Burgers sizzling on the barbeque grill. Warm apple pie baking in the oven. Toasty muffins sitting on the table, alongside a plate of soft, chewy chocolate chip cookies to be had with a cup of Joe. While these mouthwatering treats have become staples of American culture, American cuisine as a whole is far more complex. American food has come to be defined as fatty, oily treats, but a closer analysis shows that there is no single taste that characterizes it. Since the U.S. remains a melting pot of different cultures, American cuisine has no real ethnicity backing it. Instead, American food is often distinguished by its regional origins, as different parts of the country produce different resources and have higher concentrations of certain ethnic groups.
    However, there remain certain foods that always have been and always will be traditional American food. Among them are the globally recognized hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and buffalo wings. These foods have spread with international brands, such as McDonalds and KFC, making them accessible, not only in all parts of the U.S., but also around the world. Furthermore, chain restaurants such as Ruby Tuesdays, the Cheesecake Factory and TGI Fridays, pride themselves on providing tasty American meals, as their menus encompass all types of American food, including the large portions!
Apples, pumpkins, corn and squash
    That being said, with the country being so vast, spanning from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, the various regions are exposed to different climates. These variations can foster a more conducive environment for different types of vegetation and livestock. Thus, American food specialties vary depending on where one is in the country. New England (the region in the Northeast that hosted some of the first settlers) has the cool, salty Atlantic Ocean on its eastern coast. It provides the ideal ecosystem that allows for thriving population of marine organisms. Thus, New England is well-known for its seafood dishes, including Maine lobsters, mussels, clam chowder and crab legs.
Furthermore, the cool days and cold nights in February allow for the region to shift its focus on maple syrup, as families and organizations in the area gather to tap its abundant maple trees. In autumn, the harvest brings refreshing apples, pumpkins, corn and squash, which once served as the foundation for the first Thanksgiving dinner between the pilgrim settlers and Native Americans.
Moving into the Midwestern U.S., one finds plenty of corn, grain and dairy –
most notably, Wisconsin cheese. With the crops found there, barbeque has become a staple food of the region. The West, also known for crops, such as the famous Idaho potatoes, tends to focus on ranching and herding, with their livestock recognized nationwide. The region also holds much influence from Native American tribes there. The ranch culture has made outdoor cooking a tradition in the West.  Out of California comes timeless wine that springs from their beautiful vineyards, and seafood from the adjacent Pacific Ocean; it has thus become a hub for fusion cuisine incorporating various local ingredients. Out in the Pacific, Hawaii has a climate similar to that of Mauritius and has thus become a strong producer of tropical fruits and fish.
Crayfish and Gumbo
The Southern United States, unlike other regions, is heavily influenced by ethnicities residing there. The traditional grits, mashed potatoes, pies and cornbread have been labeled as “comfort food” or “soul food” due to their sentimental, nostalgic appeal. Many of these dishes – especially fried chicken, okra and sweet potato – stem from the historic African American presence in that region. In the state of Louisiana, Creole and Cajun cuisines dominate the scene with their French influence. Their seafood, especially crayfish, and their famous gumbo (a soup with a strong stock of meat, shellfish or vegetables) is seasoned with typical Creole and Cajun spices. This Louisiana culture is celebrated during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and nationwide, as people indulge in these tasty treats! The South also features another ethnicity-based cuisine in Texas. Tex-Mex food celebrates Mexican cuisine by highlighting foods such as melted cheese, beans, tortillas, salsa and guacamole in the form of nachos, burritos, enchiladas and fajitas.
A closer analysis of American cuisine, however, demonstrates that many of those foods considered traditionally American actually have roots elsewhere around the globe. While Americans argue about which regional pizza is better (New York is known for thin crust, Chicago for deep dish and California for crispy brick oven), pizza will always have its roots in Italy. Even hamburgers and hot dogs are German. Nonetheless, these discoveries just serve to emphasize the notion that America is a melting pot of cultures. The various cuisines found in the U.S. stress America’s proud history, as immigrants from around the world brought their cultures and cuisines, which eventually transformed into the unique American food culture. Now, almost everywhere in America, whatever cuisine you seek, from Afghan to Sushi to French, you’ll find it!
     When discussing the topic of food in America, it is hard to avoid the subject of obesity. Unhealthy meals have come under fire for playing a key role in obesity. American cuisine has largely been criticized for its lack of dietary balance and its dependence on fatty oils and carbohydrates. Around 35% of adults and 17% of children are obese in the U.S. The danger it poses cannot be understated. There is a strong correlation between excessive weight gain and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. With the increasing cost of healthcare, Americans cannot take these risks. Clearly, obesity is a growing issue, and after years of ignoring it, America is finally taking measures to combat it. Fast food chains now tend to offer healthier options; McDonalds has embarked on an initiative to provide salads for those looking for healthful options, while Subway now has a “fresh fit” menu. Nearly all chain restaurants label wholesome foods, indicating that they are calorie light. Furthermore, many school districts have banned the sale of soda and junk food on their campuses. Some schools are starting to educate young children on the importance of eating low fat and low calorie foods in order to promote a healthy lifestyle at an early age. Moreover, government has stepped in to make its mark in the battle against obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her goal to combat obesity. She leads the “Let’s Move” program, which encourages kids to eat healthily and engage in physical activity regularly. Her initiative carried over into the White House, where the White House garden was established and where all the organic food served in the White House is sourced from. Her efforts culminated in the publishing of her book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. Recently, Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg proposed a bill that would ban the sale of any sodas larger than 16 ounces. However, the bill was faced with widespread unpopularity, as citizens cited that the government was impinging on their freedoms and overstepping the line.
America’s commitment to political ideals of civil rights and liberties often make citizens unwilling to let government creep into their lives. But now, while greasy food may have become an emblem of America, Americans come to an important crossroad where they must decide whether they can give up a little and let government step in to aid the fight against obesity and produce a healthy generation instead of one in decline.