Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

The globalization of cooking

January 29, 2012
When I moved apartments a year and a half ago, my old roommate took her copy of Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" cookbook. Wanting a cookbook but not wanting to spend money, I borrowed my mother's New York Times cookbook from 1964. Flipping through the recipes, I was surprised how many of the recipes called for butter and cream. But beyond my observations about the un-nutritious meals, I noticed there were almost no Asian influences. Few recipes called for soy sauce, sesame oil or noodles. Typical ingredients in Mexican cooking like cilantro or chiles were also missing. I had never thought about the globalization of American cooking that has occurred over the past half-century.

Living in Argentina is a little like returning to that pre-globalized food culture. Argentine recipes are heavier on beef and flour than the creamy buttery creations of 1960s America. But they largely lack the infusion of influences from Mexico, Japan, Greece, Thailand, the Middle East, and so on, that are so common in the U.S. The variety in ethnic cuisine, at least in cities like Boston, is such the norm these days that it's barely worth remarking upon. But after living in Argentina for five months, I'm now thoroughly impressed by the existence of all the different cuisines and their incorporation into mainstream cooking.

Argentine food, basically, is boring. The steak and wine are delicious, and should you ever visit, you should eat and drink as much as you can. But it gets old after a while. And moreover, it's not very healthy. Argentines eat lots of meat and lots of carbs. Fruits and vegetables are only stocked when they're in season. And even then, vegetables like red onions are often impossible to find. Forgot about asparagus for most of the year, or edible lettuce, or cilantro. Think about the selection of foods at a U.S. supermarket. Fresh produce, fresh fish, nuts, hummus, granola, fresh herbs. Think about how essential most of those foods are to a healthy American diet and then consider this: One of the few places you can find those ingredients in Buenos Aires is Chinatown. Nowhere else.

Argentina is a very isolated country in a lot of ways. The government imposes all sorts of import restrictions so it's hard to find non-Argentine products. Its neighbors are far away (its largest borders are with the Atlantic Ocean and Chile, which is separated by the Andes Mountains). An unstable economy and currency has meant that many Argentines never had the money to travel abroad.

When I think about the ways that America interacts with the world, I think about free trade, travel, immigration, etc. I don't usually think about things as simple as food. But America's engagement with the world means that American cuisine has gotten more interesting and healthier. And many of those influences have been so absorbed into mainstream cooking that we no longer notice them. Living in a  less globalized country makes everyday activities, like shopping and cooking, a totally different experience.

- Steph

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I just came across your blog and I just want to say that my husband and I who are traveling in Asia for a year ALSO think about food A LOT and even though we switch countries every couple of months, that is more than enough time for us to get tired of the local cuisine. It is truly amazing how such a variety of ingredients and local cuisines we are privy to there and how we take it for granted when we're there. Expat grocery stores are a treat to come across. Never have you seen someone so excited about a $12 tiny bottle of maple syrup or a $8 head of lettuce...
    Yeah, we spend a lot of time thinking about food :)
    If you want, you can check out our travels at cadeparade.com
    All the best to you! I'll be following your adventures!


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