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Jan 20, 2012 07:06 PM

Could you eat only food grown/made in America?

Apologies to non-Americans who don't care.

Sometimes you see patriotic campaigns to "buy American". I wonder what it would be like to eat American and only American food. It would be a bit more expansive than a locavore's notion of stressing local ingredients. You can only eat plants, animals, and other food sources that are grown or raised in the US, or products derived from such. The idea is that you look beyond the obvious meat, seafood, or produce and also consider the other items also used in cooking.

How would you adjust cooking at home? You could still use techniques and ideas borrowed from other cultures, but no imported ingredients. No olive oil from Mediterranean countries. No foreign wine or cheese. No produce from Mexico or Central America. No seafood caught by fishing boats not based out of a U.S. port. Things like Asian greens grown on an American farm are okay and encouraged.

Could you do it for a month or two? How about a year?

Would you be willing to try a restaurant whose notion of fusion was to take the ideas and techniques of a tradition such as Japanese or Italian cooking and modify that to embrace a 100% American ingredient list, with creative substitutions dictated by that constraint?

Just to be clear, I don't think this is an idea that people should adopt. If you want to, I won't think badly of you, but it's not my agenda. This is more of a thought experiment intended to see if it inspires any creative ideas.

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  1. I don't even think it's an idea worth considering, because food is inherently international, because of differences in climate and requirements of different crops. Certainly, you could do it in the US, because we are blessed with lots of aerable land, a broad range of climates, and seacosts. But take it a step further and divide up the food markets by state and you see the problem. Those of us in California, a large state with a wide variety of agricultural products, would get by very well, while people in small northern states would not.

    I'm happy to get mustard and wheat from Canada and tomatoes and peppers from Mexico. It's a world economy.

    On the other hand, I don't see getting garlic from China. That doesn't make sense to me.

    3 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      I can't tell if you're joking about the garlic or not...

      I don't think it would be very challenging at all to only eat food produced within the US. I agree about the subregions within the US (good luck getting avocados outside California, and no, Florida avocados don't count). But if you can use the whole US, and you count Hawaii for coffee... I think it wouldn't be much of a challenge at all.

      1. re: yellowstone

        I am definitely not joking about the garlic. China has become the biggest supplier of commercial garlic. I posted a link to an article on the garlic business on another thread.

        1. re: GH1618

          Agree. The little mesh bags with five cloves are everywhere, and often cheaper than American fare. I had a college friend from Gilroy, CA - garlic capital of the world. I'll bet there are some nervous garlic farmers out there.

    2. I'm not American, but I try and keep non-New Zealand grown stuff to a minimum.
      Fresh produce is easy, especially since I grow my own veges and I'm happy eating seasonally. Asparagus from Chile in Autumn doesn't appeal on so many levels.
      We don't grow rice, sugarcane or coffee here and I buy them. I care, but not THAT much!
      Other essentials like wine, olive oil and wheat, we grow, so not a problem.
      I choose locally-produced stuff over organic. Both is ideal, but local wins out for me.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pippimac

        Like pippimac, I'm not an American, nor am I living in America. My home is a small, cold island off the coast of northern Europe. We have not been self sufficient as a country since the early 1800s - that's even in terms of fairly basic foodstuffs, let alone the items that would have been unheard of in the 19th century but are commonplace now.

        That said, I try to eat seasonally and that means I can usually buy produce grown here. or, if not here, then not very far away. I have no need to eat, say, asparagus or strawberries outside our own growing season. And I do resent it when the only organic onions I can buy have been imported from Argentina.

        If I had to eat only things raised/grown here, then I could do it with relative ease but dinner wouldnt be as enjoyable without, say, the spices and citrus fruits that I'd have to give up. That said, my father's generation had to manage without those foods between 1939 - 1945.

      2. It wouldnt even be remotely challenging to do this. It might be a bit more expensive, but almost anything produce wise is grown somewhere in the US, and almost every source of meat is raised somewhere here as well. Off the top of my head the only thing I can even think of that I would miss would be prosciutto and cheeses.

        I think people in California could even get more localized and eat only things produced in california without much hassle.

        20 Replies
          1. re: John E.

            Bananas are grown in Florida and Hawaii. Sourcing them might prove difficult, but Im sure they could be had!

            1. re: twyst

              They do not grow any bananas that make it to Minnesota.

              1. re: twyst

                no commercial banana crop in Florida.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Bananas come mostly from Costa Rica, Mexico and Central America, but I always had bananas and a few pineapples going in my backyard. Pineapples are still a big crop in Hawai'i. They used to be a big crop in Florida until a blight wiped them out in the early 1900's. You can still find wild ones in undeveloped areas along the Treasure Coast.

                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                    I didn't say no bananas -- I said no *commercial* banana crop.

                    I've had bananas and pineapples in many of my yards over the year, too.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      There's an area near me in FL that has some wild bananas, but someone always gets them before I think they are ready.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        they're pretty easy to grow -- they're heavy feeders and like to have their feet wet, but if you can keep them from freezing for two years, they'll bear for you.

                        I had two trees bear at the same time years ago -- holy crap, were we tired of bananas, banana bread, banana cream pie, frozen bananas, and even banana daiquiris.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          A lot of people cook green bananas.

                        2. re: sunshine842

                          I didn't say "no bananas", either. I was agreeing with you.

                        3. re: flavrmeistr

                          Most of Hawaii's pineapple production has moved to central America. Dole still maintains pineapple production but Del Monte left Hawaii some years ago.

                    2. re: John E.

                      Bananas used to be grown on a small commercial basis along the SoCal coast in Ventura County. The operation was successful and drew a fair amount of drive-up business. The varieties grown were more unique (red; "ice cream"; "lady finger" were a few I recall). I believe it was forced to shut down because the land lease was lost. Regardless of the cause for shutting down, bananas can be grown even in coastal Mediterranean climate.

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        I am sorry to hear that. I remember a segment about the CA bananas on The Victory Garden many years ago, and was envious of the varieties available to Californians that are never seen in the northeast.

                    3. re: twyst


                      These guys make the best prosciutto in America and one that rivals the Italian product. I have had a San Danielle that is better but I would put La Quercia up against di Parma.

                      Culatello on the other hand...

                      Same with the cheese from Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

                      1. re: twyst

                        +1 twyst, i live in southern california AND i don't eat meat nor poultry.
                        even without trying at all, over 90% of the food that i buy for home cooking is grown in the US.
                        if i really made any kind of effort, i could EASILY use only US food for home cooking.
                        the main problem would be finding restaurants that would comply. . . .

                        1. re: westsidegal

                          I know of at least one restaurant that claims to not only use only American ingredients, they go so far as to narrow it down to ingredients only from southern states.

                          1. re: JayL

                            I respect what they say but am guessing they're not REALLY using all ingredients from the US, much less the South. I come to this conclusion based on this thread. There are so many seasonings that can't be 'sourced' from the US. Just saying, JL.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Just repeating what they claim...

                              This is from their chef..."there are some rules about what can go on the plate. “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” says Brock, who has even stricken olive oil from the kitchen. As he explains, the resulting cuisine “is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food.” This modern approach results in playful dishes such as Deviled Eggs with Pickled Okra and Trout Roe, and new classics like South Carolina Shrimp and Choppee Okra Stew with Carolina Gold Rice and Flowering Basil."

                              1. re: JayL

                                I hear ya/them :) But I still bet they've used pepper etc. As I said, this thread has opened my eyes.

                      2. On the whole, I don't think I'd have too much of a problem doing this. There might be some items I would miss (a few condiment and pickled types of items from China, although some of the Asian companies actually have plants in the US now which would fill part of that void).
                        But other foods like meat and produce wouldn't be an issue. Fresh stuff when in season, frozen or preserved stuff when out of really would be no different than when I was younger.

                        Do tea and coffee get an exemption? THOSE staples would pose more of a problem than other foods.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: The Professor

                          If you count Hawaii you'd be ok on coffee. Kona is pretty good. Not sure on tea though, but I'd assume it wouldn't be too difficult to find.

                        2. I think eating us would be completly doable. The hard part for me would be spices I think

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Bean Counter

                            "I think eating us would be completly doable."
                            Soylent green? or more like the Donner party?