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What foods have changed America?

Immigration is often the underlying force that changed what we American's eat. Could you imagine an America where college students would not be filling themselves up on lo mein and orange chicken combos along with pepperoni pizzas and burgers? Culture, along with technological innovation(cars and the drive thru lane, freezers and microwaves) steer what we eat. But what actual foods have been instrumental? My foods that changed America are the following:

BBQ sauce
coca cola
NY Pizza
fried chicken
fruit smoothie

what are yours?

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  1. Ramen / instant noodle



    Soy sauce


    Sugar substitutes




    Frozen yogurt

    Starbucks / fancy coffee drinks

    5 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      These are definitely the most recent significant changes, even though some of them have been around for a while. Going back further the canned and frozen foods bbqboy mentions below.
      And while it's an appliance not a food, the impact of the microwave has been enormous as well.

      1. re: KaimukiMan

        I would add HFCS, but then I'm not sure how the OP is defining "food".

          1. re: blackbookali

            Then how about things like:

            - gluten awareness
            - Umami
            - Transfats


            1. re: ipsedixit

              im in the business of not saying no ; - )

    2. Canned soup. Frozen vegetables. TV dinners.

      1. Well, if you feel like taking the long view: sugar. It fundamentally changed American history. See Sidney MIntz's fabulous book, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Kitchen Imp

          Along with sugar you can add corn/corn syrup.

          Also, historically the ability in the US to have meat be sold at such a cheaper price than the rest of world from about the early 20th century on has changed not only "authentic" American food but also the food recipes that immigrants brought with them.

            1. re: hill food

              According to MK, cod not only changed America (among other things, it led to the rise of a middle class in New England) it was also the fish that changed the world.

              1. re: Tonality666

                whoops - typo Kurlansky. I haven't read 'Cod' yet, but the one on oysters was fascinating in how it changed the physical geography of the NYC area. and how 'Salt' fed (so to speak) the military industry and modern agriculture.

            2. HEINZ
              DEL MONTE

              1. Corn? It is native to the Americas

                4 Replies
                1. re: redfish62

                  The diet in the US is largely based on the combo of the food traditions that people in Europe brought with them and the ingredients that they were able to bring with them/grow in North America and new foods they integrated into their diets. And corn is a huge part of that story particularly related to most US communities.

                  1. re: redfish62

                    corn,tomatoes,peppers,gourds/squash,chocolate and potatoes have changed the world

                    as have some non-native sugar,wheat,rice and soy

                    1. re: lcool

                      Once upon a time ago, I think I read something that tried to equate the migration story of the tomato with the beginning of globalization. Not sure I entirely buy that as the specific moment, but it was an interesting way of telling that story.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        the consequences of some food history,anthropology can be fascinating

                  2. To add to all that's been added: sliced, store-bought loaves of bread. Apparently in the 1920s and 1930s this started to revolutionize things--it also marked the rise of Wonderbread type white bread. Before that, most bread consumed was baked at home. This is according to a book on the history of mass-market bread in America that came out 1 or 2 years ago (the name escapes me). I guess it's part of the idea of "convenience" that is a hallmark of American cuisine and is still going strong.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Wawsanham

                      the mechanical slicer for whole loaves of bread is an American patent,revolutionary at the time

                      1. re: latindancer

                        Spam changed the way Hawaii eats more than the rest of the country. To the best of my knowledge the only restaurant in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that has Spam on the menu is L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, a Hawaiian chain that has recently gone multi-national by adding Japan and New Zealand to their franchise list. Spam in New Zealand????

                      2. Pizza - not just NY style, every kind. Maybe also Coke, in itself and as trend-setter for sugary fizzy drinks. Hamburgers: maybe so, maybe not - Americans were eating plenty of beef before somebody ground it up and put it in a bun. And sliced bread is centuries old, though originally sliced by the people who ate it.

                        1. Sliced bread
                          Commercial Dairy Products ie pasturized milk, commercially made cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt et al
                          Frozen foods (I'm thinking Mr. Clarence Birdseye and frozen veggies, not so much prepared meals, although they certainly are part of the American lifestyle)
                          The entire snack food industry

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: laliz

                            Yes - frozen food has got to be way, way up there for changing how we eat.

                          2. I think what used to be known as tv dinners have to be included.

                            I'm sure some of the older folks on here remember the MAD magazine look at tv dinners from the late 50s (I saw it reprinted years later, I'm not that old). One of their suggestions was to include ear flaps, so the person could sit and stare at the tv and not even have to look down at the food. Just lower your fork and slop some up to your mouth.

                            Actually, the invention of the tv itself unquestionably changed how America eats.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Bob W

                              When I was a kid getting to eat a TV dinner was the greatest treat imaginable.

                                1. re: Kitchen Imp

                                  But I hated when the sweet corn would migrate into the apple cobbler.

                                  1. re: Duppie

                                    Or the corn into the brownie. God, I loved that brownie. Hard as a rock along the edges. Chewy deliciousness.

                            2. Coffee.
                              Drive in/Drive through.

                              1. Three things were responsible for changing the American food scene and palate:
                                Interstate trucking

                                1. McDonald's. They were the major force in industrializing the modern food industry, expanding agribusiness, and creating inexpensive fast food of consistent quality and price.

                                  1. Chili: Anglo-style cooking with Mexican ingredients, paved the way for acceptance of spicy foods in the American diet and for the more recent taste for Mexican-influenced foods. See "Taco USA" by Gustavo Arellano for a discussion.

                                    Frozen peas: freezing is a better way of preserving food than canning when it comes to preserving texture and taste, and Birdseye's frozen peas were IMHO what got people to accept them

                                    Spaghetti and meatballs: apparently unknown in Italy, this was how a lot of Americans in the early 20th century were introduced to the cuisine of a large number of new immigrants.

                                    Pizza: takeout goes back at least to the Romans, but when pizza became popular in the 50s it became permissible for American families to bring home an entire meal.

                                    Going even further back: pralines, a New Orleans confection made by substituting the sugar and almonds in the French original with molasses and pecans, American natives. Undoubtedly not the first, but one of the better known dishes where American cooks used easier to obtain native ingredients for imported ones. See also the "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner, with roast turkey (with cornbread stuffing, of course) standing in for roast goose, cranberry sauce taking the place of a fruit-based sauce such as applesauce, and pumpkin pie, a traditional English custard-type dish using native ingredients.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: tardigrade

                                      Yes! Turkey! 88% of Americans said they eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Low fat turkey is a cold cut revolution.

                                      Peanut butter.

                                    2. I'm thinking much more broadly - beef, wheat and corn.

                                      Remember your american history classes? The land wars between ranchers and farmers? The whole scale elimination of predators of and competitors to cattle to feed the growing demand for meat. The images of cattle drives lives on in my minds from old movies that I watched.

                                      Then the carving up of open land into farms. The amber waves of grain. The praireland was dug up and replaced with wheat.

                                      Finally corn which feeds (pun) into so much else of what we eat or drive. For good and bad.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: Bkeats

                                        If you're going that broad, then add salt to the list.

                                        1. re: Bkeats

                                          "ooohhh the cowman and the farmer should be friends"

                                          oh thanks. my folks were showtune fanatics and you just dredged up something that's going to be swirling around the toilet bowl of my head for quite some time.

                                          you are SO off my xmas card list.

                                          1. re: hill food

                                            <edit> but that adds to the technology list - barbed wire.

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              barbed wire .......invented by the French

                                              1. re: lcool

                                                well they (and to some extant the Spanish) were the earlier colonial power in the middle third of the country...


                                          2. Depends on when we're talking about. I'm going to keep my answers to the last hundred years, leaning especially toward the last 50.

                                            BY FAR the most influential food in American cuisine is corn. Due to a genetic quirk that allows corn to outproduce other crops in terms of calories produced/acre, it has become the staple crop of American processed food. It's in everything, and what it's not in, it's used to grow or raise. Of course, Americans don't generally think of corn as a game-changer in the cuisine they eat - but they do rely on and expect low cost processed foods and meats. Corn is the single biggest reason for that.

                                            Used in almost as many things as corn, soy is a staple of modern crop rotation strategy. In a sense, it is almost a by-product of our reliance upon corn. But as by-products go, it's hugely influential in its own right.

                                            Moving away from processed foods, I'd say sushi has been enormously influential in a very different way. At face value, it's just a delicious import, one of many. But it is probably the single biggest factor in America's acceptance of Asian foods as fine dining, the biggest individual food item that got Americans to stop thinking of Asian food as take-out dive material. And it did more than that. It introduced Americans to a kind of flavor palette that was further removed from their own than perhaps any other popular import in recent memory. And perhaps most significant of all, it got Americans questioning their long accepted rules of safe food preparation. It opened the door to all kinds of great foods that Americans wouldn't have touched before.

                                            Spaghetti and meatballs.
                                            It turns out that Italians don't eat spaghetti and meatballs together. It's not authentic Italian food. But frankly, it can be pretty damn tasty. Which brings up a dilemma - how should American foodies feel about it? Should we be ashamed of our culinary history, our own brand of fusion? Resigned to it? Or proud of it? Ever since Americans started looking outward and being concerned with what people were actually eating in other countries, these have been some of the central questions in American foodie culture. And spaghetti and meatballs is probably the single most iconic dish these questions apply to.

                                            Chocolate chip cookies.
                                            This one is a bit more arbitrary. You could make almost as strong an argument for apple pie or maybe brownies or cupcakes. These are foods that rely on a decent bit of technical precision to make well. Harder to make well than a great steak or a good roast chicken. But many people who don't consider themselves good cooks can make excellent chocolate chip cookies at home. It's one of the lingering standards of home cooking - one of those few technical dishes that many people who 'don't cook' can whip up to excellent effect. It's not a foodie thing to make good chocolate chip cookies - it's an American thing.

                                            Finally, pizza.
                                            Important for the opposite reasons as chocolate chip cookies. Pizza is the most ubiquitous food that is far better at restaurants and take out joints than what the average person can reasonably make at home. I can teach a reasonably competent person to make a top notch burger in half an hour (especially if the bun is bought rather than made). Not so for top-notch pizza. Heck, even making decent pizza is beyond the reach of most home cooks and their home cooking equipment. It's enjoyed by nearly everyone. Non-foodies can give impassioned and reasonably well-informed arguments for what makes for an ideal pie. Most great food cultures have a cultural obsession that is almost always made by professionals - we have pizza.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                              agree about pizza, it IS a bitch to get right in a home oven.

                                              corn - I'm thinking not so much the crop itself, but the industrialization of the process. so in that regard, maybe the most influential impact on the American diet isn't a food, but rather the internal combustion engine and John Deere et al?

                                              your comment is interesting as a neighbor's corn crop largely failed last year (poor but decent rain) and this year (next to no rain) so they did soy which is turning out meh. 2 years ago the rain was so heavy the soy and wheat growers couldn't get the crop out of the field before it rotted.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                Paul - I saw that listing, will look again in the future for repeats/other episodes.

                                              2. Freeze drying is having an impact. In the ancient world ("ancient," as in lost cultures), the Incas stored freeze dried foods. Today they provide insant vegetables in ramen, are the heart of long-term-storage emergency supplies, our military thrives on it in "front line" dining, and now Target is offering freeze-dried herbs. I plan to check out whether freeze dried dill weed is better than regolar air dried dill weed. Who knows? Maybe freeze dried cilantro will become an acceptable alternative to fresh?

                                                1. Others can correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall that the invention of breakfast cereal is considered to be pretty significant in America's "food history".

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. Lo mein? What's that? An East Coast thing? or a local semantics name for something like chow mein?

                                                    Here are some food changes from the last hundred years or so that come to mind.

                                                    Frozen chicken pot pie
                                                    hot dogs

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Sharuf

                                                      Lo mein is made with long spaghetti-esque noodles. Definitely a staple of Americanized Chinese food.

                                                      1. re: Bob W

                                                        except the name lo-mein is not. often referred to as chow mein in the west, which is a 19th century american adaptation of lo-mein, the 'real' chinese dish.

                                                      1. Salsa replacing ketchup as the most frequently used condiment.

                                                        1. Fast food burgers. Dried supermarket pasta. Iceberg lettuce. Sliced supermarket bread. Boxed dry cereal. Graham flour. Bottled and jarred condiments. Bottled salad dressings. Boxed cookies. Dry mixes for cakes and quick breads. Frozen foods, including frozen dinners and frozen fruit. Bottled orange juice. Skim milk. Ready made yogurt. Bagels.

                                                          I don't think that food that changed what we Americans eat is all from the influence of immigration.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                            but it's still back to technology and industrialization (and a lot of marketing). the impact of immigration and 'cross-pollination' is significant and doesn't change. these market changes rather inform how the foods are sourced. (and I am thankful for the culinary mash-up we can find in most cities of any size)

                                                            I don't mean to be nit-picky but pasta used to be considered 'ethnic' unless it was dumplings or egg noodles. and as for bagels? didn't see those in the average grocery store until the late 70's.

                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                              I think dried pasta changed into a staple of the American diet sometime in the 'fifties. I do think it represents a significant change in the average diet, although no doubt we were already eating some macaroni and noodles.

                                                              Bagels are "ethnic" to midwesterners, no? But they have become ubiquitous everywhere. I think that means they have changed our dietary habits a bit. Just look at the selection of bagels at Panera/St. Lo. Bread. They've gone mainstream. Actually I think bagels became a "big thing" in the eighties,

                                                              I too like a variety of foods I didn't eat when I was growing up, and am glad they are available.

                                                              On further thought, I think that the processing and distributing of "Mexican" food have also changed our diet.