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  1. #11
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    I'm not a fan of Rachel, but I can see why she's popular. She demystifies cooking, and that's a good thing.

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  3. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by anthrogirl
    I suspect that Americans like the illusion of choice, not the reality of it.
    I've been reading a lot of social psychology lately for no particular reason, and there is some really interesting work out there on the psychology of cultural identity.

    Anyway, from what I've read, "individuality" is a huge part of the collective US identity, and I think the fetishization of "choice" as an abstract concept is very much a part of that. It's really interesting -- US-Americans are taught from a very, very young age to be our "unique" selves, to find our "own" voices. (Elmo, for instance, sings songs about the joys of being proud of yourself and unique, as does Kermit.) And we're also taught that other cultures, where there is a stronger sense of interdependency and family identity, are "conformist" and therefore "bad."

    Some of the literature actually talks specifically about the British pre-made sandwiches and about various experiments over the years to bring them to the U.S. and why pre-made sandwiches only work in very select markets, and even then there is often more possibility for customization than in the UK. It's because US-Americans don't like to eat things they haven't customized, and it goes back to this fundamental belief in personal individuality. According to the study, British people, on the whole, are far more likely to accept that a sandwich maker specializing in making sandwiches will have a sense of the most appealing amount of condiment to put on a sandwich, whereas US-Americans believe that everyone has a unique "taste" and that they should therefore individually put condiments on their sandwiches.

    So yeah, even though Chipotle doesn't seem like it offers a lot of choice, in fact it does -- you can say "hold the cheese" or "with extra sour cream" in a way that you can't with pre-made sandwiches, and the ability to do this is deeply ingrained in the US consciousness.

    It's very interesting how deeply-ingrained these beliefs are, and how wide-reaching their effects are. For instance, the fact that US-Americans pay lower taxes than practically every other nation with a comparable economic status, and yet continually complain about taxes while other nations happily pay much higher taxes. It goes back to this belief that we, as individuals, know best how to spend "our" money and don't trust the government to do it for us. But even as much as I am a lefty who wants to pay higher taxes for a more just social order, and intellectually I might critique my government (as a US citizen) and my fellow citizens for their weird fetishization of "individual choice", I still like to customize my food. I'm living in the UK right now, and I have to say, I'd like a little less mayo on my pre-made sandwich, please! So yeah, it is really deeply ingrained.

    This stuff is fascinating to me.

  4. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by xuli
    Quote Originally Posted by anthrogirl
    I suspect that Americans like the illusion of choice, not the reality of it.
    I've been reading a lot of social psychology lately for no particular reason, and there is some really interesting work out there on the psychology of cultural identity.

    Anyway, from what I've read, "individuality" is a huge part of the collective US identity, and I think the fetishization of "choice" as an abstract concept is very much a part of that. It's really interesting -- US-Americans are taught from a very, very young age to be our "unique" selves, to find our "own" voices. (Elmo, for instance, sings songs about the joys of being proud of yourself and unique, as does Kermit.) And we're also taught that other cultures, where there is a stronger sense of interdependency and family identity, are "conformist" and therefore "bad."

    Some of the literature actually talks specifically about the British pre-made sandwiches and about various experiments over the years to bring them to the U.S. and why pre-made sandwiches only work in very select markets, and even then there is often more possibility for customization than in the UK. It's because US-Americans don't like to eat things they haven't customized, and it goes back to this fundamental belief in personal individuality. According to the study, British people, on the whole, are far more likely to accept that a sandwich maker specializing in making sandwiches will have a sense of the most appealing amount of condiment to put on a sandwich, whereas US-Americans believe that everyone has a unique "taste" and that they should therefore individually put condiments on their sandwiches.
    That's it exactly. Pret actually offers a lot of choice- but it's premade choice. There are all kinds of different flavors, many more than you would find in the US. But you can't choose 'how much' to have on your sandwich. At Chipotle, you have a narrow range of choices, but you can choose how much or how little to have put on your wrap. Which makes many people feel empowered. Ditto Burger King, which offers limited choices but claims that you can 'have it your way', because you can choose whether to have a pickle or not.

    Neither way is bad. They're just different ways of thinking about the world. But this may explain why certain cuisines have never really caught on in the US- they're about tradition, not choice, the way Americans define choice. It goes back to the discussions we've had about modern crafting too- people want the illusion of making new 'individual' patterns rather than making known patterns in new ways, because 'tradition' is seen as conformist.

  5. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by anthrogirl
    But this may explain why certain cuisines have never really caught on in the US- they're about tradition, not choice, the way Americans define choice.
    Huh. Which cuisines are you talking about? And do you think they're more popular in places that are more about tradition and less about choice?

    Personally, I value the ability to leave things off my sandwich because I'm lactose intolerant, not because I have some sort of American obsession with choice (real or faux.) Plenty of people in Britain must have similar issues, given Britain's racial diversity. I wonder how that plays out at pre-made food places.

  6. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by sallysunshine
    Huh. Which cuisines are you talking about? And do you think they're more popular in places that are more about tradition and less about choice?

    Personally, I value the ability to leave things off my sandwich because I'm lactose intolerant, not because I have some sort of American obsession with choice (real or faux.) Plenty of people in Britain must have similar issues, given Britain's racial diversity. I wonder how that plays out at pre-made food places.
    I wouldn't go so far as to extend what I said to whole categories of cuisines. The study I read, though, did go pretty in-depth into the failure of bringing British pre-made sandwiches to the US, and contextualized that within findings about the psychology of US cultural identity. I could PM you citations if you're interested, it's fascinating stuff and I don't want to misrepresent it (I'm sure I oversimplified it) so I won't continue here.

    As for your second point, I can tell you that all of the pre-made sandwiches here in Britain are rigorously labeled with info about possible allergens, so you know if your sandwich is vegetarian / vegan / lactose-free / gluten-free / nut-free, etc.

  7. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by sallysunshine
    Quote Originally Posted by anthrogirl
    But this may explain why certain cuisines have never really caught on in the US- they're about tradition, not choice, the way Americans define choice.
    Huh. Which cuisines are you talking about? And do you think they're more popular in places that are more about tradition and less about choice?

    Personally, I value the ability to leave things off my sandwich because I'm lactose intolerant, not because I have some sort of American obsession with choice (real or faux.) Plenty of people in Britain must have similar issues, given Britain's racial diversity. I wonder how that plays out at pre-made food places.
    I feel your pain- not only am I lactose intolerant, I really don't like the taste of certain ingredients, and won't eat them on a bet. I prefer the way we do things here, which is to give people a choice of leaving things off or putting more of them on.

    My mom is from Maryland. In the Delmarva region, the crab is king. But not any crab- the Chesapeake Bay crab, which is a rather finicky fellow. And People from the Delmarva region are picky too- crab dishes are almost always made with Old Bay Seasoning. You can find potato chips and popcorn like that too. And certain dishes, like crab imperial or even crab cakes, are usually made the way your mother made them, or bought from your favorite places. Now you can buy crab meat that's not from the region, especially during breeding season, but most Marylanders won't bother, because the flavor of other crabs don't meet the local palate. And you can buy crab cakes at a chain like Red Lobster, but most Marylanders won't bother, because those are made up mostly of bread. And crab meat is usually sold frozen, not in a can. Most of that is a regionalism.
    In Louisiana, where the crayfish is so popular that people schedule their weddings around crayfish season so that they can serve them to guests, people feel that no other type of crayfish will do. They also feel that way about the Gulf shrimp. Crabs, Gulf shrimp, Alsakan crab, crayfish, barbeque- these are all ways of life for people in specific regions. These foods and the cuisines around them cannot be reproduced in a restaurant kitchen on a large scale. They cannot be transported into a frozen food section. For instance, Delmarva cuisine is different from Deep South cuisine- it involves more seafood, less oil for the most part, and the foods tend to be sweeter. People serve things like King Syrup (which is sweet enough to rot your teeth by just loking at the bottle) and other items that are often sweeter than counterparts in the deeper parts of the South.

    In the Southwest, there are foods that are regional, too. There are certain brands or flavors of potato ships and other snacks that can only be found there. you are more likely to find moles made with chocolate in the Southwest than in other parts of the country. You are more likely to find certain types of chiles in that part of the countrry too. Even though with the internet and a growing awareness of food you can get almost everything delivered, certain foods are really an acquired regional taste and aren't found on national market shelves.

    http://www.boiledpeanuts.com/index.html

  8. #17
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    I went to Pret in NYC today- everything is labeled here, too. Most of the ingredients are bought from local well-known companies- I was happy to see ingredients from Ronnybrook Farm, Bell and Evans, and TomCat Bakery. But the lists of sandwiches were different. They had BLTs and other sandwiches popular in NYC- no prawns. They did have Coronation Chicken- it was delicious.

    But I do think each country has its own identity, and identity is in part about what people percieve as food at certain meals. There are items one finds in Canada on coffeeshop menus that one cant't get here at all, for instance. And how certain foods are prepared is also in part about national identity. If you look at a Mexican cookbook, you'll see why many of the foods don't translate to the US palate- and why certain American foods (peanut butter, American-style chocolate, and several other foods) don't translate to Mexico or Great Britain. Again, it isn't a putdown. But people in Europe do not for the most part eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, any more than most Americns think of pffefferneuse at Christmas.

    One more note- in NYC we have lime rickeys, Bronx cocktails, black and white cookies, whitefish, bialys, cannolis, chewy bagels with a schmear, Italian ices, halal meat trucks, roti, celery flavored soda, mallomars, egg creams in vanilla and chocolate, seltzer (which is a bit different from club soda), falafels, kosher pizza, knishes, and soft pretzels.most of these aren't found outside of New York, and most of them reflect the city's strong Jewish heritage. They don't really fit national tastes without severe modifications.

  9. #18
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    Mexican food may not end up on the general US palate, but it's definitely part of eating in California. i mean, yeah, stink bugs and xuitlacoche aren't on most menus, but you can get menudo and lengua and other things most white-bread americans wouldn't be into.

    the only thing i missed, and would have pretty much killed for, in my travels to Europe and other parts of the US, is Mexican food. specifically Northern Californian Mexican food, where you have restaurants that offer vegetarian dishes that manage to retain all of the authentic non-meat flavors. most people i know from CA feel the same way about Mexican food, and non-vegetarians eat the real deal. the only Mexican things i don't think most gueros dig are tortas and what we would consider "mystery meats", but they are definitely available.

    i'd also have to beg to differ on falafel. every Armenian or Middle Eastern restaurant and quite a few delis and food carts have falafel out here. i love falafel. there are a lot of Jewish, Russian, Italian, etc. neighborhoods in any of the major cities in CA that have most of those foods, but a few of them i've never heard of. maybe the difference is that you'd have to go to a Jewish neighborhood to get knishes here, but in NY they are everywhere?

  10. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by stella
    i'd also have to beg to differ on falafel. every Armenian or Middle Eastern restaurant and quite a few delis and food carts have falafel out here.
    Yeah, you can get falafel at pretty much every non-Italian Mediterranean restaurant anywhere in the US. It's like THE generic vegetarian food. You can even get it at Greek restaurants in rural Georgia.

    *************

    Back on topic, I do agree that it's pretty self-evident to say that every culture has its own food and I don't think anyone was disputing that point.

  11. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by stella
    Mexican food may not end up on the general US palate, but it's definitely part of eating in California. i mean, yeah, stink bugs and xuitlacoche aren't on most menus, but you can get menudo and lengua and other things most white-bread americans wouldn't be into.
    Exactly. Certain kinds of Mexican food are now American regionalisms- the Mexican cuisine you'll get in California isn't the same as Tex-Mex. Just like certain parts of Jewish cuisine have become part of an East Coast/New York regionalism.


    Quote Originally Posted by stella
    the only thing i missed, and would have pretty much killed for, in my travels to Europe and other parts of the US, is Mexican food. specifically Northern Californian Mexican food, where you have restaurants that offer vegetarian dishes that manage to retain all of the authentic non-meat flavors. most people i know from CA feel the same way about Mexican food, and non-vegetarians eat the real deal. the only Mexican things i don't think most gueros dig are tortas and what we would consider "mystery meats", but they are definitely available.

    i'd also have to beg to differ on falafel. every Armenian or Middle Eastern restaurant and quite a few delis and food carts have falafel out here. i love falafel. there are a lot of Jewish, Russian, Italian, etc. neighborhoods in any of the major cities in CA that have most of those foods, but a few of them i've never heard of. maybe the difference is that you'd have to go to a Jewish neighborhood to get knishes here, but in NY they are everywhere?
    Ah. But the food here isn't Armenian falafel.

    I grew up on Israeli falafel, which is flavored a bit differently than Eqyptian falafel (I live near an Egyptian place now). But when I've gone to Maryland, lower New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, and Texas, nobody knows from felafel. My mom can't even find felafel in Ft. Lauderdale (not that she's trying hard). But I have found falafel in LA. Most people in the US wouldn't know a falafel from a loofa- but in NYC you can get a felafel, a gyro, or a knish in plenty of places. Pretty much all over midtown to lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, you can get falafel. You can probably get it On Staten Island, too. I'm sure you can get it in parts of the Bronx. I'd bet a dollar to a donut that you can get falafel wherever there are near eastern and middle eastern communities around the country, but not in too many other places. Whenever you see food labeld -'California', 'New York', or any other city or state name, you're looking at a take on regional food.

    BTW- that new Domino's commercial cracks me up, because there's no such thing as 'Brooklyn-style pizza'.[/quote]


 
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