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A RANT AGAINST THE TERM 'PEASANT FOOD' or its inaccurate, indiscriminate, disrespectful, unchowish use of it.

I keep seeing people use the term 'Peasant Food' way out of context. For example... 'Enchiladas' are merely Peasant food. What does THAT mean? Are people saying they have spent time with Peasants

(From Wikipedia: 'A peasant is an agricultural worker who subsists by working a small plot of ground. The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district (when the Roman Empire became Christian, these outlying districts were "pagan," that is, not Christian). [1] The term peasant today is sometimes used in a pejorative sense for impoverished farmers.')...

and they eat Enchiladas or Dumplings or whatever people here sometimes decry as Peasant food. I get the sense that the people who refer to certain foods as Peasant Food:

1) Can't cook... because no one that cooks (and I am including high performance professionals) would ever utter such barbarity. (and when I mean cook I mean from scratch not some Rachel Ray hack job)

2) Thinks Enchiladas are peasant food but Raviolis are not. Refuses to pay more than a few dollars for Dim Sum but spends $20 a plate on linguini or pizza.

I guess one of the contexts is price. Dried Corn... cheap, Lobster expensive... therefore Dried Corn is peasant food, but Lobster is food of Kings. So 200 years ago when Lobster was almost exclusively the food of impoverished coastal peoples was it peasant food? Further... is Lobster really more refined? Does it take more skill & "civilization" to harvest & boil a live lobster? How about the Corn that was bred from a puny grain at the end of a stalk... to a massive cob, and all that knowledge that is required to preserve and then reuse via slaking with limestone and preparing into composed food items that take on a new abstract form unrelated to the original simple ingredient... this is not a product of civilizations? So in effect the cultures that who obtain the technology to produce that wonderful grain based meal inexpensively are derided instead of praised? This makes no sense.

People praise dandelion greens... one man's weed another more intelligent man (or woman's) salad. I doubt there are lot of true peasants out there habitually eating the foods that people often so irresponsibly & baselessly refer to as peasant food.

The other context is that some people seem to think there are only two types of food.... Food as Fine Art & then peasant food. Yes I appreciate the Fine Art style... might even be my acknowledged highest expression for food... but I am annoyed when people are snobbish towards anything that is not Fine Art. And I mean... how many places really provide Fine Art cuisine? Gastronomy as Fine Art is still a very rough, entry level Art form because there just aren't very many knowledgeable connoisseurs. Most highly acclaimed haute restaurants are the equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade art store.. no depth, no story... laughed at by the Michaelangelo & quality Folk Artisans alike. A good example is Cyrus in Healdsburg... a Michelin 2 star, yes they provide a haute dining experience in form... but there is substance, no real story, no intellect, no idealism behind the actual food just a hollow, pretty thing like a Kinkade painting... certainly not qualifying as Fine Art.

And yet this is the basis for snobbery? I think not.

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  1. Take a deep breath. Home cooking, comfort food chez nous is our preferred cuisine. When I go out and want to be wowed, it's haute cuisine. Both can be great, and I think that great restaurants acknowledge this.

    1. Eat_Nopal, i'm not, by any means, championing the accuracy or expertise of anything one might find on Wiki, but since you cited their definition of "peasant" in your OP< i just wanted to point out that there's also an entry for the term "peasant food"...


      and there have been a couple of prior threads devoted to discussion of the topic:

      2 Replies
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        I referenced Wikipedia... not because I think its a bastion of truth... but because they had a quick to reference (cut & paste I should say) accurate definition. The definition for "Peasant Food" seems to me to be absolute crap.

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          I guess we have different definitions of what peasant food is. It seem pretty accurate to me.


      2. I agree with you although I'm not sure I exactly understand everything your wrote :) I was trying to think of anything I'd call "peasant food" that wasn't made by peasants. I didn't come up with anything. Maybe there needs to be more categories/descriptions. I loved your Kinkaide analogy. A purty pitcher but not "art." Expound more please!

        1. EN , by now I know enough about your soul to know that you are frustrated by the illogic of sine-wave trends and peculiar human behavior. I was raised as a protestant in a catholic area of Connecticut, and we ate fish on Friday, not in sympathy with the catholics, but because it cost less. We would go to Cappy's tiny fish market, where he had a 6-foot swordfish splayed on his cutting board, and we would tell him how thick to slice our dinner food, because it was cheaper than hamburger. Peasant food changes, as do us peasant wannabees who remember better days.

          1. Wait, "peasant food" is pejorative? No one wants to eat like a serf, but rich peasants are known to eat quite well. For what it's worth, both "cuisine bourgeoise" and "cuisine paysanne" have positive connotations. And although the US never had peasants, I thought that country food was well appreciated.

            Maybe you're just running in pretentious circles recently?

            1. FWIW, "peasant food" has positive connotations for me. I grew up on a family farm, and we grew most of what we ate. Meat, dairy, poultry and eggs, sausages, vegetables, fruits and nuts - and if we didn't grow/make/catch it, someone nearby did. Like the fisherman down by the river, who would bring by a salmon now and again. Or the neighbor whose orchards produced peaches, prunes and walnuts. Or grandpa, who kept us supplied with cheeses.

              Seems to me, many culinary classics (e.g. cassoulet) had their origins in a pot on top of the farmhouse woodstove cooking up things that had been stored in the cellar.

              During WW2, when the townfolks were suffering under rationing, we peasants were doing just fine.

              1. I would not want the food that I was raised on called peasant food either, whether it was or not at the time, because I view the word in a negative way. We were impoverished at times and cornbread, pinto beans and potatoes were staples. Yet, obviously, all three can and have been raised to an art form level at times. Yes, just like I've struck out batters in slow pitch softball and just like Reutimann can win a Nascar race, beans and cornbread can be much more than peasant food. Rant on.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Scargod

                  My 95 year old grandmother is an extremely proud cook. Everytime she makes one of her traditional Italian recipes, she will proudly tell you: "This is peasant food! This is what we grew up on!"

                  Where she got the term "peasant food" from - I do not know, but I am sure she remembers when they ate only what they raised and grew, and yet they ate well, and delicious recipes developed, and were passed down.
                  I am sure she in no way views the word "peasant" as a negative, and neither do I.
                  I am sure it is simply a way to describe food/recipes that were developed by the poor people who had to use what the local land brought to them.

                  What is the problem with that?

                  1. re: NellyNel

                    No problem, for you and really not so much for me. It's all in your perspective. Most people have hot button issues or sensitivities. Our peasant food wasn't eaten by choice. Most everyone in our neighborhood ate better. I went to schools where my hand me downs and slacks from a used clothes store looked out of place next to everyone else's new jeans.
                    I can joke about it now. I look back fondly at how my mom made do and got us by and how I love most of the food to this day, but I understand where some can find it offensive or inappropriate to put simpler, cheap foods in that category.

                    1. re: Scargod

                      I was fourth in line for hand me downs. But boy, did mom make good soups/stews. The Dumkeg clan turned 300 lbs of cabbage into Russian style saurkraut (kapusta). I hated it as a kid and now I make my own.
                      Funny, ate a lot of game as a kid, now, venison, trout, rabbit and duck are considered gourmet fare.

                2. Peasants were those tied to large fuedal estates (extensive, low output, lowly capitalized) where land and peasant labor were the main assets. Peasants were in continual debt bondage, were not land owners, and gave their labor on the estate in exchange for being able to till small plots. As was typical in Latin America, prior to the 1952 - 64 revolution in Bolivia, three percent of the people owned 97% of the land in the country. Peasant diets were harsh and limited.

                  I have not heard of anything called "peasant food," but then I work more than most in areas that were characterized by having had peasantry.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Sam.. thanks for providing expertise on the historical / anthropological perspective. Since you brought up Latin America.. its worthy to note the associated term "Banana Republic" which is the situation in which those elite landowners use peasant labor to grow & harvest commercial agriculture for the U.S. market, and the presence of U.S. military bases and other means of projection of force to maintain that Status Quo.

                    Taken into its correct historical & political context... people should understand that throwing the P word around willy nilly is like throwing the N word around willy nilly. Just because you don't have angry mobs of peasants around to protest doesn't mean its not offensive, hurtful & adding salt to the wounds.

                    Further.. from a Gastronomic IQ perspective... the indiscriminate use of the word Peasant Food is just plain dumb. I have heard people call East African cuisine peasant food. WTF? So because those countries are impoverished today... that means that the grand traditions, many handed down from Nubian palatial cuisine are now Peasant traditions? Because poor people in East Africa know how to prepare food that is better than what Charlemagne grew up with... it should now be stripped of its noble origins? Why assault the remnants of a proud culture in a place that has little remaining of a golden age but the memories? In Chiapas you can find cash poor indigenous vendors selling impeccable Cream Puffs on street corners... is that now Peasant food... rather than Haute Patisserie with the added credit that humble people can master it?

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      I've lived for 3 years on the area known as the banana republic in costa rica (where United Fruit used to have it's headquarters). Their food, while many could call it peasant in other areas of the world, was elevated to an art-form there.... I have yet to be able to recreate it here, even with all my usage of authentic ingredients, and I see their food as something to strive towards.... so I do object the the usage of the term peasant food...

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        You are missing both the context and concept of the term...

                        Peasant foods exist in all cultures, because working poor exist in all cultures. Whether it is in East Africa, France, India or the U.S.A. there exist peasant cooks.

                        The mark of a peasant cook is the ability to take something common, inexpensive, rough, and unlovely and make it not only palatable but glorious. Your standard would have people believe that the"peasant" in "peasant food" is an insult. Although the word can be used that way, it is not a slight in this case.

                        I am a person who counts tenant farmers, sharecroppers, homesteaders, and displaced natives in his family tree. The dishes of my parents and grandparents childhoods have often been described as "peasant food' with a warm sense of dignity.

                        The indignity was suffered when the cupboards were bare.

                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Sam -- my meaning of the word "peasant" hearkens back to the free and not impoverished farmstead folks in various parts of Europe. Like Switzerland, for example.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          "Soul Food" comes to mind with your explanation.

                        2. Didn't this debate get covered long ago, back when that NY restaurant Peasant opened? Which is still alive and well, apparently: http://www.peasantnyc.com

                          1. the op was great-- hey the *title* was great! LMAO ;-P

                            EN-- peasant dishes are the kind of thing you can leave on the stove and go dig potatoes for a few hours (or plant rice, or thresh wheat, or silk corn, etc). the food may or may not contain the older animals, or tougher cuts of meat rejected by your plantation master or landholder, but real peasant food uses meat as mostly a condiment (when you can get it). think stew-----posole, not enchiladas.

                            1. I have only ever heard the term "peasant food" used in a positive way to connote authenticity. When I have heard people talk about cooking "peasant food," they are boasting about something delicious they made that other people might not think to eat, like tripe, or marveling that something simple could taste so good, like panzanella.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Pia

                                Agreed—and thus is it appropriated by high-end chefs (see above link to Peasant) to justify charging $$$$ for "authenticity."

                                When I think of people using it as a pejorative, I think of caricatures with faux-English accents in bad movies, sniffing "P-p-p-peasants!" I guess, like Pia, I just don't agree with the premise of the OP.

                              2. I find it interesting that "peasant food" is clearly used in a pejorative sense, while "rustic" is usually used in a complimentary fashion. In the New York metropolitan area, Italian food and products from the woods or coast of northern New England get called rustic. Latino and Southern (Southern food mostly being found in black communities up here) cuisines get called peasant food sometimes, but more often are called "urban". The urban designation I understand; cities industrialized their food sources far earlier and far more completely than rural areas did, leading to a drop in quality. I think it would be historically fair to call food with cleaner flavors, focusing on the quality of the ingredients "rustic", and food with more muddied flavors that disguise the low quality of the ingredients "urban". This might not be fair anymore, however, since urban areas are making strides in improving access to better meat and produce.
                                Peasant food is definitely not fair when used as an assignation of quality. Enchiladas can be a wonderful vehicle to present the flavors of tougher cuts of meat, tortillas, tomatoes and chiles. They can also be a way to consume a cheap, poor quality protein source disguised by so much spice and cheese that the meat is only there to provide a bit of chewiness to the texture.
                                When I was growing up, the few remaining farmers in town lived in the "white trash" neighborhoods, and most folks had a patronizing "oh those poor people" sort of attitude towards them. Once I started picking up summer jobs with them as a teenager, I realized that they were, in certain ways, better off than the rich folks in town that worked for big corporations or in finance closer to Manhattan. They had more land, beautiful century old houses, and, most important in my mind, they ate way better. The white collar and well to do blue collar families mostly lived off of processed food from cans and boxes, or frozen meat and vegetables covered in processed sauces or cheeses. The meals I ate at work involved real food, fresh vegetables from the garden, pork that tasted like pork, traditional New England preserves, eggs laid that day, and fresh dairy. Sure, they had Kraft Mac and Cheese in the pantry like everyone else, but they didn't rely on it. It was simple, and not always well executed, but it was better than even most of the restaurants around had to offer. I love high cuisine, but the best high cuisine honors the ingredients the same way that this simple peasant food often does.

                                30 Replies
                                1. re: danieljdwyer

                                  Thank you ... yes there is indeed a Cultural Imperialist imperative about how the term Peasant, Rustic & Urban are used... but let me make a few points:

                                  > There is a general prejudice by urban people against rural. We see it on threads bemoaning how Midwesterners or Southerners don't understand good food, only eat at Applebee's etc., Living in cities has its benefits but is also crappy. My theory is that urbanites are more likely to be unhappy, and its this state of misery & pessimism that leads many people (including Chowhounds) to put down Rural people as simpletons who don't know how to eat. I see from these thread that many Chowhounds (often my favorites) don't see it this way... and that there might be an idealized, escapist side to the term Peasant Food... so this doesn't apply to everyone.

                                  > Peasant Food gets incorrectly used for all kinds of Urban traditions. Ground beef is cheap, bread is cheap... following the logic most people would describe a hamburger as Peasant food... but its Urban food... the product of high density populations with long workdays, little time to cook and the need for an inexpensive, convenient meal. Street Tacos, Ramen, Pad Thai & other foods fall in this category as well... they tend to not be the food of Rural farming communities but of convenience oriented Urban traditions.

                                  > The reason I contend 'Peasant Food' is used pejoratively ALOT on Chowhound is because I keep seeing posts like... why are people willing to pay $10 for x... that is just peasant food. Again.. we are talking about people who have no idea what goes in to the preparation of these foods which are often remnants of Palatial cuisine of exotic cultures from a bygone era... or the result of intense, market driven Urban competitiveness.

                                  Yet I also note how these same people don't rant against the prices of the equivalent Italian, French or New England traditions... a clear case of cultural imperialism.

                                  One of the things about Chowhound and its manifesto is that the foundation is a utopian, idealism... a search for truth about deliciousness... and in that search for truth we must identify and rid ourselves of the blindfolds of prejudice and cultural imperialism we each hold... and the irresponsible use of the term Peasant Food is one of the many Fronts on this struggle for Truth about Deliciousness.

                                  Climbs down from the soap box.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    I continue to be so impressed with your logic. Thanks.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      Okay, I want to take issue with one of your points. Big issue. "There is a general prejudice by urban people against rural." I think you couldn't be further from the truth. I've found very few urbanites who have anything bad to say about ruralites and furthermore have found many ruralites have a rather poor feelings towards urbanites. The term "Cityboy" has been tossed my way many times. Over such things as locking the car doors in the country and no know what time you feed a pig in the morning. So don't hand me this stuff about urbanites looking down their noses at ruralites.

                                      As far as this whole thread goes, until you brought it up, I always felt that "Peasant food" was a good thing. "Soul food", "Food of love" and "Comfort food" are also in the same vein as far as I'm concerned.

                                      It seems that the term(s) are as how you see fit to place them and can't really be nailed down.


                                      1. re: Davwud

                                        The "general prejudice by urban people against rural people" cuts both ways. I agree that individual urbanites often view rural folks as rubes and hillbillies, and many do view typical rural food (peasant food??) as unsophisticated, though unrefined would probably be a better term. Many urban folks, everywhere, think that way and always have. On the other hand, there is an urban tendency to (overly) romanticize rural life and rural people. Manifestations of this can be seen in the preposterous farm subsidies willingly paid by urban taxpayers to (a very few wealthy) rural inhabitants in most developed countries, and IMO as a major feature of the "locavore" movement with its tendency to believe that just because something is produced by a small farmer nearby it is automatically better than something produced on a large farm further away.

                                        It is also worthwhile to point out that rural people often view city people with disdain (city slickers, crooks, etc). At the same time, for at least the last two centuries the direction of migration worldwide has been away from rural and toward urban areas. Everybody in the countryside seems to want to get to the city to live, and many are willing to continue to live in city squalor rather than return to the "clean, idyllic" countryside.

                                        1. re: johnb

                                          i think your assumptions about the locovore movement are erroneous. people who have a clue about how local foodways become compromised, damaged and rendered obsolete by corporate food distribution and agribusiness tend to support local producers not because they necessarily think that, for example, hand harvested, biologically diverse truly wild rice is *better* than genetically modified california industrial paddy wild rice-- it certainly isn't cheaper-- --people who understand the locovore movement will support the small traditional wild rice operation *because they believe these food traditions, and a diversity of local foods, should be preserved* --and--the hand-harvested, non-genetically modified wild rice is infinitely superior to the GM stuff, btw, that's a bonus.

                                          there is a *huge,* general, anti-midwestern, anti-southern, and anti-rural sentiment on chowhound. that folks eat well in these areas seems to be beyond a lot of posters' comprehension. i've even had people try to tell me how & what i must eat based on what their co-worker's relative in nebraska or northern wisconsin or missouri eats. *funny*

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            "there is a *huge,* general, anti-midwestern, anti-southern, and anti-rural sentiment on chowhound. that folks eat well in these areas seems to be beyond a lot of posters' comprehension. i've even had people try to tell me how & what i must eat based on what their co-worker's relative in nebraska or northern wisconsin or missouri eats. *funny*"

                                            Agreed. Its true midwesterners & southerners are a bunch of obese, num nuts with no taste... but we still shouldn't hold that bias. Just kidding... I bet there were a few bi-coastals nodding their head at my phrase.

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              Very interesting and totally disagree.

                                              Jfood has been a major contributor on the Midwest and Tristate boards and tries his best when he visits little jfood on the New Orleans board.

                                              He is envious of the number of fantastic poster in MSP. There is never a lack of reading learning and advising. A few weeks ago jfood needed to post a "where is everyone" on the tristate board. The NOLA Board is also a huge amount of info.

                                              And jfood would say that his favorite restaurant is within driving distance of his home, but probably 8 of the top 10 in the last six months have been in MSP and NOLA.

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                But jfood is just ONE loveable schmuck... a wart on an elephants behind (to borrow a yiddish saying)... in a sea of urban snobs. I see it not only on Chowhound but in general living in L.A.... the Midwest & South are the butt of many ketchup on all your meat & potato variation generalizations.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  must be tough being an A+ burrito in a sea of C- fruits and nuts on your coast. How's that for east coast generalities. TONGUE IN CHEEK EVERYONE.... :-))

                                                  the problem out here is we have no freakin' good Jewish or Mexican food for miles.

                                              2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                That kind of rhetorical device will get you an occupatio in the face!
                                                Or, in Texas we say, "Smile when you say that, pardner!"

                                                I just want to point out that the chowhound participation (I've noticed), in the south and midwest boards is very low compared to some other areas. I don't know how this speaks to sentiment of one towards the other.
                                                On our recent road trip through the south we saw large number of people who seemed to have lots of eating smarts, but I'm not an expert.

                                                1. re: Scargod

                                                  Scar, the smothered quail we discussed elsewhere, fit for a king? Southerners are well aware when others are condescending and scoffing, and break out the good stuff after the jerks hit the highway. It took me about a 2-year break-in period from Boston to Lufkin, to ingratiate myself, but well worth it for 6 years of good Texas eatin'.

                                                2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  EN, I'm from Chicago (city and burbs), and stateside have lived in NY (Manhattan & Brooklyn), SF, and now NJ. Other places I've lived include Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, Heidelberg, London, and Rome. My in-laws are originally from SC; my own parents are transplants from Los Angeles and Viet Nam.

                                                  If I'm putting something down, it's because it's bad. I try everything, and there's great food everywhere (plus overpriced or well-priced crap and snobbery too). No region/people/class can claim to have 100% great food and 100% nice/grateful/respectful people. There are bad apples everywhere, pun intended.

                                                  Having heard what people think of my hometown and every place I've lived, it's easy to make snap judgements concerning those from here or there. But are these really the people I choose to spend time with? No. Those I do spend time with love most food and all people, or love most food and hate all people, likely for the same reasons. :)

                                                3. re: soupkitten

                                                  I disagree that, "there is a *huge,* general, anti-midwestern, anti-southern, and anti-rural sentiment on chowhound". I've found that people are happy with their own regions and appreciate others. I have certainly never seen any anti-rural bias on the boards. The only somewhat "anti-midwestern" comments have come from mid-westerners, usually simply in reference to what they cannot obtain in local markets. I mean, jfood goes from Jersey to Minnesota, gets help from hounds, loves the food, and we all love that he gets to eat well. Scar and keg go on a rural and largely sountern road trip and everyone loves it.

                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    We NYC natives have relied on Chowhounders across the country, and have found good eating in places like Omaha NE, Mitchell SD, Custer SD, Buffalo WY, and Essex MT with their assistance (not to mention good refs for San Franciso, Vancouver, and other points on both coasts). This summer we expect to rely on recs for Salt Lake City and southern Utah. Sometimes it takes more looking to get past the massive presence of chains in these areas (and that's just the simple observed truth), but it's well worth it. You can find good eating just about anywhere - or at least within 20-25 miles of anywhere. :)

                                                    As for those snotty urbanites, NYC boards have plenty of posters looking for "authentic BBQ" with proper sides (i.e., southern or western cuisine) along with those looking for trendy restaurants offering the latest in molecular gastronomy. Stereotyping is stereotyping, whether the targets are urbanites, suburbanites, exurbanites, or off-the-gridders.

                                                    As for this statement by E_N:
                                                    >>> Yet I also note how these same people don't rant against the prices of the equivalent Italian, French or New England traditions... a clear case of cultural imperialism

                                                    Apparently E_N is a stranger to the various postings over the pricing of pastas (a restauranteur's offering of a $25 spaghettti pomodoro produced some good ones) and - especially - "artisanal" pizza, which periodically generates a bundle of outraged posts related to cost.

                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      Sam, i'm afraid you're talking about specific (wonderful) posters who have done absolutely lovely work on their travels. i agree that if anyone reads their posts it serves to shoot down a lot of the prevalent stereotypes that seem to be operating-- my position is that these stereotypes are total bunk anyway, so it's no great surprise. however, it's far more common to get the general shout-down: "how would you know anything about a green vegetable, you're not from southern california" or "smoked fish doesn't exist outside of nyc." posters piling on. i've had whole conversations about how traditional food preserving and root cellarding doesn't exist in the midwest (huh?) with west coasters, there are the common broad brush statements about "what people eat in the midwest/south." which is what, exactly? when i've asked, i've always gotten a ridiculous answer. in every conversation on these boards about local foods, somebody from the west coast will say that a diet featuring home preserved or canned or frozen local food in winter is inferior to one that features trucked-in so-called "fresh" produce from their own region, and that a non-west-coast-based locovore is 1) not eating healthy food 2) not eating delicious food 3) an idiot.

                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        Yeah, Sam, no fair bringing up specifics and evidence when stereotypes are easier!

                                                        1. re: Lizard

                                                          i am sorry if i am misinterpreting your post, Lizard, but 1) the posters Sam refers to are not the mega-urban-centric ones making the generalizations in the first place-- Jfood is not a new yorker, he's a proud new jersey resident, Keg is from maine, Scar is from "near new haven." these folks are mercifully free from the sentiment that anything outside the boroughs is automatically inferior, & the fact that their observations are entertaining and fascinating only serves to prove my point (that these stereotypes have no factual basis). 2) i'm pretty hesitant--------------*very* hesitant to cite specific threads where this sort of stereotyping occurs and is piled onto. to do so would be to accuse individual posters of intolerance, which i don't care to do, really, particularly because i admire many of them for their work unrelated to the anti-midwestern, etc. bias. 3) perhaps you might want to start a new thread on this subject on the midwestern board, to get feedback & perspective from people actually *in* the region instead of taking everyone at their word when they say nobody stereotypes other regions. yeah, of course everyone's an angel. then again, i think that given the hurtful nature of the subject matter, this might not be appropriate, either.

                                                          if you can't see this regional bias on chowhound, you're very simply not paying attention.

                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                            LMAO! ;-P

                                                            yeah, and i think the whole thing suffers from the nature of the media/lack of tone/inflection. if we were talking face to face i'd just describe the insane all-local patio meal of a few hous ago, or my neighbor's pot pie concoction made with goose-fat crust, asian herbs and a bbq duck from a run-of-the-mill hmong corner supermarket, and it would probably shut everybody up :). . . everybody's got great stuff of course, no matter where they live. i am a big fan of everyone who is proud of their region's specialties, no matter what-- but if they can get off the high horse, *big* bonus-- i personally can't do this very well myself! the posts about someone's regional food specialties or the specific seasonal food items in a different region than mine are definitely the ones i find most interesting. i *love* Will Owen's and Low Country Jon's posts, for example. anyway i don't mean to poke the sleeping bear on this subject, but folks in my own region *do* notice the constant condescending and snide remarks, they're just better than i am at brushing it off, i think. (i never got the hang of that "minnesota nice" crap either, in case anyone hadn't noticed, and i have a hard time keeping my big mouth shut) :)

                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                              There are people from any locale who look down on those from elsewhere. City vs. country, north vs. south, east cost vs. west, etc., etc. But just because idiots can be found anywhere doesn't mean that they're right, or that more enlightened folks in the same area feel the same way.

                                                              Of course, Northern California **is** superior to Southern California, but everybody know that, right? ;-)

                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                In my experience condescending attitudes in NY, SF, LA etc., are far more the norm than the exception... even among people who are enlightened on so many issues... because realistically there cities are leading edge on many progressive social issues... yet there is still snobbery among the most progressive of progressives.

                                                                Now I absolutely recognize that not all places are as condescending / snobbish as others. But just as I think its right to blow the lid of this b.s. attitudes we have in the coastal big cities... I have to also point out that the Midwest & South are certainly not immune to snobbery... the number of pricks I have met there has been high... they just find somembody else to be snobbish about... often people of different skin color, nationality etc..,

                                                                But the subject is how the Midwest & South is looked down upon... and its real, very real, and its espectacular.

                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                  As an NYC native (given, I have lived in Missouri and my daughter went to college in MSP, so we've more than a little time there, too), I'd like to note that some of the 'snobbiest' folks I've met in my home town are relocated southerners and midwesterners speaking disdainfully about the places they left behind..

                                                                  Perhaps it's just the zeal of the convert?

                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                    Places aren't condescending / snobbish, people are. As somebody from the Southwest who's lived on both coasts and in the Midwest in settings ranging from rural to suburban to urban, I can vouch for the fact that a closed-minded sense of superiority is the rule rather than the exception wherever you go.

                                                                    Some folks are more polite about it, while others are more vocal. But even in your adopted home of Hawai'i, which has the nicest people in the world, the kama'aina know that they're better than the mainlanders and the malihini.

                                                                    I agree with you that it's especially jarring to hear parochial thoughts being voiced by ostensibly enlightened urban progressives. Yeah, they ought to know better. But apparently they don't. And maybe it's easier to make excuses for people who've never been further from home than a half tank of gas in their pickups can take them. But in this day and age, they should know better too.

                                                                    There's no doubt many who live in big cities look down on the Midwest and South. But just as high a percentage of the folks in the Midwest and South look down on more urban areas. It's just human nature.

                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                      Yes I agree there are snobbish attitudes everywhere... but I do think they come from different places. With O'ahu Hawaiians what I perceive and have spoken with many people about there is a just a big inferiority complex & underclass mindset that is still there and probably getting worst.

                                                                      I don't know about Hawaiians on other islands but from what I have read and so forth... it seems there are some natives who are very close to nature & ancient traditions that think the outside world is corrupt, crazy etc.,

                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                        I think it's in the eye of the beholder, judging from the replies here. It seems to be HOW people are referring to "peasant food" more than the fact that they're CALLING it peasant food.

                                                                        The area where I live has a big Hispanic population, most of whose ancestors are from Mexico. To some people here, the word "Mexican" conjures up illegal immigrants, drug dealers, and worse. It's a stereotype perpetuated by ignoranuses (that being somebody who's both ignorant AND an asshole) but that doesn't mean that calling somebody Mexican should be considered an insult. It's usually pretty easy to consider the source and figure out the connotation. If it's meant to be an insult, THEN go ahead and get mad.

                                                                    2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                      I would agree that there is often an anti-Southern undercurrent to some discussions on CH- you often see this from recent Northern transplants bemoaning the lack of good options in cuisines that they see as signifying status/culture/development/etc. This is an outgrowth of a feeling that exists in the broader culture, in which the South has often been depicted as racist, autocratic, and generally "othered".

                                                                      But Southerners tend to give as good as they get on these subjects- Southerners can be very chauvinistic about the things they feel that the South does well. In neither case do I find these attitudes productive- judgmental attitudes cloud the discussion and keep us from learning more about food, which is supposed to be the point of this site. As a native Southerner who hasn't spent much time in the Northeast, I have no problem admitting that I don't know a lot about Italian-American cuisine, for example. I have qualified recommendations with that before; you have to know your limitations.

                                                                    3. re: alanbarnes

                                                                      Oh, thank heavens YOU added that last sentence cause I was about to :)

                                                                      Edit: This is in response to alanbarnes above about NoCal superiority.

                                                                    4. re: soupkitten

                                                                      Sure regional bias exists, Soupkitten. Funnily enough, though, I seem to see more of it cast Eastwards from the Midwest. And all of it heaped on the mythical 'American Tourist'.
                                                                      Actually, I find the constant hashing out of the discussion more unproductive than anything. And thanks for the suggestion about starting my own thread but, well, I don't care.

                                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                                        Hey Soup-y

                                                                        Born and raised in NJ and now live in CT. So jfood knows from both sides of NY of what you speak.

                                                                        Back in your great food town in the next day or so and back to more great ice cream.

                                                                        Here is an interesting thread. Given all the great choices youhave in MSP look how lonely we are just outside NYC


                                                            2. re: Davwud

                                                              I'm with you on this. There is nothing pejorative about "peasant food." In my book, it's a good thing.

                                                            3. re: Eat_Nopal


                                                              It is difficult to defend generalities when one states "my theory is that urbanites are more likely to be unhappy, and its this state of misery & pessimism..." not fair to criticize genralities and then make one

                                                          2. Intense post… I can see how that term can be offensive. My definition of “peasant food” is different, but that’s because I didn’t really understand the historical connotation of the term.

                                                            To me, ‘peasant food’ is a product of food availability and ingenuity- a way of preparing, cooking, storing food out of what can be found in a specific region that is passed down through tradition. Generally prepared for one family or community, it is never mass-produced. I’ve come to this definition from my experiences with what my parents call ‘peasant food’.

                                                            My father was in the generation that forced its high school graduates to undergo agrarian training in the countryside for several years. Both my parents reminisce about the traditional preparations and foods they had seen in their youth; it’s funny to watch my father’s attempts to re-create the pickled fish in clay jars (he finally found the same homely, earthen jars and brought them back to the US, much to the chastisement of my mother), or my mother’s attempts to dry and cure the pork belly and fish hanging next to the heater in our basement, or how we’ve grown every kind of chili pepper seed to find a breed that tastes ‘right’.

                                                            I don’t know what word to use, but ‘high’ or ‘fine’ cuisine is not the opposite of ‘peasant’. Instead of depending on regional biodiversity, I feel that ‘non-traditional’ food utilizes an increased food diversity, availability, and new technology. I don’t care- some of these new flavor combinations are awesome (green tea ice cream, anyone?)! What a fun time to be a chowhound!

                                                            1. I have never viewed the term "peasant food" as a derogitory word-I just assumed that meant food (such as chicken paprikash, very popular in my family) that is inexpensive and can serve a lot of people, like stews, puttenesca, soups, etc., usually served with a hearty bread.

                                                              1. I use the words peasant food but do not add the word "merely". I mean absolutely no disrespect. I would say burritos (but not enchiladas) are peasant food, as are Chinese boiled dumplings and Bouillabaisse (well, not peasant but fisherman). All of these are defined by cuisines used by people who work the land and the sea and using whatever is available and making a convenient food.

                                                                BTW on your point #2, how does dim sum and linguini and pizza enter into this conversation? Did someone say dim sum is peasant food?

                                                                1. I have heard the term used often, when someone is describing a 'simple' Italian, old-school style dish. Never dawned on me it can be viewed as derogatory, really!

                                                                  But I DO remember being mildly shocked when I mentioned I had Spahgetti Puttanesca for the first time and I really liked it, and my Aunt/Uncle/random family member said 'AHH- you mean Whore's Spaghetti!'

                                                                  (probably not the same thing, but it's a cute story so it's staying...)

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                                    well spaghetti puttanesca does mean (in italian) whore's spaghetti....

                                                                  2. the wealthy folks should probably drop the class issues with the word "peasant" in this case-- remember that peasants were simply folk who lived and worked closely with the land-- and they got their food fresh daily from the land. some peasants were in fact very wealthy, but they still ate food from their own potager, fields, and farm yard. "peasant food" is not a derogatory, classist statement, it's more about the food tradition-- peasant food is intimately tied to the landscape and the native agricultural products.

                                                                    peasant food is generally the basis for all great cuisines-- the same dish that's served gussied up and in fancy silver bowls for the wealthy, but the less expensive version is on the table of the poorest folks too-- think about dal in indian cuisine. wealthy folks have fancy dal, poor folks have plain lentil porriage cooked without any oil, but an indian meal is not considered complete without dal. after centuries there are refinements and additions and flourishes added, but the simplest version of a cassoulet is still recognizable as a cassoulet. it's peasant cuisine that eventually becomes the "national dish"-- the dish that's made with historically native ingredients, that becomes part of the definition of a national or cultural experience. peasant cuisine is very important, in that it defines culture and location and travelways of people. i do appreciate & agree with the op's point that the term can be misused-- i think that's when people tend to get confused. i don't think "peasant food" and "rustic food" or "artisan food" are necessarily talking about the same things, for example.

                                                                    25 Replies
                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                      sk, you're thinking about small, independent farmers, not peasants. Feudal Japan had both small independent farmers who fit your picture; but also had what social science has termed peasants - large labor forces working large extensive low output estates, in continual debt bondage, with next to starvation caloric and nutritional diets, lack of education and health care, and short life spans. Peasantry lasted well into the 20th Century in China, parts of SE Asia, and Latin America. There were no wealthy peasants.

                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                          Peasantry was also common in most of Europe (Southern, Central & Eastern) through the 19th Century, up until Communism, Socialism & US Led Rebuildism permanently changed the social dynamic of European societies.

                                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                            through the 19th century. Hmmm....didn't something happen in France in the late 1780's?

                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                              Southern, Central & Eastern

                                                                              I don't mention Western Europe because Industrialization coupled with the high rate of emigration to North America changed the social dynamic in Western Europe and more or less erased the peasant classes. Sure the French Revolution had something to do with it... but that is a political movement that was less powerful than the economic change.

                                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                There may be some political philosophers that disagree, but thanks for pointing out the western european exclusion.

                                                                          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            Sam et al.

                                                                            Sorry but the term "peasant" encompasses smallholders, i.e. small-scale landowners and workers. Check out the OED. First definition: "a person who lives in the country and works on the land, esp. as a smallholder or labourer." The proper definition of "peasant food," therefore, would appear to be nothing more or less than typical country food, prepared and consumed by small farmers ranging from independent small plot land owners to effectively indentured servants/slaves.

                                                                            1. re: johnb

                                                                              OED trumps all social science? If your source of knowledge is the OED, then OK by me.

                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                Since we are throwing around intelligible acronyms I do believe that j noob was pwnt by s fuji

                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                  Sam, as you know well it doesn't trump all the social sciences; it is not a work of social science. But it does trump anybody's particular definition of a term, because it IS the definitive dictionary. If we aren't all using terms to mean the same thing then there is no point in having the discussion in the first place.

                                                                                  At the risk of being thought overly pedantic, the proposition of this thread is that the term "peasant food" is being misused. In such discourse, unlike other branches of discourse, one does not have the luxury of defining the term under discussion in his own way and moving on from there. Rather, since it is calling into question others' use of the term, it is necessary to start from a definitive definition. As Spock might say, any other approach would be illogical.

                                                                                  1. re: johnb

                                                                                    The definitions from the OED and the social sciences (globally, not "anybody's particular definition") fundamentally differ. I would say that the OED needs updating.

                                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                      The OED is descriptive, not prescriptive - that is, it records how words have been used at varying points in the history of Modern English (the pre-16th century English languages are treated as source languages, just as French, Latin, Greek, et cetera), and does not attempt to establish the proper meaning of a term. Its primary purpose is for use in literary analysis, so that the reader is more able to establish the writer's intended meaning by knowing what a word most likely meant in a given historical era. Its secondary purpose is to record the evolution of the vocabulary of British English, as well as the etymology of its lexicon. It does attempt to do these things comprehensively, but expressly avoids including definitions (or even words) which are specific to particular fields. For example, a doctor might say that nauseous and nauseated have very different meanings, but because the common man has always used them interchangeably, the OED does not back the doctor up - though it does include the doctor's definition of nauseous as one of many definitions.
                                                                                      Or, to summarize, the OED can't be used to establish how a word should be used, and any updating to it is additive, not corrective.

                                                                                      1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                        Agree 100%. Which is exactly why I disagree with johnb.

                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                          Sam, look at what started this discussion. You in effect said to soupkitten that the term peasant effectively excluded land owners (she spoke of wealthy peasants, and I agree they don't qualify). I pointed out that smallholders can also, if otherwise qualified, be considered peasants, and cited the OED (I could have cited many others as well, including the prescriptive Websters Second Edition). Daniel points out that the OED is descriptive, not prescriptive. Fine. In this case that makes my point. That's the way the word is frequently actually used, AFAIK, in most contexts including social studies, and has been for as long as there has been an English language. I did do a quick looksee about that social studies point, and I did not come up with anything outside of Marxian analysis that insisted on excluding landowners, ie if you own any land you can't be a peasant. I think now, in 2009, we can safely dismiss Marxian analysis. There may as you say be some who make that exclusion, but in my view the weight of evidence points strongly to the more general use. I stand by my original point. I don't think the OED needs any "updating", which in this case would be a deletion anyway not an addition.

                                                                                          BTW, Daniel, my aged copy (1969) of the American Heritage Dictionary, which as you probably know provided a great service through its usage panel of eminent English users and scholars, reports that 88% of the usage panel rejected the use of nauseous for nauseated. I happen to agree with the panel majority on that one.

                                                                                          1. re: johnb

                                                                                            Actually, I was being a bit flip when I suggested an OED update. And I accept that any dictionary reflects how words are popularly used. I see that if you google "peasant" you get a limited number of old school sociological entries. That is a reason that any even slightly serious research should not be limited to google and wiki.

                                                                                            On the other hand, modern social sciences have done great work in understanding class and social stratification in feudal societies. In doing so, "peasants" and "peasantry" became very clearly defined and distinguished from small owner farmers. What is interesting is how feudal / peasant systems were very similar the world over - in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Essentially an economic system in which central governments backed a loyal elite who, in turn, controlled large land holdings and lots of people on low output extensive enterprises.

                                                                                            My own interests stem from early PhD work (prior to going back to agriculture) looking at the agrarian/peasant revolutions of the 20th century in Cuba, Mexico, and Bolivia.

                                                                                            I thought that some hounds would appreciate such a quick shot of social science. Others may want to go on with their own or with popular perceptions of "peasants" = "small famers" or traditional rural populations. OK by me.

                                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                              Sam, that's fine, and I and we appreciate your efforts to bring in different perspectives. But you must admit, social studies at the time of your early PhD work, and particularly related to the geographic areas you mentioned, were heavily influenced by the Marxist philosophical ideas so prevalent at that time. And one of Marxism's fundamental tenets was that the oppressed proletariat (peasants) did not own any of the means of production, so as a consequence it had to define any landowner, no matter how small and poor, as not being a peasant. But that didn't make it true. Smallholders have, in truth, always been part of the peasant class.

                                                                                              1. re: johnb

                                                                                                Not really. Marx was certainly one of the early "cultural materialists" who crudely but correctly hypothesized that our relationships to our resources led to our social structures and then to our ideologies.

                                                                                                But the work of ecological anthropologists - maybe starting with Marvin Harris in the late 60s - placed cultural materialism in a much more scientific and ecological framework, looking at the relationships among people, their levels of working with their natural environments, and the social and ideological frameworks that were then forthcoming.

                                                                                                Modern social science combines hypothetico-deductive big theory thinking with a lot of empirical, careful data gathering and analyses. The analysis of feudal / peasant societies as an economic / ecological system is pretty well universally accepted in the scientific community.

                                                                                                As to: “And one of Marxism's fundamental tenets was that the oppressed proletariat (peasants) did not own any of the means of production, so as a consequence it had to define any landowner, no matter how small and poor, as not being a peasant. But that didn't make it true. Smallholders have, in truth, always been part of the peasant class.”

                                                                                                This reflects 60-70s polemics that I’m not a part of. Modern social science does not deal with such things as “oppressed proletariat”, but rather with evidence based social and ecological relationships among people, their agro-ecosystems, and the socio-economic systems that provided the comparative backdrop that scientists examine.

                                                                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                Not to take this thread even further afield, but does the analysis of feudal societies translate to North America? I don't have any academic background in the area, but knew or knew of plenty of people (including a fair number of my ancestors) who were subsistence farmers.

                                                                                                In large parts of the South, people farmed land that belonged to others, so presumably they'd fit the classic definition of peasants. But according to most of the folks I've talked to, their lifestyle was not dramatically different than those of the small landowners who lived right next door.

                                                                                                Is this a North American anomaly?

                                                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                  Sharecropping or tenant farming is a bit different. One of the features of peasant estate farming was that if the crop failed, the owner had to figure out some way to keep everyone (barely) alive. Sharecropping - still very common around the globe today - generally has no safety net.

                                                                                              3. re: johnb

                                                                                                I don't believe the OED's descriptivism supports the idea of limiting a word's meaning to an inclusive definition. The core philosophy inherent to any such work demands the recognition that a word can be very appropriately used to mean many differing things. Sam's usage is clearly an established and accepted one, and informs his views of the term peasant food.
                                                                                                Also, just as you make the point that Marxism greatly informed the interpretations of social science for a period in the, I must point out that the prescriptivism of the 50's and 60's that informs your copy of the American Heritage Dictionary is now widely held to have been an aberration in the understanding of linguistics. Scholars of the time held to now widely discredited notions, which appear to have had no historical basis. The OED proved to be the most important tool in shifting the tide back to the descriptivism that rules modern linguistics. Case in point, the OED reveals that the earliest usage of the term nauseous was to express the meaning you would limit to nauseated, and it doesn't seem like anyone had a problem with nauseous's dual meanings in common parlance until post war academics got all riled up about strict ideas of right and wrong. Besides, if I tell my doctor I feel nauseous, I'm pretty sure he knows that I mean I feel like I'm going to vomit, not that I feel like I'm going to make him vomit. That's good enough for me.

                                                                                                1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                  But Daniel, all this started when Sam, who is certainly very erudite, suggested another poster was using the term peasant wrongly, in this case too inclusively, and excluded the possibility that it could also could refer to another additional class of people. My point throughout this discussion has been that the term has in fact included this other group throughout history and still does. That comports with your overall point that words can in fact mean different things and that this is OK. My usage, if you will, is also a "clearly an established and accepted one," just as you point out Sam's is. It is I who has been trying to be more inclusive in the use of the word throughout this discussion. How does this contradict your central proposition?

                                                                                                  As to your point about prescriptivism, you are correct that it is out of fashion among linguists, but as you also point out this is the current view. In other words, it amounts to the current position of a swinging pendulum, and IMO, as an old guy who has seen a lot of these swings, in the broader picture the only thing you can be sure of is that the pendulum will one day swing back. I believe prescriptivism has its place, as does descriptivism; academic trends are fleeting. Do you believe in a descriptive approach to spelling and grammar?

                                                                                                  I also would say you must keep in mind that linguistics and discourse are two different things. Linguistic scholars can look at how language is being used in the broad society and say that that's what defines what the language is. That's fine as a descriptive. But in discourse, everyone must proceed from a common understanding of what is meant by the words being used; otherwise the discourse will break down into a useless collection of thoughts, as often happens in these threads. To do that, everything can be defined ad hoc as it goes along. But this is impractical and never happens, so the only real solution is to have an established and agreed set of definitions, and like it or not that is prescriptive.

                                                                                                  1. re: johnb

                                                                                                    I don't think your general argument contradicts my central proposition. I do disagree with some of the points you made as part of that argument. Overall I think both of you make very valid points.
                                                                                                    And I imagine you are right that I'll eventually see the pendulum swing back the other way. I have no problem with prescriptivism, but I do think it can be taken too far, particularly when it begins to move away from a historical grounding. Grammar, meaning, spelling, and all other aspects of language change with context. Even spelling requires a bit of descriptivism; otherwise either the Americans or the British are spelling the word grey wrong.
                                                                                                    Personally, I think you both have the wrong approach with the word peasant, because the central issue is how the term is being applied to food. I think it is akin to the way the term medieval is used in such a way that it has absolutely no connection to the sociological or historical meaning of the term. It would be useful to consider the fashion item that achieved some popularity around the turn of the millennium, the peasant dress. It had nothing to do with farming, either as a landowner or in bondage. Peasant just meant "vaguely pre-industrial, not fancy". When people say peasant food, I think they just mean that it's simple, not personally innovative, and not luxurious. That can either be a negative or a positive, depending on the outlook of the speaker. As a point of historical accuracy, the produce, grains, dairy, and meat (what little they had) that peasants ate can be described with terms like organic, heirloom, free range, and heritage. I doubt anyone is saying a pizza is those things when they call it peasant food, so the precise definition of the term as reflective of a historical condition or sociological classification becomes unimportant. They did own their land sometimes. They never owned land. It's sort of irrelevant. Peasant dresses aren't made from hand spun organic wool.

                                                                                                    1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                      it's been fun reading the sub-thread, but i guess i regret phrasing my post above in such a way as to trigger the *way* OT tangent into linguistics and social science/marxism etc.

                                                                                                      my understanding is that in many pre-industrial societies the peasantry were about 90% of the people, and 4%-5% of those peasants were able to amass some substantial personal resources--livestock, trade goods, etc-- that enabled them to raise their social position among their fellow peasants. if peasant x had chickens, peasant x's family was able to eat/trade eggs and chicken meat to gain more personal autonomy, etc. when more varied food resources became available to peasants, they were able to develop the culturally important "peasant cuisines" we now acknowledge. they weren't "rich" like the aristocracy, the church, or the large landholders, they may not have had "cash"--but they had food resources that they were able to trade & draw upon to negotiate their own societal positions and arrange for their family's comfort. my point is that "peasant food" might be the most base subsistence gruel available to the poorest of the poor in a pre-industrial nation, and "peasant cuisine" is something developed by folks who had to use the same base ingredients, but were able to supplement using their own food resources to elevate them into delicious dishes closely tied to the agriculture and people of a region.

                                                                                            2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                              Lovely reply daniel(webster)jdwyer.

                                                                                              Language has always evolved - words become more and less precise as they become co-oped by those outside their field and new generations change meaning over time. Think 'crash', 'bug', or even 'ego'.

                                                                                              If a word were to never change, it would completely halt our ability to share a common experience, acknowledge emerging/changing knowledge, or communicate subtle allusions. As an example, the Academy's nearly farcical attempt at keeping French 'french' has caused all kinds of issues.

                                                                                              And in my field of history, the word peasant means free landholder or someone able to trade on their labor while a serf was attached to the land or lord - just as the OED and johnb have cited. So apparently, a single word can have precise meaning in varying fields of study.

                                                                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                    The problem with your notions of what Peasant Food means is that it completely contradicts the historical, textbook definition. Further very wealthy "peasants" are in fact referred to as Gentlemen Farmers, Don etc.,

                                                                                  3. I think discussions like this are good, although I never considered the term "peasant food" stupid or offensive. In Mediterranean countries it usually meant a simple cuisine made by people who lived close to the earth, used fresh ingredients, and had a long cooking tradition. But there are plenty of other terms used for cook cooking that is not part of a haute cuisine tradition. Probably all of them could start arguments: simple cooking, down-home cooking, la cuisine de bonne femme, soul food, la cucina povera, or the wonderful range of stuff that Patience Gray wrote about in "Honey from a Weed," that included a good helping of uncultivated greens and herbs. Like the term grass-roots, probably any of these terms gets applied inaccurately. But we all benefit from the ongoing discovery or rediscovery of fresh ingredients and "traditional" (another hot word) modes of preparing them. They are the good earth in which imaginative cooks put down their roots.

                                                                                    1. I have to say, on the boards that I read (mostly Manhattan, OB, Home Cooking and General Topics) I don't see references to "peasant food". Nor do I see it in restaurants. I'm still trying to figutre out where your notions come from.

                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                          I'm not disagreeing with you that the phrase is used. I'm just pointing out that I've not noticed it myself. (Hoping that I've not posted on one of the threads to which you link!)

                                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                              You can see from the Search alone the stuff that I am talking about. Apparently.. pizza is a hand held peasant food. In your experience, you see many Peasants eating a majority of their meals with their hands? In my readings of Anthropoligical accounts.. you normally learn of peasants eating porridges & soups using spoons. But maybe Sicilian & Neapolitan peasants are particularly Macho and eat their soup with their hands.. although I really thought my relatives in rural Jalisco had a monopoly on Macho-ness!

                                                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                Sandwiches, on the other hand, wouldn't be considered peasant food. :)

                                                                                                I understand your offense to the term, and inadvertently offended someone 10 years ago:

                                                                                                "What kind of food do you make?"

                                                                                                "Peasant food" (meaning great food which isn't overly complicated and generally revolves around what is available and made to the best of my ability, influenced by what I was able to eat throughout my life, including as a student and hostel-dweller on an extremely tight budget)

                                                                                                (rant similar to this one followed)

                                                                                                There are plenty of people offended by/proud of "White Trash" cooking. It's heritage.

                                                                                                I personally love the Gullah culture and cuisine, and those who prepare the food and make the sweetgrass baskets would likely be offended if their cuisine and culture were termed differently.

                                                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                  At a quick glance, at leat half the threads returned by your query used "peasant food" in a positive context. What do you make of that?

                                                                                                  For me, good food is good food. Snobs who look down on whatever it is they call "peasant food" are fools - and there's never been any shortage of those nor ever will be - even on Chowhound. My mother, the daughter of immigrants, was a marvelous cook who specialized in dishes from the shtetls of Russia and Eastern Europe - what many would call "peasant food". If you can find me a restaurant that serves the equal of her pot roast and gravy with kasha varnishkes under the "peasant food" label, I'll be there, credit card in hand and a big smile on my face and I won't care what they call it (even "slow braised grass-fed Wyoming beef, vidalia-scented jus, organic buckwheat, artisanal farfalle").

                                                                                          1. I think I'll start calling it "Pleasant Food". A couple braised lamb shanks with a pan of vegetables this weekend sounds pleasant to me.

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                                                              What, no Texas food quail-ifies...?

                                                                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                Smothered quail is fit for a king, if the official taster doesn't eat it all first.

                                                                                            2. You hate the term peasant food. Well, I hate the term ethnic food. I mean, what the heck does that mean? I know how "ethnic food" and "ethnic restaurant" are used in common parlance, but if you think of it as a concept: all the foods of the non-WASPs contrasted with WASP American food??? That is totally ridiculous. And it also implies that the people who are labeled as WASPs don't have ethnicity. Like they are blank and everything else is 'ethnic'. It is just a silly concept. But a very commonly used one..."Oh, I am not in the mood for ethnic food," or "ethnic food is too spicy for my in-laws who are coming to visit," or whatever.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                In this part of the country, I'd much rather have "ethnic" food, as the locals seem to like overboiled and bland.

                                                                                                1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                                                  Word. One of my pet peeves as well.

                                                                                                2. EN, I admire your pluck! Good luck with getting the world to listen. As an erstwhile student of anthropology and archaeology, I certainly subscribe to Sam's definition of "peasant class," but in the common jargon of the 20th and 21st centuries, "peasant food" does not necessarily mean the subsistence food of any given peasant class. BUT...! Even staying within that context, I cannot subscribe to the idea that true peasant food always tasted bad. Eating is a pleasurable experience, and how good something tastes is not contingent to nutritional value. If it was, we would have no foi gras, chimichangas, or deep fried Mars bars. The reverse is also true, to wit NO recipe for Sparta's "black broth" or "black soup" has survived. It was maligned throughout ancient Greece as being vile, but it was a very nutritious "blood soup" that fueled Spartan warriors. My point is that , with the exception of the Spartans (who were far from peasants), all men are born with a need to satisfy their taste buds, regardless of nutritional value or lack thereof. So I have difficulty with the idea that true "peasant food" was without satisfying flavor. And let's not even get into Pavlovian food responses!

                                                                                                  For me, the term "peasant food" relates to true peasants on about the same level as "peasant blouse" relates to the clothing they wore. Which is not to say that all people who toss these terms around know what they're talking about. Many simply throw out "buzz words" hoping they will make them sound more erudite. They don't. I usually stop listening to or reading those folks.

                                                                                                  1. Can you rant about the term "Authentic" or "Home made" (when used by a restaurant) next???


                                                                                                    1. I never use the term 'Peasant Food.' Probably because I don't know any peasants. But I do use the term 'rustic food' for which I tend to mean simple preparations involving ordinary ingredients. Not sure how that fits in with EN's premise...... In a fancy French restaurant, a macedoine might be a variety of vegetables all intricately diced into the same size little bits then molded into a shape perhaps with a tiny bit of binder and topped with a sprig of fresh herb and a sauce piped onto the plate. In a rustic preparation, the vegetables would be chopped together and cooked with the herb and sauce, then dumped (artistically, of course) on your plate.

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                        Sounds lke calling it rustic is a lot less likely to cheese anybody off...

                                                                                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                          Yeah, I guess it's the PC version of peasant. I just never knew what a peasant was (until this thread, that is) for me to use the term freely.

                                                                                                      2. Those who work others' land (peasants, serfs, whatever you want to call them) have extremely limited participation in the cash economy. For example, southern sharecroppers near the turn of the last century would typically sell cotton once a year in order to buy sugar and coffee (as well as cloth, thread, and needles). Everything else they consumed they grew themselves, foraged for, or obtained by barter.

                                                                                                        As a result, peasants eat what is local and seasonal. Not by choice, but by necessity. And because the peasant diet tends not to provide many surplus calories, nothing - especially not animal protein - is ever allowed to go to waste.

                                                                                                        Wait a minute - isn't this what Michael Pollan, Fergus Henderson, and others are advocating? I have no problem with the term "peasant food." I like peasant food. And if the food requires time and care to prepare well, I'm more than willing to pay a fair price for it.

                                                                                                        Those who use the term "peasant food" disparagingly are only flaunting their own ignorance. When you hear the term used by someone who knows and cares about food (from Anthony Bourdain to Alice Waters), the tone isn't disapprobation, it's reverence.

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                                                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                          "When you hear the term used by someone who knows and cares about food (from Anthony Bourdain to Alice Waters), the tone isn't disapprobation, it's reverence."

                                                                                                          ^^^ this
                                                                                                          Mario Batali uses the term all the time on that tv show, in the most complimentary way -- soulful, local, etc. AND making wonderful food out of non-fancy ingredients.

                                                                                                          My Italian-American dad referred to peasant food all the time, with nothing but love and a happy nostalgia for his family's living-above-the-livestock roots. It means honest, resourceful, unpretentious, earthy...and the opposite of aristocratic. That probably has alot to do with the makeup of Italy, the reverence for rustic food there, and the actual peasant demographic that made the massive immigration to the USA.

                                                                                                          Probably because I see it as positive, I haven't noticed "peasant food" used perjoratively in the boards. "Ethnic" as a designation used to really bother me, but I gave up; it's a useful shortcut. But I feel you, luckyfatima! And I understand the phrase even more when I am in certain waspy parts of New England or the mid-west, suddenly surrounded by people of German or English heritage and all of a sudden I'm Ethnic! It's all so weird.

                                                                                                        2. I dunno. I think only peasants would say something so crass as "raviolis" when any educated sophisticate knows that the word "ravioli" is already plural in Italian and therefore needs no s on the end. ;-P

                                                                                                          I always assumed that peasant food referred to foods that took little effort to prepare and contained ingredients that were affordable/availalbe to the lower classes at some point in history such as stews or unrefined grain dishes. Usually the peasant dishes I think of as classic dishes that had humble beginnings. Of course many "peasant foods" are quite expensive now because they're popular.

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                                                                                                          1. re: Avalondaughter

                                                                                                            I like your ravioli point! And not to disagree with your thoughtful post too much, but I would add that the perception that peasant foods were easy to prepare might be misleading. Take the tortilla, the primary food for the majority of Mexican peasants for much of their history (tortillas, chiles and sal were their fare, not the luxurious enchilada!). Tortillas were (and are, unless machine made) extremely labor intensive, and difficult to do well without a lot of practice. Mexican women would often get up hours before sunrise to begin grinding the corn so as to have tortillas ready before the family went to the fields, a process that had to take place daily since day old tortillas evoke the modern-day hockey puck. Simple, perhaps, but lots and lots of effort.

                                                                                                            1. re: Avalondaughter

                                                                                                              "I dunno. I think only peasants would say something so crass as "raviolis" when any educated sophisticate knows that the word "ravioli" is already plural..." Thank you for that; now let us address the increasingly prevalent "paninis"! Or ordering "a panini"...

                                                                                                              We've commonly referred to the kind of stuff I mostly ate (and loved!) as a child as "prole food" - sauerkraut with sausages and boiled potatoes, tuna-noodle casserole, whatever. I introduced Mrs. O to most of these things, as she grew up in a house where sweetbreads and blanquette de veau were not uncommon fare. I have no emotional attachment nor objection to calling it that, or "peasant food", or cuisine bourgeois or any other class-based description. It is what it is. I grew up with people who considered tripe or any other kind of innards to be "low-class"; that's their damn problem, isn't it? And class prejudice aside, I think that such descriptions can be useful in explaining, for instance, the culinary difference between the Polish food at Polka, on the edge of Glendale, and Warsawa in Santa Monica: the former serves the food of farmers and foragers in the forests, while the latter serves the food of those who owned the farms and forests. The cuisines have much in common, but one is clearly "peasant" and the other is not. Both awfully good, though.

                                                                                                            2. Interesting. I haven't read through all the responses but I have to admit that I've probably used the term peasant food on occaision, most likely in contrast to "banquet food" and not intending a perjorative connotation. To me it always meant what most people ate most days, whereas banquet food was what is eaten at a celebration or special meal (or only eaten or eaten more often by the rich/rulers). Maybe "homestyle" vs. "banquet" makes more sense?

                                                                                                              1. jfood has not read all the posts but his first thoughts are:

                                                                                                                any term that can be used as both a term of endearment or arrogance will bring these discussions. jfood uses the term peasant food as those dishes that bring the earthy goodness to the dish or historically prepared by those less fortunate that knew the secrets of bringing great flavors from less expensive cuts of meat. To jfood, and his heritage, the ability to make great from less is stated with pride. How proud is he to take less expensive cuts of meat and through the magic of love and TLC bring to the table a beautiful dish of love. He thinks Coq au Vin, his braised short ribs, grandmas brisket and onion soup are all peasant foods and there is a sense of pride not denigration in the term.

                                                                                                                Interesting in that when he went away to school, after growing up in urban NJ, the first time he heard, let's go get some Jewish food, his blood pressure spiked. Then through discussion, it was not a term of contempt but merely a descriptive term.

                                                                                                                On the other hand if jfood was with someone who stated, "why the hell are we eating this damned Jewish food" the speaker may need to pay extra to get the novey and cream cheese off his blue blazer.

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                                                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                  All this time and we find that the 'j" in "jfood" refers to "jewish"? Certainly OK by me!!

                                                                                                                  Actually, I wanted to say that I agree completely with your post.

                                                                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                    Russian peasant stock and proud of it, damn it. All I got, I earned; nobody gave me nuttin'. Now gimme a bowl of peasant lamb, barley and mushroom soup w/ corn rye and leave me alone. To hell witcha all. Oh yes, gimme a brewsky too. And while you up, some kolbasi and kapusta.
                                                                                                                    Stosh Dumkegsky

                                                                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                      FWIW, your braised short ribs are at the top of the list of Chowhound foods I'd love to try. One day I'll make 'em, but if we could ever have a big block party, I'd be wishing you'd bring those ribs. :)


                                                                                                                    2. Like most of the responders, I don't consider "peasant food" to be a pejorative. I think of the food of my ancestors in the shtetls of Eastern Europe - hearty soups, dark corn rye bread, home made pickles.

                                                                                                                      1. Count me among those who have thought "peasant food" is largely used among food folks in the US (since peasants in the US were never called peasants but farmers, tenant farmers or sharecroppers....) a compliment, not a derogatory term.

                                                                                                                        Now, if by "peasant food" one means a subsistence-based level of cooking, then the ur-food is a gruel - whether of rice, barley (polenta was originally barley, folks), wheat, maize, oats, rye, et cet. - and soups (in Europe, for example, often stretched out by stale bread, which was the main use of bread in many places).

                                                                                                                        And, there are urban subsistence-based types of food. In the US, some fast and processed foods have taken on that role.

                                                                                                                        1. not "merely" peasant food - peasant food. glorious delicious enticing comforting and hearty peasant food.

                                                                                                                          i can cook. i can cook well. i love peasant food. i do not find the term demeaning.

                                                                                                                          and no i am not a peasant. but then i'm not italian, and i cook italian food. i'm not chinese or thai, but i cook chinese and thai food.

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                                                                                                                          1. re: thew

                                                                                                                            Safe to say you think peasant food is pleasant food? :)

                                                                                                                            1. re: schrutefarms

                                                                                                                              Peasant food is always pleasant
                                                                                                                              And pleasant food should really include more peasant
                                                                                                                              But peasant food usually doesn't often include pheasant
                                                                                                                              Which is always so very pleasant!

                                                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                Pretty good Dr. Seussing, Sam I am. I weighed in above on quail, and elsewhere on doves, so now we need a peasant recipe for how to smother chukkar.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                  does peasant food include peasants (like girl scout cookies, baby food, and vegan fare)? :)

                                                                                                                                  (this is a joke, obviously)

                                                                                                                            2. Bruddah, only thing worse then peasant food is plantation food, like Hawaiian plate lunch.

                                                                                                                              Any way -- biggest mass eaten peasant food in the world is Chinese, specifically Cantonese. Anyone who has had Chinese food in the U.S. or in a non-Asian country has in high likelihood eating Cantonese peasant food.

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                                                                                                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                American Cantonese has way more meat. One dinner for four in the US has more meat than a peasant family got in a month a century ago.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                  You're right about the amount of meat in American Cantonese food, there's definitely more. I'd say American Canto food is still peasant food because more meat is an adjustment to what's available and the American culture but it's essentially the same thing. Certainly not every kind of Cantonese food is peasant food (like dim sum and some banquet food) but the basic mom and pop take out is.

                                                                                                                              2. Egad. Such sturm und drang about a silly word. Who cares what you call it? As an Eastern European slav of distinctly and exclusively peasant roots (one family domicile in the Carpathians actually does resemble a chicken coop), my grandparents and parents called the food they ate peasant food. Without shame, without concern, without apology. We and our similarly situated neighbors celebrated all the wonders of Polish, Russian, Hungarian and any other budget cuisine that came to the party. This was no different for my Italian friends, Jewish friends, German friends, etc. Some of it was good, some was bad. Nothing irresponsible or baseless about it. Its just what it was called by the people who largely came from peasant stock in the first place. And who really cares if someone else uses the term disparagingly. Why pay attention to them in the first place. Yeah, I'll trade my kielbasa or kasha or pierogi for a seared fois gras with a schmear of balsamic fig paste and a nice Sauternes on occasion, but that doesn't make me a snob. Slivovitz anyone?

                                                                                                                                1. I just take it as food that's very accessible and everyday. Basic...inexpensive. There's nothing wrong with that... Really warm and traditional, and reminds you of home! What's with the negativity?