anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Posts Tagged ‘food culture

Using Food to Change the Thanksgiving Narrative

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For many of us, our associations with Thanksgiving are mostly about food. Cranberries, pumpkin pies, stuffing and all those other things that turns the food media world into a seasonal frenzy of recipes and roundups. It’s a holiday where we’re encouraged to gather with our friends and family and be thankful, showing gratitude for what’s on the table and the people we share it with.

These are admirable ideals, however when we talk about Thanksgiving, share iconic recipes, gather around the table, we avoid the harsh reality of a holiday with a dark past, one of slavery, plague and massacres. At its core, Thanksgiving is a story of genocide, and instead of facing that reality, it’s a holiday that we have chosen to mythologize, erasing real stories and people along the way. Instead of the truth, the false narrative around Thanksgiving allows us to focus on the easy stuff, in the form of “10 Best Pie Crusts” and “25 Creative Stuffing Ideas You Never Thought Of.

“Food media at large still won’t touch the imperialist implications of Thanksgiving with a ten foot pole bc it’s more profitable to pub stuffing listicles,” wrote Racist Sandwich a few weeks ago on Twitter.

I thought about that comment a lot, pondering the importance and weight of food media in addressing cultural history as well as today’s realities. Food is an excellent lens for looking at important topics like gender, race and culture, and in that sense, the food hype over Thanksgiving seems like a massively missed opportunity to highlight the true story and its modern day implications. Avoiding the conversation about the true roots of Thanksgiving means perpetuating the injustice.

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Written by Anna Brones

November 22, 2017 at 13:25

Bringing Travel into the Kitchen

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My latest over on Foodie Underground:

A freakish commitment to perfecting a recipe picked up while abroad might seem off, but don’t we all have food obsessions when we return from voyages? We come back from our travels, whether near or far with stories of “have you ever heard of [insert odd local dish here]?” and “they had the most amazing [insert normal dish] but with [insert oddball ingredient that is representative of the place traveled to here]. I wish we had that here!”

Ask someone which bus line they rode most often during a trip and you’ll get a blank stare, but ask about the best local meal and you’ll be sure to be listening to an animated story for a minimum of seventeen minutes. Food is often one of the biggest takeaways when we travel, be it just a half hour from home or on the other side of the world. That roadside diner with the house special sauce can be just as exotic as sambusas on a street corner in Kabul. Through food we experience a culture a people and a place. We are forced to stop and take things in, listen to our senses. It’s no surprise that the result is memorable.

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Written by Anna Brones

November 14, 2012 at 06:00

America’s Foodie Reputation

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A surprising discovery when I lived in France was L’Americain. In the land of gourmet cheeses and perfected baguettes, food is more than something that you just consume for nourishment; it’s art. Which is why I was a little shell-shocked the first time I came acrossL’Americain, a late night favorite, post-pop music dance party, made up of a baguette stuffed with hamburger meat, french fries and ketchup.

If the French vision of American food had been unclear before, after this particular sandwich run in, it was very clear. For the French, there was no point in glorifying this version of junk street food, when they could just call it what they thought it represented: America.

As a nation, we have often been at the bottom of the list of culinary tradition. Sure, at home we’ve created a foodie culture and mastered combining dishes from around the world, but abroad, there remains a view that we’re all about pizza, hot dogs and chips. Our global foodie reputation is defined more by sugar and fat than by local ingredients with a cosmopolitan twist.

In fact, enter any “American” food store in another country and you’ll get a handful of classic ingredients. I’ve seen everything from swirled jars of peanut butter and jelly to marshmallow cream (things my American counterparts would never dream of buying at home), and much less abroad. But the international crowd loves this stuff. One of my best Swedish friends has specifically requested that next time I come visit she wants Reese’s Miniatures and several bags of Sour Patch Kids.

What is it that has made the rest of the world crave some of our most terrible exports and glaze over our more respectable creations? You don’t see Alice Waters shrines or bookshelves stocked with Mark Bittman translations abroad, but you’ll most certainly come across a sampling of the following.

Hamburgers

McDonald’s has swept the world like a virus, but it’s not just Big Macs that have made their way around the world. Grab an “American” menu in Southeast Asia and you’re sure to find some version of a meat patty wrapped in a bun. For some reason this American classic has other people hooked, albeit poor spellings on menus and misconceptions of what a bun should look like.

Pringles

It’s not just chips in general, but there’s something about “once you pop you can’t stop,” that has seduced the international consumer. Turns out they’re marketed in at least a hundred countries and bring in $1 billion in sales. Sure, in other countries the packaging is often smaller,  because other places know better than to serve up ten servings in one container that we’re sure to down in a single sitting — but those brightly colored canisters with the goofy, mustached man are all over the place.

Mediocre – yet complicated – coffee drinks

Leave it to the global coffee chain Starbucks to make it perfectly acceptable to order a caramel machiatto in countries where coffee consumption is holy. The result is, well, abhorrent. Thanks to the chain it’s trendy to cruise the streets of Paris with a disposable cup and you can now buy Frappacinos in Guatemala. The company’s new instant product alone was responsible for $100 million in global sales last year.

Peanut Butter

It seems like such a staple product and yet for many it’s a luxury. Some love it and some hate it, but peanut butter to Europeans is just as exotic as caviar and foie gras are to many Americans. Try tracking it down outside of the U.S. and you’ll have a difficult time, and yet somehow, everyone knows about it. A former, very typical French roommate of mine (he wouldn’t dream of keeping his smelly cheeses in the refrigerator), thought there was nothing better on his weekend brioche than some good old Jiffy, imported by friends of course.

But forget our foodie reputation for a second.

Although it would be great to be known for all the fantastic, organic and healthy items that many American chefs whip up on a daily basis, wanting to be respected for our food culture is almost a little vain. What we should be more concerned with is how we’re physically impacting the rest of the world.

With obesity rates skyrocketing around the world, and often attributed to imported food, maybe it’s time we took a step back and asked ourselves what we want our global food influence to be.

Hot dogs and high fructose corn syrup? Changing what’s on our plates at home has a larger influence than we may think.

Originally published here.

Written by Anna Brones

March 31, 2011 at 07:07