A young French friend of mine did an advertising internship at my ad agency a few years back. During that time she used to say the food she ate in the States tasted “like it had been dipped in caramel.” She didn’t mean that in a good way in case you love caramel. She meant it all tasted the same, like one big cherry-cola-flavored piece of food.
Once I started looking for the differences in how American foods taste—this is especially true with fast food—I could see what she meant. Because I didn’t run into this situation when I traveled, I soon came to the conclusion that it’s a cultural thing: we Americans need salt to punch out the flavor to us and we need sugar because we’re like big babies who really want to eat doughnuts all the time. Because let’s face it, doughnuts taste so good.
But how did we get to this point?
I got an inkling the last time I spent a few weeks in France. The food market was a major focal point to the whole town. I recently regaled American friends with the story of how every morning the town squares would be transformed in the wee hours to a bustling congress of produce booths, fishmongers, bread stalls, flowers, soaps, oils, olives and oh-my-God-the cheeses. It looked like the market had been there for years. And yet, every day at noon, it was all taken down, the cobblestones hosed clean, and café tables put up instead in order that people might relax, sip an espresso, eat a meal in leisure. My friends were agog with the titantic effort to recreate these two different settings every single day. The fact is, we Americans wouldn’t go to the trouble.
And we are seriously suffering as a result of it.
When was the last time you ate a strawberry that really tasted like one? Or a tomato that made you close your eyes and taste the feeling of summer through your taste buds? You remember that scene in the movie Ratatouille where the evil, brittle restaurant critic came into the restaurant and chef made him a bowl of ratatouille where one spoonful instantly catapulted him back to his boyhood with a visceral reliving of some of the best moments of his life? Yeah, that.
Why did we decide in this country that food was really just fuel and it didn’t need to be much more than that? When did we decide that baby food and caramel coated meat was fine for a lifetime of nourishment? You know what I think? I think the insidious philosophy of our fast food nation has wheedled its way into our national psyche to the point that we want the very same eating experience in Boston that we have in San Antonia that we have in Miami. The first time I ate a McDonald’s burger in New Zealand, I could taste the grass in the burger. (McDonald’s burgers in the states are made from grain-fed cows not grass-fed.) I couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to get the same burger that I got in Atlanta.
So what’s the answer? With no food markets to dilly dally in? No school system or family to educate us as to how to put food in proper perspective and enjoy what we eat without getting fat? Well, frankly, doing it the French way is as foreign as if you’d landed in a Bedouin tent and had to break up camel dung to start the fire for your morning coffee. So much work! And you’re all alone! None of the other moms are bothering with it and their kids look okay (a little chubby maybe but who isn’t?) And honestly, take-out and pre-packaged food has improved so much in the last ten years, right? Almost no transfats in them! And, really, food that tastes like caramel is delicious!
8 thoughts on “When did our food all start to taste the same?”
Fast food has become a blight on society… and this is one of the results
Exactly…a blight that has over a third of all Americans tipping the scales at 300 plus pounds. Research shows that by 2030 nearly 90 percent of us will be overweight. With over 300,000 fast food restaurants in our country (as of 2009) I think it’s easy to know where to point the finger. It’s a cultural structure within which it’s very difficult to maintain health. And don’t even get me started on the food manufacturers! Thanks for jumping in, William!
As a New Zealand that has been to Australia a few times and I can definitely taste the difference in the meat! Even in a McDonalds burger. I don’t know if it’s what the cows are fed or the difference in the soil. But yes I agree food does taste different in other countries! NZ also has the best chocolate. I’ve tried American chocolate once and actually had to check the packaging at least five times to make sure I hadn’t picked up the contents of someones toilet by mistake. Though I did try this nice American chocolate thing that had peanut butter in it or something.
Haha…so true about the chocolate. My husband keeps telling me there’s no real cocoa or chocolate in American chocolate any more, just wax and chemical flavorings. As long as the (American) consumer continues to buy it, I’m sure the (American) candy makers will continue to produce the stuff. Thanks for commenting, Nigel!
This is a good call to better eating, but it appears to be a one person at a time story. We all need to support local produce.
It’s true. If we all signed on with CSAs or even created our own little garden plots we might be able to undo some of the damage that the big food manufacturers are inflicting on us at a baseline level. Otherwise, I just don’t see anything changing. At least not in my lifetime. Thanks for commenting, Rebecca!
A number of years ago my husband and I spent three weeks in the South of France. When we were in Vernes le Bain we rented an apartment, shopped at the local butcher and bakery shops and on market day, and cooked most of our own food and we couldn’t believe the difference in the taste! Why can’t butter and milk taste like that here in the good ole USA? ( BTW, love the food in your books!} I think you might not notice the difference so much if you only ate out but when you cook using your own recipes and there is a fabulous difference, then you know it’s the ingredients, humble as they may be.
You are so right, Autumn. My husband and i did the very same thing last summer in Aix. I still bore my friends back here with ravings about the olives and the strawberries. 🙂 I guess you really have to experience it. Thanks for writing!