The Influences of Immigrant Cultures on American Cuisine

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The Influence of Immigrant Cultures on American Cuisine
Thomas J Smith
Sullivan University
Abstract
American Cuisine has benefited from an infusion of cultural influences. Primary among these is the indigenous cuisines of its various immigrant groups. This melding of cuisine and culture has resulted in a diverse and vibrant cuisine, taking from the host culture, transposing it, and incorporating its essence into the whole. This melding, however can lead to the loss of culture, as it pertains to the host culture. As the identities of these groups are incorporated into the adopted culture, the original can get watered down, if not lost completely. The loss of this culture would be tragic. One saving grace to this situation would be that as the host cuisine becomes part of the mainstream experience, the desire for the flavor profiles that define the host cuisine become desired; leading the new aficionados on a quest to experience the authentic cuisine, thus exposing it to a whole new audience, preserving the culture in an enduring fashion. The Influence of Immigrant Cultures on American Cuisine

Food in America is a passion. This country has elevated the art of gastronomy to a pinnacle seldom seen in the annals of human history. While other countries can boast a longer culinary history, and a more narrowly defined cuisine, America’s position in the culinary world is supported by their unapologetic lack of these constraints. American cuisine has been influenced by a great many things. Primary among the influences has been the introduction of immigrant cultures into the “Great American Melting Pot” resulting in an eclectic cuisine unique in the world for its diversity and surprising homogeneity. The “Melting Pot” metaphor is appropriate, as the immigrants of different nationalities retained their cultural characters’ and yet blended together to become a single people. As such, dining in the United States demands a knowledge of all the worlds cuisines (Kolpas, 1982, p.165). This homogeneity is not, however, without its drawbacks. As a cuisine becomes “Americanized” it runs a real risk of losing its uniqueness, and cultural significance. This significance is a big part of the cultural identity of an immigrant community, who often express their heritage in their food. Various peoples have been coerced by financial viability with “bastardizing” their cuisine to make it palatable to the American public in general. This problem is demonstrated by a quote from Yidi Wu, an Ithaca College sophomore from China, who quite vocally expressed her disdain “This is not Chinese Food,” as she pushed her dumplings away which she received at a Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown, Washington D.C. (Simone, 2009) She is not alone in her apprehension concerning the Americanization of a native cuisine. When immigrants come to the United States, they bring with them a wealth of culinary tradition and flavors. Many definitive dishes are watered down or even re-invented to meet the general American public’s taste sensibilities. A comprehensive look at American Cuisine can not be effective, if there is not first, a study of the indigenous populations and their influence on the cuisine of the land. Some anthropologists would argue that the Native American tribes were indeed the first immigrants to the new world. However, in order to completely ascertain the subsequent influences, a baseline of their cuisine needs to be established in order to truly ascertain the influence exerted by subsequent waves of immigrant cultures upon the “Native Cuisine.” The cuisine of the pre-Columbian Native American tribes was most profoundly influenced by the indigenous flora and fauna of the regions in which they lived. While a certain amount of trade amongst the various populations was fairly common, the ingredients readily found in their own “backyard” had the greatest impact. The tribes of the Eastern woodlands...
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