American cuisine has two simple rules governing it, I found.
You often have to step outside a system to see it with fresh eyes. First, I’ll describe that process.
Stepping outside the system
We’ve seen pictures of plastic choking once-pristine beaches and wilderness. One day three years ago I looked down at my kitchen’s garbage and saw that most of my garbage came from food packaging.
I decided to try to go a week without buying any packaged food. Despite not knowing how I would do it, I went two-and-a-half weeks without any. In the three years since, I use maybe 5% of the packaging I used to and I’ve emptied my garbage maybe five or six times. Recycling maybe ten times.
If I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.
Now there’s no going back to all those boxes, cans, bags, rubber bands, stickers, bottles, and so on. My diet relies almost entirely on fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, and, from the bulk food section, nuts, spices, and whole grains that I bring home in reusable containers.
Now I consider the change among the best things I’ve done in my life. It revealed more about flavors, textures, health, pollution, taste, and more about food.
Most of all, my diet is more delicious, costs less, is more convenient, and is more social since I host guests more and have met the farmers growing most of my vegetables and fruit.
By American cuisine, I don’t mean home-cooked from scratch. I do mean nearly every restaurant and home-cooked from packaged, which in this country is nearly all comfort food.
If you home-cook from scratch, the rules may not apply to you. Americans overwhelmingly eat out or heat prepared food, so you’re in a small minority.
Rule 1: Healthy doesn’t taste good so you have to cover it up
Rarely will you find unadulterated healthy ingredients at a restaurant or prepared food in America.
Instead you will find them “fixed” in some way
- Covered with a sweet sauce
- Covered with an oily sauce
- Covered with a salty sauce
- Fried or deep fried
- Sugared or salted
- Served with a dip
The main result of Rule 1 is sugar, salt, and fat covering up vegetable flavors.
The irony is that after foregoing Ben & Jerry’s for a couple weeks, apples taste sweeter than ice cream used to, since all sugar in ice cream saturates your taste buds. At least that was my experience.
Rule 2: Give quantity, implying value for their money
Americans want to see they’re getting what they paid for, which they measure in quantity, not quality.
What adds quantity cheaper than grains?
Nothing, so the result is serving the once-healthy, now sweetened, salted, or greased main ingredient with mounds of
How to Americanize any food
To make an American version of any food, simply apply these two rules. In practice, that means adding sugar, salt, and fat to the central ingredients, then serving it with a lot of filler.
I wish I knew of counter-examples but they are rare — maybe 1% of American food as served or prepared.