it more easily. Many American desserts are meant to be eaten with your hands – hence the cookie, cupcake and various granola bars including our favourite, Raspberry Bars. French fries, burgers and chicken wings are also all considered “finger food”.
In the big cities of America, the foodies are creating all sorts of weird and wonderful creations to carve out a place for themselves. Freak Shakes, World’s Best Cookie Dough, Unicorn Cakes and edible art like that from Stick With Sweets are everywhere.
However, in the “fly over” States, this is all seen as “fancy”. Their focus is always on big quantities and good tasting food.
Typical American Food isn’t what’s on British Television
Sure, big mouth burgers, hot dogs and American Pancakes are all well known in Britain as ‘typical American food’. However, British television and British chefs have given the UK a skewed impression of American food.
This cute graphic from Goldbely.com shows the most popular foods by State.
For example, I recently received an American cookbook from a famous British TV Chef that had 8 recipes for lobster. This is ludicrous!
First, the only place you can get lobster in the USA at a reasonable price is Maine or maybe Boston, Massachusetts.
Second, in 25 years of living in America, I had lobster exactly once – it isn’t a common food for most of the country (see the map).
Third, who in the UK can afford (or find) lobster? Why would a Brit need 8 recipes for lobster let alone eight American recipes for lobster?
Don’t get me wrong, the pictures in the book were lovely and if you are going on holiday to Maine or Boston, we recommend you eat lots of lobster! However, we set out to help people in the UK to cook typical American food at home. Sorry, no fancy lobster here.