Tuesday, November 26, 2013

American food

It was only just recently that the term 'American food' would bring forth all sorts of ridicule from white Melburnians. 'Food?' they'd say incredulously, 'that's not food!' as all things crumbed, glazed or deep fried were shunned. Back then, white Melburnians thought American food was all just hot dogs, burgers, greasy sandwiches and pork. But now that American food is being marketed to them in culturally appropriate ways, you'll see plenty of white Melburnians raving about hot dogs, burgers, greasy sandwiches and pork. My advice for anyone thinking of opening an American restaurant in Melbourne's inner north? Just call your soup 'gumbo' and put the word 'pulled' in front of any meat dish. They will line up.

But let's be honest. Australians have been eating American foods for generations. McDonalds, Burger King and KFC have always been popular, and TGI Fridays still draws a crowd. But these foods were never marketed to white Melburnians. There are a number of ways in which these places are marketed and presented to consumers that make them off limits to white Melburnians. For example, they are all very loud. Too much ambient noise means that strangers on adjacent tables won't get to listen to white Melburnians talk about their weekends or their experiences on a recent date or their new purchases (eavesdropping is a central form of communication in white Melburnian culture). The decor is all wrong too. No exposed brick, wooden beams or white tiles. All those glossy surfaces clash with the white Melburnian preference for matte.

Another problem with TGI's (and McDonalds and KFC etc) is that they are too authentic. Too firmly suggestive of their native context, these places are filled with lots of people who could be Americans. The food itself is also too authentic. It tastes just like the type of crap you're forced to eat while changing planes at Logan or Dulles, or filling up on I-91, or while watching a game at the Wells Fargo Center or AT&T Stadium or at a shopping centre in New London or New Britain or New Hampshire or San Luis Obispo. It's just too American for white Melburnians. Which is to say it's located in a part of the world that's not Northcote, so white Melburnians would prefer to avoid it altogether.

But there is definitely something a little sad about American food made by white Melburnians for white Melburnians. It lacks a certain depth of flavour and texture. Holding these foods in my hands, there's an odd feeling of lightness both in the food itself and in my wallet that isn't there in the American versions. Too much palm is visible, and when you squeeze the food it gives way (yields) too easily. White Melburnians forget they don't have to dress up to eat fried chicken. American food makes you feel full, happy and strong. People who eat that food could conquer the world (and they almost did). American food is for the masses, not just for the few in the inner suburbs of the most privileged cities. Its food that's eaten from sea to shining sea, through the cornfields, the bayous and the everglades. From the housing projects of Detroit to the upper floors of the Chrysler building in Manhattan. From the stoops of Brooklyn brownstones to the front porches of Pocatello, Idaho. American food is for all Americans. Thank you for reading and God bless. And may God bless American food.

1 comment:

  1. I am in Australia and we do not really eat them here, so this is why I am curious. I would also like to
    Indian food in Australia.