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February 02, 2006

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jeorg

ms. glaze, their conceptions of america don't come from not having visited, but from what visits them on a regular basis. which is sad, but true. san fran aside, if you come to the south, a lot of those misconceptions are alive and kicking. where i am, we have organic, good cheeses, good wines, but that is because my friends are more cosmo. my family on the other hand, not so much.
the best way to battle the stereotype of regions is to ask them if people from marseille are just like parisians. are people from brest like them? that usually wins the debate...

Blaise

As a frenchmen who spent 5 years in the Bay Area, I got to say, it is the best place for food. Sorry you had to deal with insecure jerks...I mean compatriots.

Erin

I know how you feel. I feel I am constantly having to defend the American South-that the Dukes of Hazard is not a portrait of Southern culture and we are not all backward and ignorant.
Southern Food is a very distinct cuisine in the U.S. and within it there are regional foods that range from Creole cooking in Louisiana to Carolina Barbeque to the African influences along the coast such as collard greens, black-eyed peas, and rice. Overall, Southern cooking is comfortable and homey.
In fact, the term comfort food was first used to describe the Southern breakfast staple Grits. But you cannot categorize all food eaten in the South as Southern food. We also eat at Indian, Thai, Vietnemese, Middle eastern, Mediteranian, Italian, Greek, African, Vegetarian, Vegan, and French restaurants, organic and nonorganic, plus many fusions of the above. Like jeorg said it is more so in cosmplolitan areas but I am sure that is true for most of the country.
I doubt this will sound very impressive to the people at that dinner party but it does express what is great about American food. It is free and open to different influences and it doesn't feel a need to conform to any regional or national culinary identity.

Ted

>America is a huge country and each state has it’s own identity similar to France and it's regions (pays). This concept is very hard to explain.<

It's not a hard concept to explain at all, cf. Jeorg above and your own point about French regions. Tell them not to make stupid generalizations :-) The French - oops, generalization, OK, middle-class Parisians at least - expect you to argue (see "60 Million Frenchmen Can't be wrong") - don't suck it up, fight back :-)

That said, San Fran is not America; one generalization you might make is that there are two main cultures in the US; the civilised coastal regions and the heart of darkness of middle America :-) see maps of voting patterns. In the centre especially there is a lot of fast food, and a lot of very large people - see the excellent doc by that nice, enlightened American, Morgan Spulock: "Supersize Me".

See also this American's explanation of why the French still have a long way to go before they - in general - get to the size of so many, but obviously not all Americans. So he concludes by giving this advice to (many) of his fellow Americans:

"...once you get back home to Orange County, all you have to do is totally alter your entire way of life. Throw away the TV remote control. Pull the plug on your freezer and shop for food every day - real food that comes in bags, not boxes. Leave the gas-guzzler in the garage and walk that dusty mile to the mall along a highway screaming with traffic - no sidewalk, just the dirt along the edge, not even a track, because nobody ever walks there - until a police car picks you up, takes you to the station and grills you for hours about your suspicious behavior.

And if they don't lock you up in the loony bin you can try it again tomorrow."

http://www.whitings-writings.com/parbishome.htm

carrie

Well, I really had high hopes of pondering this important question of worldy misconceptions overnight and giving you a brilliant answer. But this morning as I was preparing to comment I read the other 4 comments on this topic and I would like to say, for the record, they all stole my answers!!

As you know, I live in Atlanta and I am actually quite proud of our local cuisine and our outstanding array of international cuisine available. There is not another place in the world where you can find the most delicious peaches and sweet vidalia onions. And so many restaurants serve fresh she crab soup, shrimp and grits, quail, venison and lots of fresh veggies, as our climate allows for almost year-round farming (not to mention year-round al- fresco dining)! And just to be clear, we're not eating all fried foods, greens cooked in fat, and mysterious things called "dumplings"...and I haven't eaten biscuits and gravy in a year (although I do love it)!

So, speaking as a person who has lived in Paris twice and has traveled to almost every major American city, I would venture to say that every country and state has some amazing local cuisine as long as you're willing to look and try. There are stereotypes connected to everywhere and for the most part they are casted by people who've never been. But, Amy, I'm sure you and Eric did a much more noble job of defending American cuisine than I did once when I was hosting a dinner party in Paris for an American friend and two French chefs. As I was stumbling through my defense (and my french vocab), I mentioned that we didn't all eat food filled with preservatives...which of course means CONDOMS in french. It was definitely one of my prouder moments and I think I represented quite well!! Gros Bisous!

Ms. Glaze

Thanks for all the comments, stories, and view points!!! The "preservatives" comment made me laugh out loud :-)

The dinner party happened to be an isolated group of Parisians who have not traveled to the States. Most of my French friends are world traveled and do not share these viewpoints. However, the frustrating evening did make me think about to define my culture and it's food.

I think Ted is right about the "fight back" part. Parisian culture loves a good debate. Next time I'll come with ammunition.

Blaise–thanks for your comment and I'm glad you didn't take offense. :-)

Erin, Carrie– I love Southern food with all it's differnt influences (regional BBQ, creole, etc.) and envy the fact that there are specific dishes that you can call your own. I'm still struggling with that in a city like San Francisco. What is your perspective of SF food?

Harriette

Dear Ms. Glaze,
It is hard to define "cuisine San Francisco," and no wonder! San Francisco is a relatively small city as cities are measured, and yet it has one of the most diverse populations of any place in the world. It is not unusual to find a half dozen small restaurants - each with a different cuisine to offer - in a single block.

San Francisco sits at the opening of one of the most magnificent natural harbors in the world, thus foods from around the globe are unloaded daily by the ton for use in its restaurants and stores.

In addition, the city is a short truck drive away from small and large farms producing fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat and poultry in a year-round growing season. And from the sea...? The fishing boats come and go in all seasons and from all ports.

Add it up... a people with a culturally rich mix of cooking traditions, a global market arriving daily by air and ship, plus local ingredients so fresh that they are picked the day they are eaten.

Is there a San Francisco cuisine? Yes! But it is not a cuisine defined by the cultural origin of the recipe. Rather, it is defined by the insistence on freshness, taste, and unusual uses of traditional herbs and spices, sauces and cooking techniques.

The people, diverse as they are, bring the recipes and ideas. The dynamic cuisine of San Francisco finds its source in the spark ignited when a talented chef finds himself or herself inspired by year round access to global and local markets featuring incredibly fresh, unusual and beautiful foods. And... the palate responds... the chefs from many lands working with the bountiful supply of foods grown locally and globally, have... in turn... created a clientele with high expectations and appreciation for the best they can offer.

Karen

Hi Ms. Glaze, I recently discovered your blog and I've been devouring it non-stop! Thanks for sticking up for us Americans, we could use a little positive press for our cultural image. The greater issue of stereotyping is that one is much more likely to remember the single fat bloke yelling in English at a waiter "Where are the burgers?", and will certainly overlook the dozen or so quiet couples blending in, using their travels to learn respect for different cultures.

As far as American cuisine, except maybe in the South, it can't be compared to places like France or Italy which have thousands of years of communities developing regional flavours and techniques. That does not mean that ours is lacking, however, just not regimented. I believe our youth as a nation and diverse immigrant population has opened the door for a bountiful blend of creative experimentation. Living between the valley and the ocean makes the Bay Area an ideal place to indulge in the freshest ingredients, in whatever form. Maybe we can't put a name to "traditional dishes", but that doesn't mean we don't eat well.

That being said, who can resist a cracked crab and side of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl on a foggy SF evening? Gimme a little Ghiradelli for dessert:)

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