In this web show, Dan Pashman shows us alternative ways to eat traditional foods.  And this episode is about PB&J.  His guest, Lee Zalben, owner of Peanut Butter & Co. (a restaurant in New York City based on serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), shows us a traditional way of making a PB&J.  One slice of bread has peanut butter and the other has jelly, and then you put them together and that’s a PB&J.  But then Dan offers an alternative, you have jelly on both slices of bread and with peanut butter in-between.  Dan goes on to create a PBB&J, which is a hollowed out bagel with peanut butter and jelly on both sides and the innards of the bagel dipped in butter.  Zalben reacts negatively to both the sandwiches Pashman creates.  The PBB&J is understandable, but it interesting (for the first one) that even simply switching how the peanut butter and jelly are applied can create an inferior sandwich in his eyes.  We all have our own ideas of how things should be done and it seems that the smaller something is, the more important it is to us.

More about Peanut Butter & Co

I found this National Geographic article by Karen Pinchin, dated March 1, 2014, that fits in well with some of the readings this week. Its focus is on how certain foods that are now associated with the American South have really originated from Africa and found their way here when slaves brought their seeds over here. The article specifically looks at a couple individuals who recognize the African origins of red beans, okra, and gumbo. The article is a rather short one, and therefore doesn’t get into a whole lot of detail exploring a myriad of different foods, but it does do a decent job of relating these foods to the present day.

Of particular interest is the mention of  Emeline Jones, who, according to University of South Carolina professor David Shields, was a slave who “rose to the pinnacle of American culinary life with her extravagant multicourse meals.” The article states that Jones, while a cook in 1870s New York clubs, “earned admiration—and job offers” after her food was sampled by Presidents James Garfield, Chester Arthur, and Grover Cleveland. Pinchin states that the Presidents “sampled her fabulous meals of terrapin and canvasback duck, Lynnhaven oysters and crab salad, hominy cakes and fabulous confections.” This is interesting because, as we’ve seen with Eliza Smith, Amelia Simmons, Mary Randolph, Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Ward Beecher, and Malinda Russell, food was Emeline Jones’ way of making her impact on American culture. Now, I’m sure her goal wasn’t to “make an impact” on American culture, but simply to make a living. Still, for an African-American woman in the 1870s, it is striking that food allowed this woman (as it had with the previously-listed women) to essentially break through certain social barriers of the time.

The Fine Art Food Challenge

In numerous ways we’ve discussed the connections between aesthetics and food. From the philosophy of taste to the art of the obento boxes, we’ve seen how food, art, and culture can connect. While it’s important to understand and study these connections, this article points out some of the more absurd connections between higher art and food. Compared to the cute and precise design of the obento boxes, these “artistic” food creations can be seen for what they truly are: a fun joke. Regardless, seeing Frido Kahlo’s work recreated with salmon on mashed potatoes provides a humorous deviant from the serious themes in our course readings.

Although these dishes are vastly different from other meals and works that we’ve discussed, the connection between the dishes in these articles points out some interesting factors. Seeing classic masterpieces recreated as food shows that we can consider food to be equivalent to other artistic media. On a fundamental level, we’re capable of viewing food as a media for higher art. In addition, we’re capable of spotting patterns between forms of media, showing that in some contexts, we can say that food is directly compared to painting or photography. The fact that a serious analysis can be made of these absurd pieces provides interesting insight to the nature of taste and the ideas that we have when analyzing art.

Despite all of this, one point made by the article is the idea that “People who ate a salad arranged like a Kandinsky painting said it tasted better and was worth more money than a typical pile of greens.” This idea can directly relate to our theory of taste: two otherwise identical dishes now provide different experiences based on a combination with another sense, the visual layout of the food. In a way I feel as if this article somewhat complicates our concept and theory of taste, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The clash between the trivial and joking nature of these dishes and their large scale context provides an interesting perspective on taste.

When one thinks about British food from outside point of view, one of the first thought is Fish and Chips. While such a food has been an important part of British history that it is even served to this day cannot be denied, but there is more to British cuisine. In the article above, it details about other food presented outside of the quick and easy that is generally associated with British food culture. There are advancements in the recipe much different from the American counterpart to make the meals wholeheartedly British in nature.

Taking into account of the period of this piece, while such recipes have existed, a large number of people wouldn’t have been able to afford it during the period. What the recipe represents is not a norm, but that of the higher class. From previous knowledge, the working class wouldn’t be able to afford to make such luxurious food for one matter. The prominent role of dishes such as Fish and Chips can be traced back to the working class. It is a popular food due to the cheapness in comparison to more wholesome food during the period. Wholesome foods were more expensive, so the working class, looking for more taste, will more likely purchase food that have a stronger taste instead of what their body needs.

In such a manner, examining one’s diet can show more details than just the period landscape. It can even describe one’s social ladder in the world. As such the dishes presented in this article only shows the minority and disparity in comparison to what it mentions as “luncheon meat” and “stodge”. The reason the other food is viewed more commonly than the recipe is that a large number of people ate such foods during that period.

After reading the Obento essay last week, I was fascinated from learning about the many unique and intricate aspects of the Japanese Obento Box.  The fact that this meal went so far beyond food, and displayed many things beyond just taste and visual appeal was very interesting to me.  After we compared the Japanese traditions of making lunch to those of Americans, I quickly got to thinking, what are some other unique aspects of food culture, and how do they compare to how we in the United States treat food?  The article linked above is a perfect brief summary of certain aspects of other food cultures.

Perhaps the most fascinating part to me was the paragraph on food as a status symbol, and how this is very central to the Chinese food culture.  The article notes that Chinese immigrants in the US are easily able to continue the habit of using food as a symbol of wealth, but in a different way.  Instead of serving food with the most fresh or rare ingredients, they latch onto high-status American brands like Starbucks as a status symbol.  This example was to me a perfect instance where the food culture of China adapted and molded to the marketing-heavy aspects of food culture in the United States.

Another aspect touched on was take-out food.  It was noted that French and Italian food is still consumed in overwhelmingly non-takeout situations.  This is something I think America can really learn from, as taking an hour out of the day to eat, be social and relax just a little is something we do on an ever shrinking basis.  I know that our country is incredibly concerned with productivity, and that this focus has made us the economic force we are today, but I can’t help but think we would all be a little better off by taking the time to sit down and enjoy some good food more often.

This article describes some of the complaints that restaurant owners have with the emergence of food trucks in most major cities. It also covers some of the difficulties food truck owners face with modern laws, because they are such a new phenomena. Why have these food trucks become such a big deal though. Food trucks offer a way for someone interested in the restaurant business to start out cheaply. The cost of running a truck is lower than owning a restaurant, and the convince provided by parking right next to a busy company means you always have a prime location. People often choose the connivence that food trucks provide over eating in a restaurant because of their limited free time. Most modern companies put strict time limits on how long you can take for a lunch break, and even people in upper management find that they are only allowed a one hour break for lunch. This doesn’t allow for someone to travel to a restaurant, order their food, and eat with time to make it back to work. People needed a quicker way to get food so they can get back to work, something we are seeing more of as America tries to keep up with other countries workforces. The food trucks offer a perfect solution for the working class people who need a quick lunch or dinner so they can continue their day. However, currently it is tough in some major cities for people to start a food truck. This article covers the difficulty food truck owners face in Omaha where laws require the trucks not be parked for longer then 30 minutes. A law that was never meant to be applied to food trucks, but is making it difficult for more food trucks to open. In Atlanta, current laws make it very difficult for food trucks to get permits and this walls off many people from being able to start their very own truck. It will be interesting to see as laws change and more people began choosing to buy their lunch from these food trucks how it will impact current restaurants and how Americans approach food.

I remember learning about Phillis Wheatley in elementary school, and then again in APUSH and noting that she seemed to be one of those people who got along well with everyone- other freemen and women, slaves, and founding fathers alike. Revisiting her through reading her poetry only strengthened my original perception that Wheatley was largely a people pleaser, however not in an insincere manner. Given the time period and her social standing, I don’t think that she had a choice.

Depending on her intended audience, Wheatley portrays her departure from Africa differently in two of her poems. In  “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, she characterizes her homeland as “pagan” and compares her fellow countryman to the Biblical first murderer, Cain. She clearly states her intended audience as “Christians” and reminds them that “negroes” may become Christians too, which somehow seems to imply that they are inherently inferior to the “Christians” for which the poem is intended. She uses her position as a “refin’d negro” to advocate on behalf of her race who she characterizes as religiously ignorant, while simultaneously expressing gratitude for being delivered from her own ignorance through coming to America.

However, in “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” Wheatley shares a different side of her story. She tells the Earl about how she was “snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat” by “seeming cruel fate” and “what sorrow’s labour” in her parent’s breasts. She shares her story from this perspective to validate her credibility on such popular (then) current events as Freedom and Liberty.

I think these two separate accounts of the same event show Wheatley’s cleverness as well as her political aptitude. She intentionally tailors her life story with a particular audience in mind and it is this adaptability that afforded her what respect she could receive as a women of color in the early Americas and ensured that generations of her fellow American women would know her name.

In reading the series of poems by Phillis Wheatley, it was interesting to see that although Wheatley was writing about slavery and freedom, she chose to take a delightful, pleasant, uplifting tone. In both On Being Brought From Africa to America and To S.M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works, the idea of sweetness is laced throughout the poems.

Although I disagree with Wheatley acknowledging her life pre-capture as the need for “redemption”, her closing lines are solid:

“Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, 
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”

She is using the sugar as a way to describe herself and her people, as a reminder. This directly relates this idea of sweetness to equality, freedom, and redemption. Wheatley also goes on to identify other things as being sweet. In To S.M. A Young African Painter, she is praising an artist she admires for his work in saying:

“Still, with the sweets of contemplation bless’d,
May peace with balmy wings your soul invest!”
She describes contemplation as sweet, desirable and not easily available to all. Considering that S.M. was a slave, Wheatley is expressing the value of contemplation, being able to think for oneself, and, as a result, create beautiful art.

To me, the ideal of sweetness juxtaposes the underlying wealth of bitterness that surrounds slavery and deferred freedom. In relation to taste, this is the figurative interpretation of what taste is. The collected thoughts and experiences are blended together to develop the taste, or in this case, appreciation, for things not had often — freedom.

This resource is a Ted talk by Sheena Iyengar, who studies how people make choices. Her talk directly relates to our conversation on Thursday regarding cultural differences and different forms of influences. For example, she mentions how the Japanese refused to serve her green tea with sugar. From their point of view there were pre-established rules and norms and they would rather lie to her than allow her to “act foolish and let her break the norms”. She then discusses cultural differences how they affect who we allow to make choices for us. Again, like a few of us commented during class, this has to do with whether or not we were raised in a collectivist or individualist society. So for the Obento example, there was probably huge pressure because the choice to prepare an obento was made by society as a whole rather than individuals, and there was pressure to act in such a manner.


Her second point relates to our discussion of Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches; more specifically, how given infinite options we all tend to gravitate towards one. Her example was offering a beverage to East Europeans that she was interviewing after the fall of the iron curtain. In her mind, they were being offered a large variety of beverage options: Coke, Sprite, Pepsi, etc. What seemed bizarre was that the respondents would say “there is really only one choice, soda!” Again this relates to how most of us had sandwiches for lunch. Of course they have been different types like tuna, BLT, or ham and cheese, but in reality they were all just sandwiches, having the same common ingredients. This talk is very interesting as it shows that different cultures will see different choice options, even in the field of food, and that is something most of us rarely think about.

“Time, Sugar, and Sweetness” by Sidney Mintz, tracks the consumption of sugar and its fluctuating usage over time, especially in the Western world. One section of the work that stood out to me was his discussion on why sugar was one of the few commodities that filtered down from the elite to the working class. There was a shift in the working class diet from the everyday breakfast of porridge and milk to tea, store bought bread and jam or preserves containing sugar. The thing that is most interesting about this change is the fact that the newer diet was less nutritious and more costly. While one investigator attributes this to laziness, others point out the increase in women in the workforce and subsequent decrease in the free time available to prepare dishes like oatmeal or home-baked bread. Although the work cites statistics from the 19th century, I believe traces of this trend exist still today. Although our sugar is sometimes hidden in more unusual places such as bread, meat and condiments, its biggest consumers are still criticized for some sort of perceived “laziness”. In today’s strive toward health, there is a general distain for the families that eat at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. It could be noted that the majority of people who often eat at fast food restaurants are of a lower economic class than those who eat only organic or another opposing dietary style. If we use Mintz’s writing to analyze the perception of these individuals, we could argue that although the food is of a less nutritious nature, these families benefit from a high sugar diet by consuming more calories for less money. Furthermore, the idea of free time to cook family meals is a luxury that many people do not have. As the piece highlights, there is a close tie between economic class and consumption and this idea continues to hold truth.