Fad Diets: A Study on Pasta in America – Jenna Grace Cooper

Jenna Grace Cooper

Dr. Li & Dr. Ristaino

CHN375W

29 June 2018

Fad Diets: A Study on Pasta in America

Pasta is the universally accepted staple in nearly every diet in the developed world, eaten by the rich and the poor, vegetarians and carnivores, and children and adults. Yet, its diverse and customizable nature allow the pasta to span cultures, continents, and language. From ancient Italy when Marco Polo rediscovered the noodle from China to the expansive rows of dried boxed pasta found on the grocery shelf today, the noodle plays an integral role in the American, Chinese and Italian diets. The noodle transcends time and adapts to new current environments with new technology. These innovations coincide with health, economic, and social trends which give way to new patterns of eating as society advances. With the growing obesity public health crisis and resulting health food movement in the United States, Americans look towards fad diets as a quick solution to their problems which severely alters the American agricultural and economic landscape in addition to detrimental effects on personal health effects. According to the University of Pittsburg Schools of Health Sciences, a fad diet can be characterized as:

a diet that is promising quick weight loss through what is usually an unhealthy and unbalanced diet, targeting people who want to lose weight quickly without exercises, and restricting certain foods. This can make [fad diets] difficult to follow on a long-term basis and some can actually be harmful to one’s health (“Fad Diets”).

These trendy fad diets lack the necessary nutrients that are vital to have well-balanced meals and proper nutrition. Compared to other cultures such as the Italy’s Mediterranean Diet and the traditional Chinese/Asian diet, America’s population of health is waning. This paper will look at both the situation leading to the fad diets that effect the pasta industry among various economic backgrounds and global cultures and the social outcomes that result from consumption.

While one might assume that Americans’ obsession with fad diets would stem directly from vanity and consumer culture, the origins of fad diets date back to the practices of Olympic athletes of ancient Mediterranean city of Athens, Greece (Applegate, 869S). The Greek Olympians practiced a symbolic form of dietary restrictions including consuming deer liver and lion heart before competition to impart bravery, speed or strength to improve their performance (Applegate, 869S). Following the creation of exercise science in the early twentieth century, fad diets became more popular for their science-based practices like carb loading, taking ergogenic aids, or excessive caffeine consumption (Applegate, 869S). In the past, fad diets have focused on the rapid improvement of performance of athletes, usually only during young ages for a short period of time, similar to a training regimen. However, as the American epidemic of obesity has grown, fad diets have taken a turn towards rapid weight loss, often at unrealistic goals.

Fad diets promote limited diets that are not sustainable for the long term. The Atkins diet preaches an “ad-libitum consumption of fatty meat, butter, and other high-fat dairy products, restricting only the intake of carbohydrates to under 30 grams a day” (Astrup, 897). The Zone diet encourages every meal to be comprised of four percent carbohydrates, thirty percent protein, and thirty percent fat to reach the “zone” which is a physiological state that can be measured in clinical tests” (Cheuvront, 1). More recently, the Gluten-Free diet, used to treat patients with Celiac disease, has become a widespread phenomenon across America among nearly twenty million non-celiac consumers (Nettleton). The Paleo diet encourages only foods “similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to ten thousand years ago” (Mayo Clinic). This diet consists of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, only those that could be found by hunter-gatherers. Among many other variations, these fad diets focus on low consumption of carbohydrates, offering a faster metabolism, speedy weight loss without an indication on long term effects, which has caused both the social and economic environment surrounding food to shift.

The State of Pasta

            According to the National Pasta Association, the average American consumes approximately twenty pounds of pasta annually, making it the sixth highest food per capital in the country (National Pasta Association). Pasta has adapted to every shape, size, or flavoring that a consumer could desire. It is widely available at any supermarket with rows of boxes dominating shelves in dried or frozen varieties at a very affordable price. In a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive, researchers found that fifty-nine percent of American adults eat noodles or pasta in a meal at least once a week (Daniels).

While the origins of pasta are often linked to the Italian merchant, Marco Polo, and his travels on the Silk Road to China during the thirteenth century, historical evidence s of pasta have been linked to Etruscan tombs from the early fourth century BCE (Vita, ix). The popularity of pasta grew during the Renaissance as the dish would sit among aristocrats and incorporate pork and beef ingredients to make raviolis (López). By the late seventeenth century, pasta became a mainstay among the peasantry and commoners of Italy with its cheap wheat prices, compared to the increasing meat cost, the creation of an industrial manufacturing which made is more economical to produce, and its role as a filling alternative for when eating meat was banned in the Christian communities (López). As pasta spread across the world, it made its way to America during colonization.

Similar to the Italians’ affection towards pasta, the English expats came to enjoy pasta regularly, particularly among the upper class, some even importing from Italy (Kummer). The first pasta factory in America is credited to Frenchman, Antoine Zerega who set up shop on the Brooklyn waterfront in New York in 1848 (“History”). However, by the time of the Civil War, pasta factories were widespread, and macaroni and cheese became an American dish. This lead to pasta falling out of fashion, and it was no longer served at upscale restaurants (Kummer). Pasta, as many Americans know it today, as a staple of the middle class emerged after the large wave of Italian immigration during the end of the nineteenth century (Kummer). America’s grocery store consumer culture began to heat up after Chef Boyardee launched canned pasta in 1928, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese started selling in 1937 (Kummer). These commercially available pastas became some of America’s favorites and indispensable among the middle-class market, due to its long shelf life as dried or canned food, slow-releasing carbohydrates and its price accessibility.

Today, pasta innovations have expanded to reach every market condition. Fad diets have inspired healthful alternatives to regular white pasta produced by the top pasta companies such as Barilla with variations such as gluten-free dried pasta boxes, Zoodles, spiralized zucchini in the shape of spaghetti noodles, vegetable-infused orange and green pasta, protein-enriched pasta, cellophane noodles made of mung bean, and spaghetti-like tendrils from summer squashes. These types of pastas and substitutes are available at large supermarket chains such as Walmart, Publix, Kroger, and Whole Foods at a few dollars for multiple servings. Despite variety available, according to Mintel, overall pasta sales have continued to decline since 2011 due to the growing health concerns (Daniels).

The Health Condition

            The condition of Americans regarding physical health has declined in the recent years with obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases as the leading ailments of consumer health, leading many to look to fad diets and new regimens. In 1992, the United States Department of Agriculture published the first American Food Guide Pyramid which emphasizes foods from five major food groups to provide the nutrients needed to each day (USDA). The guide included six to eleven servings of grain, two to four servings of fruit, three to five servings of vegetables, two to three servings of meat, two to three servings of milk and dairy products, and fats, oils and sweets to be used sparingly (USDA). While other less,-detailed food guides were published prior to the Food Guide Pyramid, the marketing campaign for the new version increased popularity along with the implementation of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990 (Office of Regulatory Affairs, FDA). The Food Guide Pyramid was updated in 2005 to include “physical activity and the concepts of variety, moderation, and proportion,” and it was later replaced by MyPlate, a visual representation of proportions of healthy eating, “not intended to provide a specific message” (Welsh, 6-11).

            These guidelines have often caused public confusion due to the variety of diets and conflicting reports of what is “best.” However, the Mediterranean diet, followed by most Italians, and the Asian diet food pyramid, followed by most Chinese, along with the American food pyramid, all agree that including plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits with physical activity, moderate consumption of alcohol, and limited sugar are practices of a healthy lifestyle (Center of Nutritional Policy and Promotion). In addition to differences in diet based on availability of agricultural products, cultural practices are often incorporated into the historical eating patterns. For example, compared to American diet, red meat is occasionally recommended monthly for Asian and Mediterranean diets with eggs and poultry as the primary protein sources, the Asian diet contains limited dairy products in mostly low-fat forms, and oils are devoted to regional differences with olive oil for Mediterranean, peanut oil for the Asian, and vegetable oils for Americans (Center of Nutritional Policy and Promotion).

            While these various pyramids spanning the world’s cultural and medicinal differences, it is clear that pasta as a grain, is beneficial to the diet in reasonable quantities on a low-glycemic index food. In a recent study published by St. Michael’s Hospital, a group of thirty randomized controlled trials including over two thousand five hundred people at three servings of past a week instead of other carbohydrate. Research found that participants lost approximately one and a half kilograms over a median follow-up of twelve weeks, concluding that “pasta does not have an adverse effect on body weight outcomes when it is consumed as a part of healthy dietary pattern” (Chiavaroli). The study was published in April of 2018 and received low coverage in the national media—the more popular narrative, sometimes called “carbophobia,” a reference to America’s apparent fear of carbohydrates, continues to affect the economic outcomes of pasta in the United States.

The Economic Condition

The future economic outlook of the pasta industry widely depends on the consumer behavior and public perception in the upcoming years. As discussed, pasta is an affordable meal for nearly all economic classes, yet it seen as a simplistic dish commonly associated with lower social status. Economic studies on pasta indicate the divide on social classes and income levels. Barilla is the largest pasta company in the world with $3.5 billion in sales (Sorvino). In a relatively localized industry, Barilla holds ten percent of the worldwide sales of pasta and thirty percent in the dry pasta market. Consumer insights for the Barilla indicate that when consumers purchase Barilla pasta over other brands, they pay primarily with food stamps with the pricing index of 122, secondarily with credit at index of 105, in cash at index of 103, and with debit at an index of 90 (“Barilla”). This indicates that the groups of consumers who purchase Barilla pasta over other brands, use the opposite forms of payments. Food stamps are limited to the type of ingredients bought at the grocery store and require a low income, whereas those who pay with credit typically have no limitations on types of food to purchase, must be in good standing with a bank, are typically employed with a disposable income. This represents the divide among pasta with the reason attributing to the strong influence of fad diets.

To increase market share, Barilla has invested $26.5 million to expand its pasta plants with two gluten-free options which now make up two percent of its volume sold in the US market (Sorvino). According to Euromonitor, global sales of gluten-free pasta increase eighty-nine percent since 2016, and Forbes projects this growth to expand by forty-three percent by 2020 (Sorvino). This investment directly resulted in the change in consumer index measurements which indicate that pasta-eaters who make over $100,000 annually are at a 105 index and over $125,000 at index of 120 compared to the index of 88 for less than $20,000 annual salary and 91 for consumers who make less than $40,000 annually of those who purchase Barilla over other brands (“Barilla”). The company’s efforts to be inclusive and incorporate fad diets has led to the increasing purchase by upper-class consumers while still maintaining affordability for lower income communities.

An additional hurdle that can be placed on lower income people is the access to proper nutrition regarding the toppings of the pasta sauce. According to the US Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey, 265.38 million Americans use spaghetti / pasta sauce in 2017 which is projected to increase to 274.48 billion by 2020 (“U.S.: Usage of Spaghetti”). Because pasta acts like a canvas for many other complementary nutrients, pasta can be cooked with additional vegetables, oils, and meats to meet the standards of the American Food Guide Pyramid and the Mediterranean diet. However, for lower income people, it can be a challenged to find affordable, fresh food to top their pasta. These pre-made sauces are a quick and simple addition to the similarly affordable bowl of pasta, but the nutrition can compromise the benefits of eating pasta. Many pre-made tomato and cream-based sauces are packed with high levels of sodium, salt and preservatives (“U.S.: Usage”). In places such as food deserts where a grocery store is unavailable, or a limited spending amount like on Food Stamps, the appeal of pasta is more focused on the slow-burning carbohydrates which create a sense of fullness, rather than nutritional benefits or culinary prowess. These economic conditions presented by food inequality present numerous social hurdles among the different classes as well.

The Social Condition

It is no secret that food can make one happier. According to a study completed by the University of South Alabama, carbohydrates cause a significant effect on mood with both cravings and consumption. The study found that “carbohydrate cravers reported feeling distress prior to their cravings and satisfied, happy, and relaxed following carbohydrate consumption,” and “protein cravers reported feeling anxious or hungry prior to their cravings and happy, normal, bored, and energetic following protein-rich food consumption” (Christensen, 36). These cravings were primarily directed at sweet and sugar-rich foods such as chocolates at twenty-five percent, pasta at thirteen percent, and lower percentages of candy, ice cream, bread and pizza (Christensen, 139). Therefore, giving up pasta for a restrictive, low-carb fad diet can cause unwanted craving which can trigger mood swings, anger, and even depression.

Yet, the social condition of being on a diet is a change in mood itself. Some fad diets have become received cult followings on social media and within younger generations such as the vegan and organic dietary changes. While in the past, restrictive diets have been socially contested as “avoidance of foods because of food intolerance is associated with alternative and unconventional lifestyles, fashion, and trends,” and “being considered a ‘fussy eater’ [was] socially problematic” (Nettleton, 297). Especially among women, fad diets can become a secret guilty pleasure. As Town & Country Magazine, one of the premier publications for women, put it: among the high society/ upper class women and their cohorts, the belief is held that:

it has always been true that you can have your soufflé Furstenberg and eat it, too, just as long as you observe strict rules in private, exercise moderation, and are blessed with good genes. If pressed, though, they’ll lower their voices and dish about what those other girls are doing to stay thin (Widdicombe).

For many women, fad diets are like a new fashion trend: something to show off and to brag about to anyone who will listen. When coupled with social media, fad diets can become a toxic stressor to the participants due its air-brush tools, photoshop, likes and the nature of self-promotion.

A Pew Research project found that thirty-one percent of teens get health, dieting or physical fitness information from the internet, especially among teenage girls (Lenhart, 4). In a similar survey, the National Osteoporosis Society released a study that found four in ten people aged eighteen to twenty-five have tried dieting, twenty percent had to cut their calorie intake of dairy, and the group was most likely to receive their nutritional information from social media (Sherman). With the rise of eating disorders among young men and women, it can be difficult for people to decipher what is actually “a truly holistic, healthy approach versus the obsession with comparing and weight-focused discussions” said Claire Mysko, director of the National Eating Disorder Association to Elle magazine (Sherman). The online environment can affect any members of social classes and prevent people from receiving appropriate nutrients. Fad diets will continue, but proper qualifications on social media are necessary to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Though it may be contested now, trends occur in cycles. There is a rise of innovators, early adopters and early majority, then the late majority and the laggards who eventually catch on. While some of the fad diets trends such as the gluten-free diet, ketogenic diet, and vegan diet have become a mainstay among Americans, the agricultural industry will adapt to the health, economic, and social changes. Pasta is a diverse connector among social classes, economic backgrounds and cultural diversity. Though its health benefits may come to question at times, pasta can be incorporated in proper proportions in a healthy meal plan full of complex carbohydrates, and it can be paired with a variety of nutritious sauces that created a well-balanced diet. The noodle plays an integral role in the American diet and has influenced people, companies and recipes to change. Economic conditions of which demand for pasta declined was adapted with the creation of new pasta innovations. As these pasta innovations and fad diets spread across social media and reach adaptation, patterns of eating are adjusted, and the new versions of American culinary landscape is created.

Works Cited

Applegate, Elizabeth, and Grivetti, Louis. “Search for the Competitive Edge: A History of Dietary Fads and Supplements.” The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 127, Issue 5, 1 May 1997, pp. 869S–873S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/127.5.869S

Astrup, Arne, et al. “Atkins and Other Low-Carbohydrate Diets: Hoax or an Effective Tool for Weight Loss?” The Lancet, vol. 364, no. 9437, 2004, pp. 897–899., doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(04)16986-9.

“Barilla Consumer Insights and Demographics.” Infoscout.co, www.infoscout.co/brand/barilla.

Center of Nutritional Policy and Promotion. “Nutritional Insights: Are All Food Pyramids Equal?” Insights 2. April 1997. Pp. 1-2.

Cheuvront, Samuel N. “The Zone Diet Phenomenon: A Closer Look at the Science behind the Claims.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2003. pp. 22:1, 9-17, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2003.10719271

Chiavaroli L, Kendall CWC, Braunstein CR, et al. “Effect of Pasta in the Context of Low-Glycaemic Index Dietary Patterns on Body Weight and Markers of Adiposity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials in Adults.” BMJ Open 2018;8: e019438. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019438

Christensen, L. and Pettijohn, L. “Mood and Carbohydrate Cravings.” Appetite. Volume 36, Issue 2, 2001. Pages 137-145. ISSN 0195-6663. https://doi.org/10.1006/appe.2001.0390. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666301903903)

Daniels, Jeff. “Pasta Demand Wanes – Even in Italy – as Health-Conscious Consumers See It as a Carb Demon.” CNBC, CNBC, 25 May 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/05/25/pasta-demand-chills-as-health-conscious-eating-trend-affects-sales-.html.

Kummer, Corby. “Pasta.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 July 1986, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1986/07/pasta/306226/.

“History.” National Pasta Association (NPA), ilovepasta.org/history/.

López, Alfonso. “The Twisted History of Pasta.” National Geographic, 1 Nov. 2016, www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2016/07-08/daily-life-pasta-italy-neapolitan-diet/.

Nettleton, S., Woods, B., Burrows, R., & Kerr, A. (2010). “Experiencing Food Allergy and

Food Intolerance.” Sociology, 44, Volume: 44 issue: 2, page(s): 289-305

“Fad Diets.” University of Pittsburg Schools of Health Sciences, www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/nutrition/pages/fad-diets.aspx.

Mayo Clinic. “Paleo Diet: Eat like a Cave Man and Lose Weight?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Aug. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/paleo-diet/art-20111182.

National Pasta Association. “Pasta Facts | Pasta Nutrition Facts.” Pasta Fits, pastafits.org/pasta-facts/.

Office of Regulatory Affairs. “Inspection Guides – Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) Requirements (8/94 – 2/95).” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, www.fda.gov/ICECI/Inspections/InspectionGuides/ucm074948.htm.

Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., Zickuhr, K. “Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Yoing Adults.” Pew Research Internet & American Life Project. February 2010.

Sherman, Elisabeth. “Is Social Media Making Us Eat Poorly?” Food & Wine, www.foodandwine.com/news/experts-say-dieting-crazes-social-media-are-making-millennials-sick.

Sorvino, Chloe. “Pasta Is Trending: Here’s How the Billionaire Barilla Family Heirs Are Taking Advantage.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 July 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/chloesorvino/2016/07/06/pasta-is-trending-heres-how-the-billionaire-barilla-family-heirs-are-taking-advantage/.

United States Department of Agriculture. “The Food Guide Pyramid.” 1992.

 “U.S.: Usage of Spaghetti / Pasta Sauce 2011-2020 | Statistic.” Statista, www.statista.com/statistics/281235/us-households-usage-of-spaghetti–pasta-sauce-trend/.

Vita, Oretta Zanini De, and Maureen B. Fant. Encyclopedia of Pasta. University Presses Of California, 2009.

Welsh, S, Davis, C, and Shaw, A. “A Brief History of Food Guides in the United States. Nutrition Today. November/December 1992:6-11.

Widdicombe, Ben. “An Unofficial History of Rich Women and Their Diets.” Town & Country, Town & Country, 7 May 2018, www.townandcountrymag.com/society/money-and-power/a19702512/rich-women-diets/.

 

 

 

 

Interview Project – Jenna Grace Cooper

 

Interview Project: Noodles on the Silk Road

For my interview project, I chose to interview a 20-year-old female named Mercedes Benites. Mercedes was born in Milan, Italy and lived there for six years. Then, she spent six years with her family in Argentina. At the age of thirteen, she and her family then moved back to Milan. When she turned eighteen, she moved to the Unites States. She spent one year in Iowa and then moved to Georgia where she now resides. Mercedes graduated from Georgia Southwestern State University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She is now serving as an intern in the Governor’s Office of Constituent Services for the state of Georgia. My goal for the project was to analyze the influences of Mercedes’s diverse background on her relationship with food, explore possible culinary fusions and create a dialogue on the immigrant experience for young generations.

Mercedes’ family has ancestors from Italy, Spain and Swiss roots, but she credits most of her upbringing with the Italian and Argentine influences. In Argentina, Mercedes discussed that there is a large presence of European culture with approximately 50 percent Italian, 40 percent Spanish and 10 percent German nationals colonizing the country. Due to the epidemics and colonization wars which killed nearly all the native people, she described the country consisting of very small, close communities with a diverse background. Therefore, her adjustment to American food has not come easy. Like many other Italians, she laments that it is often hard for her to eat food every weekend in the United States. Often appalled by the notion of Italian food in America, Mercedes and other Italians avoid the so-called “Italian-style” chain restaurants such as Olive Garden, for example.

One of Mercedes’s favorite foods is pizza. Yet, there is a very large difference among pizza in Argentina, Italy and America. She cites the quality of the products and the method of cooking as the primary concerns that prevent her indulgence. When it comes to cheese, the fresher the better and less it more. She described her favorite pizza as thin-crust, being cooked on a hot stone in a few minutes, high-quality mozzarella cheese and juicy, but sparse, tomatoes. Much to her chagrin, she hasn’t found a place yet to eat pizza in Atlanta. When she travels to Miami, she gets a taste of home from a pizza shop. Because they import the fresh cheese, produce and even the soil, which she claims is a much higher quality, she always returns in that city.

Though she doesn’t often cook, she learned to make her second favorite food and all-time favorite pasta dish from her mother. Her mother often makes pasta alla carbonara which is a traditional dish made with cubed bacon or pancetta, raw eggs and spaghetti noodles. She raves about the dish and often misses her mother’s cooking. While she has made homemade pasta before, she is particularly interested in the sauce that covers her bowl of noodles. Compared to America, where Walmart runs rampant and pre-made sauces dominate the shelves, Mercedes enjoys the organic aspects of creating the sauces and toppings. It is much more methodical and thoughtful, quality over quantity.

Pasta alla carbonara

When reminiscing on her childhood, Mercedes pointed out the Italian tradition of eating. For the Benites family, every lunch and dinner are eaten with the whole family. These meals include porcelain plates, crystal glasses and cloth napkins. It is more formal family time, and the meal is spread over a much longer time. She laughed saying that the family eats several plates of food and multiple courses including tea and coffee or cake. With her family, she enjoys talking about life, laughing and being present in the moment. Compared to the United States, she joked people would go crazy if Americans had to do that every single day. While most of her meals include just her immediate family with two siblings and her parents, every Sunday in Italy the extended family gathers together to share a meal.

Of the members of the family, her grandmother was the most influential with cooking. But being from Argentina, her family also cooked a significant amount of meat. About three times a week, they would make a traditional Argentine dish, asado,made of beef with cooked a charcoal grill. Compared to the American beef, it has a different taste and texture without heavy sauces like barbeque, only a few simple seasonings.

Argentinean Asado

As previously mentioned, the Argentinean culture often overlaps with the traditions of the Italian people in language, traditions and food. Yet, when asked about fusion recipes, she had trouble coming up with a specific example. Because Italian food overlaps so heavily with Argentinean colonization and history, and dishes “aren’t that complicated” according to Mercedes, the fusion mainly comes from the toppings or sauces. With pasta, a fusion dish may come from a nice cooked chicken with a homemade sauce with little flavor, so the taste of the chicken is still there. She joked that there is no comparison to American chicken nuggets and honey mustard, while she enjoys them on occasion, they are nothing compared to homemade dishes of home. While she tries to keep her diet balanced with vegetables, lots of protein and fresh meat, homemade sauces that are simple; it can be hard with lack of quality, fresh ingredients in food.

Having just graduated from college, Mercedes is at a very important crossroads of her upcoming life. Moving to Atlanta after graduation, she admits she started liking American food. She doesn’t cook a lot at home, but when she does she cooks meat. One go-to recipe is chicken Milanese, a dish of chicken breast covered in eggs and breadcrumbs that is fried. She also admits that she cooks a lot of pasta, but the store-bought kind, not homemade. It is too easy, cheap and quick to make itself. She doesn’t often see raviolis like she eats at home, but she misses it.

Chicken Milanese

When I asked about a comfort dish that reminds her of home, her response was surprising. Instead of making something at home, she will go to a nice restaurant and order a large steak. Another big difference from her Italian background in America is the taste of coffee. For Italians coffee is part of a daily meal, it’s essential, not just a side beverage. Mercedes claims that American coffee is watered down and not as rich as brands such as Illy, the equivalent to American Starbucks. When talking to other locals in Italy, they often tell her that they don’t enjoy staying in American for long-term, because they cannot find the food they enjoy in America. Especially for older generations, some Italians cannot conform to the American diet. However, for Mercedes, she expressed how much she enjoys life in America and her slow, but developing, taste for the American palate.

With the continued growth of globalization, Mercedes strongly thinks that it is becoming easier for immigrants to enjoy life in America with small restaurants and tastes of home. While she doesn’t know the cultural landscape of larger cities, Atlanta has been a place she has come to call home. Her diverse background speaks to the larger trends of acceptance towards immigrants in America for both European and South American people. With a background in political science and working in the government, Mercedes understands the challenges that can come from both institutional and social resistance, yet she is dedicated to continuing to help other immigrants assimilate while embracing and sharing their own culture.

Interview Questions

  1. Name, age, hometown, occupation and college?
  2. Where are your ancestors from?
  3. Can you talk about your first memory of eating Italian food, particularly pasta?
  4. Do you have a favorite pasta dish?
  5. Have you made homemade pasta before? What was your experience?
  6. Do you have any good memories of your childhood related to pasta?
  7. Do you have a really big family?
  8. Was cooking a family experience for you?
  9. Did you learn recipes from your parents?
  10. Are there any dishes your family has created that are a fusion of the two cultures?
  11. What is the main difference from Italian and Argentinean food compared to America?
  12. What kinds of foods are you eating now? How has the transition been since you’re cooking / living on your own?
  13. Do you buy pasta or make it?
  14. When you’re missing home, is there a dish you make that gives you comfort?

Blog 3 – German Chocolate Cake – Jenna Grace Cooper

German Chocolate Cake

by Jenna Grace Cooper

 

When my mother made German chocolate cake,

She would beat the eggs.

She would prepare the garnish on the granite counter,

With a wooden rolling pin, I crushed the pecans.

She whipped the batter until small lumps formed.

Then we would combine the wet and dry

In a large glass bowl, poured

Brown like chocolate ribbons.

Baked in two nine-inch pans,

We would eat with two forks at once.

After warm coconut flake on our tongues,

 

A glaze would form in her eye, a memory would return.

 

1. What piece did you choose to imitate? I chose to imitate the poem, “Noodles in Broth,” by Hong Junju.

2. Why did you choose this piece? I chose to imitate this piece, because I was compelled by imagery provided in the narrative poem. I enjoy cooking, and I often did it with my family. So, this poem relates heavily to watching my parents, mother especially, bake goods around the holidays. I would always try to help, and my mother always let me crush the pecans with a rolling pin. So I wanted to encapsulate a moment in which I could transport my reader to the same feeling of nostalgia.

3. What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style? I learned the simplicity of the poem and the act of cooking. This poem has a strong sense of nostalgia and associations with family. The emotions related to cooking are present in the strong imagery the poem has with the sights and smells of the noodles in broth dish. The Chinese culture, the family is one of the most important aspects of life. That feeling is present throughout the poem and magnified in the final four lines which describe gulping soup together at once in one bowl and the emotional result of that cultural act.

4. What did you learn about your own culture while writing? While German chocolate cake is not German, my mother’s mother and grandmother always made her a German chocolate cake on her birthday. When reflecting on my relationship with food, I noticed I always have an affinity towards sweets and baked goods. I enjoy eating them warm and with my family on a shared plate, similar to the Chinese. We would “dig in” as soon as it came out of the oven. I learned that like the Chinese, family and traditions are some of the most important aspects of my life. My mother continues to make me homemade German chocolate cake, and she often gets emotional since the death of her grandmother.

5. Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts? The culture of the poems is reflected in the narrative. Both capture a short moment in time, filled with family, joy and warmth. I think that the DNA manifests particularly with the repetition of pronouns such as he for chef Cui. It makes it more familiar and provides a sense of casual encounters. For my poem, I tried to embody the same repetition patterns with the use of she when referring to my mother. I then inserted a pronoun for myself to insert myself into the narrative and create a more personal attachment to the story which is true to the tradition. The DNA is embedded in the imagery with each personal touch of the chef or baker to the final product and the result, without that description it would distant to the reader.

Noodles + Friends – Jenna Grace Cooper

The main activity that my friends and I do together is eat. We go out to dinner, order in or get coffee and pastries while working. Hardly anyone says no to food– it’s even harder to say no to good plate of pasta. In terms of this week’s readings, food, particularly the noodle, is defined a necessity and also a luxury.

Despite the narrative which credits Marco Polo for bringing the noodle to Italy from China, the noodle was rediscovered then. Historical research attributes the Sicilians with the production of noodles in the early 12thcentury (The Truth About Pasta, p.14). Yet, the country of origin of the noodle is far from its limit in which cultures enjoy the pasta. The noodle has been able to transcend the boundaries of rich, poor, traditional, modern, eastern and western societies. The dishes have become adapted to every flavor imagined and shared across languages.

For the Italian culture, the Mediterranean diet is an integral part of their lifestyle, health and traditions rooted in history. As discussed in The Truth About Pasta reading, the integral meaning of the noodle is three-fold. The Mediterranean diet is comprised of tiers of: meats and sweets; poultry, egg, cheese and yogurts; fish and seafood; fruits, veggies, grains, olive oil, beans, seeds, herbs and spices; and physical activity and enjoyment of meals with others (The Truth about Pasta, p. 24). Because Italy is a peninsula, it allows its residents to have a diet of lean protein such as fish, its warm climate is hospitable to harvesting hearty fruits and vegetables and olive-based oils and proteins. The Mediterranean diet includes the lifestyle for a healthy mind and body with the image in the food pyramid. Differing from many food pyramids such as the American, the Italians incorporate the importance of being social, sharing food together and even making food together as an integral part of their society much like the Chinese who focus on holistic wellness. In addition to the qualitative benefits, the Mediterranean diet focuses on the chemical and physiological effects which allow everything in moderation. To counter the idea that pasta makes one fat, The Truth About Pasta reading explains the importance of wheat and grains in the pyramid which are stressed for their ability to be digested over a longer period of time causing a fuller longer feeling and energy to last longer (The Truth About Pasta,p. 4). In fact, the benefits to the hypoglycemic index and response to insulin, particularly in overweight or obese people. Called by Italian scientists “the gold standard,” pasta can be enjoyed in moderation with the mix of nutritional fruits, vegetables, tomato sauce and meats which can be incorporated to the “canvas” of pasta. Its third meaning is tied to its historical value. As pasta was invented in Sicily, rediscovered by Marco Polo and enjoyed in modern day, it becomes a translator of history over time. Homemade pasta carries history through families, through its shape and name which could be based on anything from a battle, a historical event or its regional flavor, and the influence of the foreign conquests. The Mediterranean diet is mirrored all over the world and pasta variations found in the Italian culture mark similarities to many others across the world, showcasing the global nature of food production.

For the Chinese culture, the noodles have created its originality based on its location and resources available. The meaning of noodles has become an ingrained cultural symbol, a sustainable and rich dietary addition for the rural and poorer population of Asia and again, the rich history of Chinese culture. Ramen, udon and soba are made from locally available resources which have been adapted to the Chinese diet, making an original flavor that is more receptive to the other agriculture present in that region. The long-life noodles of China are original to their location and culture. In the reading, it tells the story of how small children and the elderly enjoy noodles on their birthdays which are only celebrated at milestone ages rather than annually (Durack, 88). The act of eating noodles at the old age symbolizes a long life full of family, joy and success, an indicator of their cultural values. Much like the Italians, the focus on the social aspect of eating becomes integral to the meaning of the noodles. Though in ancient times pasta was only enjoyed by the elite, the ability of it being dried, packaged, having a long shelf-life and quick preparation has spread pasta to the ends of the globe, providing nutrition and carbs for energy in a cost-sustainable way. In Asia, this has helped both low and middle-class populations have a healthy access to food. Despite its commercialization, pasta in China, like Italy, is deeply rooted in history and heritage. From the story of Confucius discussing his ideology and his family’s preparation of noodles, the stories based on noodles are ingrained in the history and philosophies of the people.

For my personal experience in American culture, noodles are one of the first things I learned how to cook and a comfort food to me. Broadly in American culture, the definition of pasta becomes a combination of Chinese and Italian symbols. Because so many people have access to pasta to for a very low cost, it becomes a staple to the diet. While Americans embrace variations such as whole wheat, gluten-free and vegetable-infused pasta, the typical white flour is the most common among lower and middle classes. It continues to provide the nutrients and health benefits. Yet pasta can be a necessity and a luxury with variations on the spectrum much like the American economic system. In the American sense, almost everyone in America has tasted pasta at least once, so like the Italian culture, it becomes a staple for our emotional health. Comfort food for Americans usually consists of many carb-loaded, rich, cheesy or decadent food which can be made of pasta. A dish that I feel embodies this ideal is dessert pasta made of chocolate noodles with chocolate sauce and fruit ingredients. It embodies Americans’ love for pasta and the luxury of the excess— something not typically seen in the readings for Italian or Chinese cultures.

I chose this image, because it is representative of the most important aspect of noodles for both Chinese, American and Italian cultures– to be shared with everyone.

Related image

Blog 1: Homestyle

As an Asian-American adopted by American Caucasian parents, I have a very unique experience growing up in the south with relationship to food. Yet, most of the foods that I associate with my family or cultural background are not representational of my personal cultural heritage. My parents grew up across the southeastern states and their taste in food reflects a “home-style” type of cooking made of fresh vegetables, red meats, wheat, and plenty of fat. My family always had Sunday dinner after church and often dinner together in the evenings during the weeknights. My mother was a stay-at-home mom for most my childhood, so I can remember the time spent with her in the kitchen learning to make recipes that she made with her mother, and so on. However, looking back, my relationship with food was always strongly influenced by the places we lived. I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. My grandparents are from Tampa, Florida and Brunswick, Georgia. These locations have very distinct memories and associations with food as a social experience.

In Charleston, food is usually the best excuse to throw a party. The Charleston Harbor is guaranteed the best place to find fresh shrimp, fish and oysters. A tip from my grandparents that my mother always followed: go down to the docks early in the morning right after the fisherman get in, then buy the seafood by the pound to get it as fresh as possible, better than even the farmer’s markets. In my opinion, the food that embodies the spirit of Charleston would be the Low Country Boil, aka Frogmore Stew, aka Beaufort Stew and oyster roasts. Both great names for dishes and events for the social calendar, these idealize the spring and fall in the city. Low country boils were often held in the late spring, early summer, when it’s warm enough to dine al fresco, but not too hot that humidity ruins the evening. Typically hosted on a patio and backyard, low country boils are made outside on a gas burner in a giant pot filled with white wine, halved lemons, red potatoes, whole or halved ears of corn, sausage, halved Vidalia onions and of course, piling pounds of shrimp, with a little garlic and seasoning. When it’s done boiling, the pot is drained and dumped on a communal table which is lined with newspapers for everyone to share– no plates necessary. The rule is to keep it simple, ears of corn are shucked, but you have to peel your own shrimp, which allows plenty of conversation time in between bites. In the fall, oyster season peaks (during the months that end in “r”) when the water is chilly. The same concepts apply – whole oysters bake in a large pot outside, then dumped on a communal table for people to shuck and enjoy.

The enjoyment from these foods stems from the enjoyment of socialization. Every step of the way, whether its sourcing the shrimp or harvesting the onions from the garden or picking up meat from the market, the chef, my mother, made connections with our family, community, and even the fishermen. The cultural significance to me, though it may not be Asian-influenced, very much feels like home. Just imagining the warm breeze, smells of the Old-Bay seasoning or the crinkling of the newspaper can transport me straight back to Charleston. Gathering with family and friends, walking along the beach around sunset, and eating together at one long table becomes a comforting ritual. Much like Thanksgiving, the food is gives a warmth to a home and the act of gathering makes it feel complete. The aspect of family tradition, after graduations, wedding showers and just celebration create my family’s traditions which motivates me to share it when I have a family of my own.

Some of my family lives in Atlanta, so I’ve traveled here often before starting at Emory. I am also a freelance writer for Atlanta magazine, so we often cover diverse restaurants, events and openings. Particularly, Buford Highway has come to national attention for its diverse range of authentic food from family-owned businesses. This provides both comforts for Atlanta’s international community, but also boosts the region economically as it is its own tourist destination. I’ve visited many restaurants and assisted on the dining coverage for the magazine, but other than dining, I’ve never really engaged with anyone at the restaurants. I am aware of the large push for sustainability and access to fresh food for the low-income areas which can affect ethnic minorities, but I would be interested in learning more on the subject. Other than when I was born and when I went to China at age 5 to pick up my adopted sister from Hunan, I haven’t had much exposure to Chinese food. I love going to Asian restaurants and trying new foods with my friends at Emory who were raised culturally in Asian households, as it’s almost like discovering my culture. I don’t speak Mandarin, but I have learned some through when I visit restaurants and speak with the waiters or waitresses which is very unique way of absorbing the culture. One thing my parents really enjoyed to do was taste different Chinese candy on their visit, so I remember buying pop-rocks candy and tasting new candy almost every day of that vacation. I would love to see if any restaurants or markets sell those locally. It may bring up some more memories or provide a new way to connect with the culture.

The phrase, “you are what you eat” both supports and contradicts my approach to food. When I spend time with my family eating Low Country Boil in Charleston,  I am (or feel very) American like my family. Yet, when I eat Chinese food, especially with Asian friends who were raised in that culture, it becomes drastically less familiar. Though technically I am more like the food (genetically/physically related to the culture), I feel that I am Chinese in that setting.

Low Country Boil Recipe – courtesy to Trisha Yearwood for The Food Network

Ingredients

1/2 cup concentrated Louisiana-style shrimp and crab boil seasoning (such as Zatarain’s)

4 pounds medium red potatoes

2 to 3 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia, peeled and quartered if large

2 1/2 pounds cured, smoked pork sausage links, cut into 3-inch pieces

8 ears of corn, cut in half

4 pounds medium shrimp

Directions

Fill a 7-gallon stockpot halfway with water (or use 2 large pots and divide the ingredients between them). Add the seasoning and bring to a rolling boil. Add the whole potatoes to the pot. Allow the water to return to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Add the onions and sausage. Bring the water back to a boil and cook 15 minutes. Add the corn, bring the water back to a boil and cook 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are done.

Add the shrimp, bring the water back to a boil and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Drain through a colander; discard the liquid. Serve on newspaper or a platter.