In the fifth chapter of High on the Hog, “In Sorrow’s Kitchen”, Jessica Harris writes about the influence of African slaves on the South. This influence primarily occurs in the form of Southern food, and to an equal extent (but not equal focus), Southern behavior and customs. Harris first recounts her visit to the South and tours of old plantations, before diving into the focal point of the chapter – Southern slavery. Here she first lays out the state of slavery in the South, as well as some clarifications regarding how slavery varied across different sections of the South. She then explores the links between slaves and their food. In her discourse on African slaves and food, Harris begins by giving the reader a picture of how slaves were fed. Such a picture yields on one hand a stark contrast, and on the other, quite a similar comparison, to how early settlers fed themselves. Certainly some of the information within the text consisted of fact that I was not aware of (such as some slaves hunting and preparing their own food after dark).

The most interesting parts of the chapter are those that speak to the slaves’ influence through cooking. In examining eating in early America, as is the case with other things, it is easy to separate the experiences of free, white Americans from those of enslaved blacks. What is striking about the information in this chapter, however, is how linked they are. Where some early Americans’ eating habits developed from a need to live off of the land, or to adopt certain practices from Native Americans, others’ came from the cooking done by African slaves. Among the most fascinating facts are those regarding several cookbooks that serve as definitive American cookbooks with definitive early American foods, specifically that many of the dishes in these books are African-based in nature.

Arguably the most recognizable influence of African slaves, if Harris is to be believed, is that on definitive Southern behavior and manners. Everyone knows about Southern slavery, but everyone (I believe) also knows of the concept of Southern hospitality and Southern manners. I’m not sure if anyone would make the connection between this typically-Southern characteristic and the African slave, or between this and food. It has been said by some that African slaves were integral to the building up of early American infrastructure – the nation itself. Certainly, they were also integral to the development of American, particularly Southern, behavior and food.

The first passage read was High on the Hog by Jessica Harris.  Harris begins by describing the different conditions and environments that slaves worked in across the south, but then goes into detail about the foods the slaves were fed, which was pretty minimal.  Usually it was about a half pound of meat and some corn meal per day, anything else the slaves would have to grow themselves with the little free time they had after working the field all day. But of course, the slaves were also the ones cooking the meal for the masters.  When slaves were brought to the South from West Africa, they also brought their local customs and ingredients and these persisted through generations.  Harris notes that in The Virginia House-wife by Randolph, many of the ingredients have origins in Africa.  And that the essential Southern Hospitality is more similar to local customs in West Africa than England or Europe.  African slaves made a huge impact on Southern culture and makes is so distinct from Northern or Western cultures, but most people aren’t aware of this influence.

She mentions that the modern idea of large plantation with hundreds of slaves is not a very accurate representation of what slavery really was.  Most slave owners had less than ten and the treatment of the slaves varied from region to region, depending mostly on what crop is grown there.  But movies, like Gone with the Wind, have created a singular idea of what slavery was.  Media, especially media, has a huge effect of how we remember events from the past.  World War II is see as a noble struggle against tyranny and evil, and most WWII movie have these same themes.  Whereas Vietnam was seen as a wasteful and unnecessary war, and so Vietnam movie have the opposite message to WWII movie.  But of course, do our feelings of the event affect how we portray them, or is it our portrayal that determines our feelings?  American Sniper received much criticism for being pro-war propaganda.  We’ll have to wait a couple years to see how the movie lines up with the national idea of the Iraq War.

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

30 Things You Need To Cook In November

This is a Buzzfeed article on what to cook for the month of November. I find this a very interesting article, because it discusses what food items are in season in November. In today’s day and age, there is no such thing as a in-season dish. With modern technology and chemicals, we are able to eat all the different types of fruits and vegetables throughout the year. You can get mangoes in December and apples in June. Mankind has able to transcend the barriers placed by Nature. However, in transcending these barriers, mankind has forgotten the true taste of these fruits and vegetables. We, as a society, have no recollection of what it is to taste, say, a strawberry during its natural season. In our compulsive need for having what we want, when we want, we have completely neglected the taste of the food items. Before food technology came into being, people were restricted to foods that would grow according to season. They were privileged enough to really taste the fruits and vegetables that grew during that time. There was more appreciation for the dish as people knew that they would not be able to make all year long. Food and eating held a more importance in people’s lives. Nowadays, eating has become more of an activity than an art. Coming from a culture where every desire is needed to be met quickly, we have lost appreciation for the simple things in life.

After reading “A Culinary Declaration of Independent” by McWilliams, something stood out to me. The author kept making references to how Americans tended their land and its effect on their ideology. The concept sounded familiar, and for a very good reason. As it appears Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers, The Story of Success,” discusses how Asian rice farming influenced our modern global achievement gap such that Asians outperform everyone else on mathematics. After re-reading the chapter on this topic, it was clear that Gladwell is making a connection similar to that of McWilliams; the method of food production of older generations influences the values and abilities of later generations. This transition can occur for various reasons, from epigenics to cultural anecdotes; yet regardless of why and how it occurs, the transition is observable. The question is how did the way colonists provide food for themselves, influence the way we function today?

One very easy to see example is the American Dream. As per McWilliams, “America was a place where white people could cultivate their own garden and live a better life that they would have back home for the simple reason that they owned good land and had the fortitude to make it yield a profit.… an American dream.” This definition certainly has changed, but the “Dream” is still intact for many. Thousands of people move to the US for the prospects of a better life, because the conditions are better suited for such a dream to be achieved. Although these conditions no longer rely on working hard to make a farm and be sustainable, it can be viewed in terms of economics and businesses. For example, the US ranked in the top 10 for the Global Ease of Doing Business index. To add on to this possibility, we place high value in startups, especially those in fields. And this is also historically relevant as McWilliams provides a lengthy discussion of the importance of and value of “the frontier”.  Just starting a new business is viewed as heroic and held up as an example of the American Dream and the Freedom in America, so was the frontier a place where farmers were free from British influence and tamed the untamed land.

It is quite fascinating how such simple everyday events of the past could go so far as to represent that value of the future. Of course the method of production may not necessarily be the only source of these grand values from politics to focus of our lives, authors such as McWilliams and Gladwell support the idea. If this is in fact true and influential to the future, there may be some frightening questions and implications. For example our focus on simplicity and hard work, once a staple of survival off of farming and a virtue for colonists, has forged a culture of necessary conveniences and a time poor culture in the US. Yes, we all work hard to achieve our goals; but we pay for it by giving up our connection with our food supply (a topic discussed by Pollen) and consume more and more premade and convenient forms of food. I am filled with fear and wonder for the future by this fact. How will our current modes of life, influence the lives and values of the future?

On a day-to-day basis, the multiple critics and sources of food make it difficult for one to even decide what they want for dinner.  Food blogs, television shows, phone applications, magazines, and cookbooks take the complex issue of flavor and nutrition and turn it into a plethora of critiques, opinions, and information.  When looking through a historical lens, the task of tracing our nation’s history with food becomes indeterminate.  Andrew Haley’s The Nation Before Taste: The Challenges of American Culinary History looks at all of the social, political, and cultural issues that have developed America’s taste in food.

The contemporary the kitchen is nothing like it was 50 years ago, let alone during 18th century.  Foods’ flavor and preparation techniques are equally different to the 1800’s.  Food produced in small kitchens filled with bacteria, inaccurate measurements, inefficient tools, and tainted ingredients contrast greatly to those cooked in a modern city with innovative technology, gas ovens, and measuring equipment.  Where today food is eaten, criticized, and praised for its flavors, food in the 18th century was prepared for pedigree, nutritional, and social means.  Traditionally, when going to cook a meal today, cookbooks are followed word-by-word with little creativity or deviation, or Yelp and Urbanspoon point us in the direction of top-rated cuisines nearby.  These affordances were not readily available in the colonial era, thus food would alter and change with each preparation. Thus, tracing foods of that time period can be described within a primary source, but it is difficult to imagine the flavors and experience of each dish.

Gender, class, and popular culture also developed tastes and flavors sporadically within American Culture.  In the 19th and 20th century women being suggested to consume foods with high levels of oils, fats, starches, and sugars and middle-class Americans were visiting slums for its unique foods and experiences.  Food became a driver in experimentation, but International food was not within that realm. Though the native French Food was considered prestigious, German, Mexican, and other national cuisines were lost to a racial divide. Restaurants could only be afforded by the rich, creating further divides, even though their diets were very similar.

The develop of food culture in America has been a long and twisting path, but its many cultural influences lead to a difficult history to trace without a first-hand.  Though the information of food blogs, television, magazines, and cookbooks can appear overwhelming, they provide a way to document through a personal,  professional, and critical lens.

If former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson had a dietary expert counterpart, this morning’s news would—and does—qualify as nothing short of a bombshell. The World Health Organization published “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat” based on findings from a recent meeting of 22 scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France. It seems that the common unrequited love for fatty, smoked pork strips has been clandestinely overrun with known carcinogens including N-nitroso compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heterocyclic aromatic amines—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen at the most basic level. Sound familiar? It should not surprise anyone that these compounds exist in fully cooked foods…and have most likely been present in human diets since the first human roasted the day’s kill over a smoky fire.

“Does this mean my bacon-and-egg breakfast is completely ruined?” Your call. Will your bacon (or pork loin or filet mignon) suddenly taste worse since you could possibly develop colorectal ailments later in life? Today’s news, like most epidemiological studies concerning popular foods, will precipitate fairly fascinating developments in consumption habits as additional information comes to light. Much like Haley’s dyspepsia discussion in “The Nation before Taste,” the general public could suddenly shun processed meats to the dismay of livestock farmers the world over, or the hype could subside in two weeks as prominent scientists debunk the original report and sustain existing recommendations for a balanced diet. The bottom line here is that yet again, taste, which we have collectively qualified as a complicated conglomeration of physical, psychological, chemical, & social responses, continues to be confounded by factors almost entirely external to the gustatory experience associated with consumption.

In class we looked at Martha Stewart’s horrific looking food and how it was unappealing, badly photographed, and unappetizing. Today many people decide were or not they like a food solely on the appearance. At someone point or another everyone has had that moment when a friend or they themselves got served a meal and wouldn’t even try it because you could tell just by looking at it you wouldn’t like it. There has been a shift from focusing on the taste food to focusing on the appearance of food. This shift takes away from one of the most important things about food that is how it tastes. Dishes today are garnished with an assortment of different food items in order to make the dish more aesthetically pleasing, but those decorative foods do little to enhance the flavor of the dish. Instead of focusing on the appearance of food there should be a larger focus on how it taste. People shouldn’t be so quick to judge a dish before simply trying it for themselves. There are many food that do not look tasty, but are in fact delicious if their appearance is ignored. So why is it today that the appearance of food has become so important? Is it because of the focus on the appearance of people that has this triggered this focus on the appearance of food or something entirely different?

569: Put a Bow on It

This NPR program discusses the process that Hardee’s goes through in order to create new burgers. It turns out that this process is very complicated and involves a group of executives. The program discusses the larger implications of the creation of a new fast food item. The taste of a new burger is far from the most important determining factor as to whether or not it should be added as a menu item. The executives strive to make a product that will be attractive to their target audience and lead to repeat customers. The executives note how the most successful new burgers are simply “mash-ups” of already well known products. A customer is likely to buy and enjoy something familiar presented in a new way rather than taking a risk on something completely new. The program discusses the successes and failures of such “mash-ups” in the fast food industry. The KFC sandwich “double down” is noted on being an initial success because of its ability to be sold to new customers, but an ultimate failure because of a lack of repeat purchasers. TacoBell’s “Dorito Locos Tacos” are mentioned as an overwhelming success because they never stopped selling.

I felt that this program was relevant to class because it examines the nuances associated with making a new product. Communication through food is very complex and this fact is made very obvious in this program. It takes weeks for executives to decide which burgers can be put to trial, and even after that has been determined they need to figure out how to sell the new product to a customer. Additionally, their concern with making a narrative through food explores the complex role food fills in American culture.

This is a fairly long New York Times article from 2009 that speaks a lot about the Julie & Julia movie, and in doing so hits several themes that pertain to our class as well. I am going to focus on two ideas for this post: the decrease in actual cooking and the differing views of food media.

We have been speaking a lot in our class about recipes and their significance, but I think the article touches on an interesting point that the actual cooking rates are decreasing with the advent of ready to eat foods and people getting busier with work, which doesn’t allow time for cooking. It’s interesting then that people enjoy watching cooking shows and reading recipe blogs, however, these recipes are usually saved for a special occasion or for company, but not necessarily for everyday cooking. It’s fascinating then to see the popularity of food shows, when the emphasis on cooking is decreasing.

Another idea that was interesting to me in the article was the idea of how food shows and media are presented now. The majority of the shows present a very glamorous view of cooking and the food always looks great at the end of the show, however, the author of the article mentions a time when Julia Child dropped a potato pancake on the floor on television and allowed that to be aired. This would probably not happen on a television show today as the shot would be redone, which makes me think about how the cooking shows today are as much about the entertainment and glamour of cooking as they are about the actual food being produced. This was something we touched on when we looked at various blogs in class, as we talked about how they are created to project a certain image or experience to the reader, which was just as important as their recipes. The reason for this may be that perception is changing of food and tv shows because they are considered entertainment as well as knowledge, as there are many shows on air now that do not focus on recipes but other aspects of food such as decoration or finding the best food spots around the world.

These are some of the reasons why I thought this article was interesting – it shows an interesting change in time of the interaction between food and media.