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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 season...it 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?

                          2. No black pepper. Just think about that.

                            No nutmeg or mace.

                            No cinnamon.

                            Et cet.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: Karl S

                              That would be hitting the wall for me. The spices. The condiments. As far as food-food, I don't think it would be difficult at all. And probably not more expensive than now. Eating seasonally makes plenty of things available.

                              1. re: Karl S

                                for the black pepper, i'd substitute red pepper.
                                never liked cinnamon, mace, nor nutmeg in the first place.

                                for me the most painful sacrifice would be CHOCOLATE.

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  Red pepper would not work as a substitute for black for me; not at all - very different flavor profiles, which is not surprising, because black pepper (piper nigrum) is botanically extremely distant from chillies (they share the quality of being angiosperms, but that's about as far as it goes..).

                                  And don't forget vanilla.

                                  1. re: Karl S

                                    it's not on a commercial scale, but I know a few people in Florida who grow vanilla orchids in their yard.

                                    1. re: Karl S

                                      actually, to my palate, red pepper tastes better than black.
                                      i've already substituted red pepper for black in many of the foods i cook because, to me, it improves the recipe.

                                      vanilla is a good point.
                                      wouldn't bother me to go without vanilla, but vanilla deprivation would drive my daughter nuts

                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                        De gustibus. Black pepper is just much more complex and nuanced for me than red pepper (I am also a supertaster with a not-too-great affinity for capcaisin).

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          Red (or pink) pepper or red chile? Just wondering if you're both on the same page...

                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                            I assume, given the context of this conversation, that by red pepper one is referring to a member of the Capsicum family, not Piper nigrum. The former is grown in the US, not the latter.

                                    2. re: westsidegal

                                      Ohhh . . .TOTALLY forgot about chocolate. That would be a $itch!

                                    1. Living in California it's easy to do. And there is a banana farm north of Santa Barbara.All the produce you want,nuts and olive oils from the central valley,wine from Napa, locally caught seafood,cheese from Point Reyes.That's just a few that I can think of.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: emglow101

                                        Except when I travel to a place known for their olive oil, I've not used any from outside CA in years. Same with vinegars.

                                      2. Could I? For a month or 2, easy. I've lived on rations for a month, I can eat almost anything that long ;)
                                        For a year it'd be annoying, but doable.

                                        Bigger question is, would I bother? The answer is no.

                                        1. I don't think I could entirely, mostly due to spices and tea. I definitely purchase less imported produce and seafood now that country of origin is more prominently labeled. I don't buy imported fish at all, and only buy imported produce items that aren't generally available from US producers (mostly bananas).

                                          1. The olive oil and spices would really hurt me. I know a someone who presses and bottles his own olive oil in the US that I consider of a very high quality, but the olives still come from Cyprus

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: cresyd

                                              Aren't there some California olive oils out there that would do? We have friends who buy one brand by the gallons, they like it so much. I can see what brand it is, if you like.

                                              1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                There's all sorts of great oo in CA. Except for when I pick up some when traveling, i.e., Spain most recently, I've used nothing but CA oo for some years now.

                                                1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                  I'm originally from the midwest and in the US, I've never had a California olive oil that I felt could come close to the Middle Eastern olive oils I've been using for the past few years. Currently I live in the Middle East, so there's no need to re-evaluate the US olive oil situation but at this point if I was back in the US, it'd be a hard one for me to give up at first for sure.

                                                  1. re: cresyd

                                                    Here's what I use and love...and give as gifts when people rave about them.


                                                    As an fyi, Spain produces the most olive oil and I've loved what I've bought there.

                                                    1. re: cresyd


                                                      I would put the linked California olive oil up against anything made in the ME. If you want better you need to explore the Spanish offerings especially oils using Arebequina olives.

                                                2. Spices have been mentioned a few times, and I'll add my +1 to those.

                                                  I don't buy American rice right now, but that could be adjusted.

                                                  My issues would likely come up with Asian ingredients. I'm sure there is American-made soy sauce out there; I've just never paid attention to that. What about all of the other sauces and condiments? I'll have to look at what I have when I get home and do some research.

                                                  Also, ginger. I can't find it locally grown where I live, but I'm guessing it's got to be commercially produced somewhere in the states. Right?

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: Kontxesi

                                                    Carolina Gold rice from South Carolina is a delicious short grain, and Jazzman rice from Louisiana is a long grain, jasmine rice. Both have a lot of flavor, and are grown in their respective states.

                                                    1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                      When on earth did Carolina Gold become a *short*-grain rice? It was, historically, the definitive long-grain rice in the US.

                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                        You're right, Karl! Sorry about that... I've been using it for a few years, and it seems short. I didn't research it before posting, just thought how it looks in the pot.
                                                        Regardless of the length, it is an absolutely delicious rice!

                                                    2. re: Kontxesi

                                                      If you really looked you can find many types of Asian foods and condiments made in the US. Many of the easily available soy sauce is made in the US. Kikkoman has a plant here and La Choy is an American company. There are several others. There are even US sake breweries. Huy Fong Sriracha is a US company.

                                                      1. re: Kontxesi

                                                        the state of Wisconsin is one of the largest producer of ginger, iirc.

                                                      2. We're in Seattle right now visiting. Yesterday we went to Uwajimaya, a huge Asian grocery. They have all manner of exotic and not produce. Easily 90% of it was labeled as from the US.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          I just bought fresh Kaffir lime leaves at our farmers' market in Bloomington, Indiana, this morning. Go figure. Very tasty little leaves. Every year the selection gets better -- bitter melon, Asian greens, exotic varieties of sweet potatoes -- I love it.

                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                            It is pretty amazing, isn't it, what we now have available?

                                                        2. This challenge may not be too difficult on a personal level, but it would be far more difficult if more people do it. For example, it is possible to grow coffee in Hawaii. But I doubt they could grow enough coffee to supply the entire US population.

                                                          1. I think our country should adopt this policy for two years and see how much it affected the rest of the world. I bet the current anti-US sentiment would be dialed back a few notches when it hit their pocketbooks.

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: CDouglas

                                                              Doubt it.

                                                              When your country has tried to restrict trade in the past, it has historically come off second best. And when it has traded fairly, it has benefitted.

                                                              1. re: CDouglas

                                                                trade restrictions rarely benefit the restricting country.

                                                                1. re: westsidegal

                                                                  Given the current environment I think we should find out for at least the next 3 1/2 years.

                                                                  We will be back.

                                                                  1. re: CDouglas

                                                                    Oh, I'm certainly in favour of the US restricting its dealings with the rest of the world.

                                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                                      Folks, this is getting far away from food and into politics and economics, so we're asking people to let it go here.

                                                                2. Honestly, I don't think it would be all that difficult, unless you cook based mainly on recipes and don't know what to do when one of the listed ingredients is unavailable. In fact, I assume you could eat quite well on American-only foods, especially if you maintain a garden. Though many spices would be unavailable, many can be grown yourself in a variety of climates - cumin, coriander, fennel, mustard seed, caraway seed, celery seed, even paprika. And of course many kinds of herbs.

                                                                  There would be one big problem for me: coffee. I love a lot of African and South American beans, and I suspect I'd have a hard time finding American-grown replacements of similar quality.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                    Agree about the coffee. Do they grow it in Puerto Rico?
                                                                    That would qualify. I think.

                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                      only sort of -- PR isn't a state!

                                                                      They grow only a tiny amount on the island - not even enough to supply the island's demand.

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                        That's an interesting point with this. Because the real nature of the question is if we could eat food only grown/made in America - provided most everyone else's habits tasted the same. If Hawaii and PR were responsible for providing all of the coffee of the US, imagine how expensive it'd become.

                                                                  2. Yes, but only if they would import it to where I would chose to live, Aruba!!

                                                                    1. Don't think this would work for me, since I eat chocolate every day ... then there's the whole coffee thing. I do not drink coffee daily, but it would be a super big bummer to give it up.

                                                                      OTOH, we definitely do not need to be importing bell peppers from the Netherlands.

                                                                      I bought some heirloom tomatoes the other day that were just incredible ... the best possible argument for eating local.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: foiegras

                                                                        I more and more want the local, in season stuff.

                                                                      2. I think I'd probably do OK, with the exception of spices... that would be tough. The dead of winter might be tough too due to lack of produce but I could make it work.

                                                                        1. It's hard to imagine the purgatory life with paella but not Spanish saffron.

                                                                          1. Well, bananas and rice would be out of reach, but yeah, I think we could do it. It might be a shock when I got to the grocery store and there was no epazote or paprika or saffron or pepper . . .But a lot of produce, meat, fish, dairy can be had within the USA.

                                                                            I want to add that I work in commercial construction and under one of the USGBC recommendations for LEED buildings is to source materials within 500 miles of the jobsite. Now THAT is a true challenge. Could you eat only what was grown within 500 miles of you?

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: JerryMe

                                                                              The U.S. grows a lot of rice but I could probably get by without rice. The lack of spices would bother me more than rice or bananas.

                                                                              I realize this is just an exercise in speculation, but if the U.S. had to rely on only the food grown in the U.S. prices would rise sharply.