Cuisine is one of those distinctions that many of us simply never see, hear or talk about, but we simply ‘swim’ in it. In the 21st century, depending on our relative wealth and level of access our cuisine choices are either quite wide or more narrow, as in the original essence of traditional cuisine.
The wealthist among us (that’s most of us) in any major US city can choose from the gamut of regional/national cuisines (i. e. Chinese, Japanese, Indian). Those with less i.e. if we happen to live in rural Ethiopia, we likely have a much more limited set of choices – simply ethiopian cuisine, defined by meat stew (wat) a soft cheese (lab) and a flatbread made with teff (injera). In other words, the cuisine of place and limits. As Dan Barber says in “The Third Plate” (p16) ‘…food made delicious with’… “what the land could supply”.
All cuisines (all things in fact!) are defined by what is included as well as what is NOT included in the ‘thing’. What has changed radically in the last 100 years is the unprecedented access ACROSS cultures, to ever increasing resources and technology, and the ability to distribute those resources and technology throughout our societies, and to promote (sell, persuade) to consume in a dysfunctional, excessively hedonistic way.
Dan Barber says that american cooking was always characterized by ‘extraction’ . That “large amounts of meat and starch that grossly outweighed the small portions of fruits and vegetables” that were not prepared with care. We had too much soil, too much land, and too little regard for what we consumed. And our sensibilities were guided too much by greed and what is possible, rather than the long term, what would sustain, what would be beautiful and delicious. Here’s a great piece on the history of the breakfast cereal by Felicity Lawrence, published in The Guardian. It also speaks to all of what went wrong in the evolution of the american cuisine.
Our cuisine in america is not healing for us as a society (off the charts disease and negative health outcomes related to what we consume) nor for our country as an ecology (soil erosion, risk of monoculture crops, de-mineralization of our food supply).