Monday, July 14, 2014
By Lorna Chacón, Costa Rica (SUSI scholar 2014)
What’s the "real American food"? I asked this question as soon as I arrived to Athens, Ohio, for a six week program on journalism and media, at the Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI). The SUSI was funded through a grant given by the Study of the U.S. Branch, which belongs to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State.
“Hamburguers”, somebody told me. “Fries”, another person said. “Pizza”, assured one young man. “Hot Dogs”, one kid said to me. However, I was sure that the “real American food” was much more than we, as foreigners, usually watch on TV or movies, where it usually is fast food.
So, I started to look for the “real American food” here in Athens, since I'm a person who lives in Ohio University’s bedrooms, and doesn't have a kitchen to cook every day.
During my first week, I realized that Athens, and also Ohio, are like the “United Nations of Food”. Here you can find different plates from many different countries.
I started in “Casa Nueva, Restaurant and Cantina” a Mexican-tex and Mex-vegetarian place. Then, I went to “Habibis” to enjoy Lebanese food, and later I was in “Salaam”, where I found Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Moroccan flavors.
In “Chipotle”, I tried Mexican food, while in “ChinaKing” I ordered a big buffet with different Chinese plates. On the other hand, I tried a mix of American, Japanese and Italian flavors in “Fusion Noodle Company” and in “Ginger”.
I also found in Athens all the fast food brands like Subway, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hutt, and at the Court Street “Diner” (a traditional restaurant) I found soups, salads, sandwiches and, of course, burgers.
After my second week in Athens I asked myself again the same question: What’s the “real American food”?
Our Ohio University’s professor, Mary Rogus, invited us to her house for the 4th of July celebrations, and we had a traditional barbecue with meat, chicken, salads and corn.
We also went to professor Bill Reader’s farm, and he cooked for us “Cajun Cuisine” from Louisiana. This style of cooking is named after the french-speaking "Cajun" immigrants.
Cajun food has rice, sausages, seafood, vegetables, and very spicey rice and beans, which by the way taste delicious.
Another day, I went to the “Athens Farmers' Market”, in State Street, and I saw a lot of Americans buying fresh organic vegetables and fruits to cook their food at home.
While in the market, I remembered that Americans use to eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day, and also different pies (like apple pie) for special occasions.
But again, what’s the “real American food”? I think there is no answer for my question because America is a country built by immigrants from many different places. In my opinion, the food is like a mirror of its complex demographic phenomenon, because it is impossible to find the “real American food”, and we can only find “fusion food” that mixes all the different cultures.
Nearly 41 million immigrants lived in the United States in 2012. That is 13 percent of the total U.S. population of 313.9 million according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“In 2012, Mexican-born immigrants accounted for approximately 28 percent of the nearly 40.8 million foreigners born in the United States, making them by far the largest immigrant group in the country. India was the second largest, closely followed by the China (including Hong Kong but not Taiwan), and the Philippines (each accounting for about 5 percent)”, said the Institute.
El Salvador, Vietnam, Cuba, and Korea (each 3 percent), as well as the Dominican Republic and Guatemala (2 percent each), were among the top ten countries of origin. Together, immigrants from these ten countries made up close to 60 percent of the U.S. immigrant population in 2012.
In view of this evidence, the real American food has a lot of colors, a lot of flavors, and a lot of heritages. It is a food cooked with a lot of hands, and also with a lot of hearts, that share one land and one hope.