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What is "American food"?

I went to an Indian restaurant this weekend and knew what style of food I would get and the kind of ingredients that would be used. I realize India is an enormous country with thousands of languages and cultures and probably styles of food, but at least in terms of Indian restaurants in the U.S., I know what to expect.

As an American, I find it hard to define "American food" beyond things like hamburgers and southern cusine like fried chicken and mac and cheese. I'm not suggesting American food is low-brow just that the other dishes are combinations of dishes from elsewhere or updated versions. I'm not a cook and don't work in the food business. Are there styles of cooking, ingredients, preparations that are now considered "American"? How would you describe "American food" to someone from overseas who was visiting and hadn't had it before?

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    1. quick, big & cheap

      not a chef either but our typical American diet is not much to write home about.

      Good question though, hope you get some good answers.

      10 Replies
        1. re: jpc8015

          Americans want food that is quick, a lot of it, and affordable. What's wrong with that? I would say that is capitalism.

          1. re: danionavenue

            it certainly is the perception most people from elsewhere have of american food.

            1. re: danionavenue

              I think that's short sighted and disregards the extent to which readily available foods are a component of other national cuisines. I could pick up a brilliantly pre-made sandwich on Rue du Buci or a (less delicious) packaged one from Boots or Gregg, or a shop in Prague. Pasties, pies and like are available from bakeries and such, and the wait is hardly significant.
              And as for ready meals, they have infiltrated most markets in Europe as well.
              The real question, then, would be to look at the types of foods more readily available for the speedy preparation and consumption. I think it's fascinating that in Britain, the majority of frozen foods are potato-based, whereas when at Picard in France, I've been able to delight in the range of purées (oh, how I miss that).
              This isn't answering the American food question, but crying foul on the lazy dismissal that refuses to acknowledge the degree to which food has been made fast in many spaces.
              I will say that servings are much larger in the U.S. on average. When I went back this spring, I found myself giggling whenever I was presented with a glass or a dish. But they're certainly growing in the UK.
              Could be an issue of capitalism, as noted, but if so, it's worth unpacking this affect, and not dismissing it as 'American' or 'Americanisation', since there is more going on that's worth considering. How are economics influencing our dining? (Not, 'oh, I'm broke, so I don't eat out' but other developments.)

              1. re: Lizard

                With more than half of us overweight or obese and more than 30% of our children being overweight yes, we need to realize the typical American diet is flawed and should not be celebrated.

                1. re: danionavenue

                  Obesity rates are rising globally as societies develop their economies and increase access to food. Obesity rates in the South Pacific are far higher than what one finds in the US. There are nearly as many overweight children per capita in Egypt as there are in the US. Higher income city dwellers in sub-Saharan African have surprisingly high rates of obesity compared to rural dwellers. These are not problems created by Americans or their diet but by increasing affluence internationally. Tackling the problem requires more nuanced responses than a reflexive criticism of America and the systems that are globalizing wealth.

                  1. re: JungMann

                    I remember when the book, "French Women Don't Get Fat" diet book came out reading stories in the paper about the increasing number of overweight people in France.

                    As far as I can tell, the easiest way to figure out how many overweight people you will see in a given country is to see how many middle to upper middle class suburbs a country has....so places like the UK and Germany are going to have more overweight people (per capita) than France or Italy, with places like Northern Italy (suburbs of Milan and such) having more overweight people than, say, Puglia.

                    So America has more of the places than any other in the industrialized world, with Canada close behind, and we 2 have the most obesity.

                    Plus, it seems to be the poorest people in wealthy places that seem to be the fattest. For whatever that is worth.

                    1. re: DougRisk

                      Actually various South Pacific countries (Tonga, Samoa), Middle Eastern countries (Kuwait and Egypt come to mind), and Mexico have now surpassed the USA in obesity rates. Some other countries have very similar rates (Australia and Chile). Overall obesity rates are increasing worldwide at a faster pace than in the US. So, we can expect various more countries to overtake the US in obesity. Not all those countries have exactly the same pattern of upper to middle class suburban living either. In fact, in the US, obesity rates are higher among lower income groups--less access to fresh foods, more cheap processed food.

                      1. re: Wawsanham

                        Wawsanham,
                        You are absolutely right, and I should have qualified what I said. This is the pattern that I have seen in western countries.

                        "In fact, in the US, obesity rates are higher among lower income groups--less access to fresh foods, more cheap processed food."

                        Right, it is the wealthy "cosmopolitan" urbanites who are the thinnest (on average) and the poor who are the heaviest.

                        1. re: DougRisk

                          among other things, it's stress.

        2. Take samples of food from Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America, and China. Put in a huge tumbler with a liberal seasoning of foods from Africa, Japan, and the rest of Asia. Mix thoroughly and cook using every method known to man (or serve raw) and you have "American" food. Best to avoid most types from the freezer section of your local supermart.

            1. I'd describe American food by giving an example of what an American family might eat for 1 or 2 days full menu, whether eating out or eating in.

              Bkfst. eggs, bacon, sausage, toast or cereal and banana

              Lunch: Salad and sandwich. soda drink.

              Dinner: Burgers and fries or spaghetti with meat sauce or pizza. Beer or wine.