Circular Cruises/Food North and South

From Eccentric Flower

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Food North and South

11 June 1997

Here's a little cartoon I drew about two years ago.






A while back, a couple of co-workers and I were having a little discussion about food. One is Chinese and the other is from India. They wanted me to tell them: What is American food?

I told them that I had no idea. In restaurants I frequent I suppose the closest thing to American food is the stuff the brewpubs serve - substantial meat-and-potatoes food, to go with beer - but upon consideration it always reveals itself as British or German pub food with only minor alterations.

I asked people online. The consensus, such as it was, seemed to be that steak is the quintessential American food. Big Midwestern beef, no doubt fed on all those amber waves of grain I keep hearing about.

But in the time of the Pilgrims, the primary American food was fish. Fish sustained New England, enabled it to survive. And New England, more so than most of the country, is a refuge of hidebound traditionalists.

- - -

I grew up with a different idea of seafood - a different selection of creatures, to be sure, but the main difference is seasoning - or lack thereof.

New Englanders don't season their food ... and, remembering that all generalizations are false, I will go further out on a limb and say that the true New Englanders don't really enjoy food - it's just not that important to them. They eat to live. They never live to eat.

Now, Boston has many good restaurants and plenty of good food. But I submit to you that the people going to those restaurants are not of the old guard. They are not the bluecollars of South Boston, nor the bluebloods of Beacon Hill (a nearly extinct species), whose ideas of fine dining are limited to very plain tastes.

The true New Englander, if you can still find him, would argue back that we newcomers and upstarts overseason our food - overcomplicate it ... that he looks for the single clean taste, for elegant simplicity ... and I can see something in that, even if I still feel that lobster is a bland and overrated crustacean.

And I am being overly harsh. The barriers have long since been broken - New Englanders are learning red pepper and garlic, and in return teaching that a simple broil is sometimes the very best thing you can do to a piece of fish - there is, in short, cultural exchange.

But I want more.

I come from a culture where food is a religion, a gathering, a conversation piece, a social event - I come from a culture where people sometimes spend the meal talking about their next meal, talking about other great meals they've eaten - I come from a culture where food is more than food.

And being thrust into a place where food is often less than food - despite many vocal advocates to the contrary - is, and probably always will be, something of a shock to me.

- - -

By the way, the cursive font in the cartoon panels is not my handwriting, which is fairly illegible. It's a font called Wordy Diva by Chank Diesel.

Copyright © June 1997. All rights reserved.

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