U.S. Culture — страница 7

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convenient, packaged foods such as breads and cookies, preserved fruits, and pickles. By the mid-20th century, packaged products had expanded greatly to include canned soups, noodles, processed breakfast cereals, preserved meats, frozen vegetables, instant puddings, and gelatins. These prepackaged foods became staples used in recipes contained in popular cookbooks, while peanut butter sandwiches and packaged cupcakes became standard lunchbox fare. As a result, the American diet became noteworthy for its blandness rather than its flavors, and for its wholesomeness rather than its subtlety. Americans were proud of their technology in food production and processing. They used fertilizers, hybridization (genetically combining two varieties), and other technologies to increase crop

yields and consumer selection, making foods cheaper if not always better tasting. Additionally, by the 1950s, the refrigerator had replaced the old-fashioned icebox and the cold cellar as a place to store food. Refrigeration, because it allowed food to last longer, made the American kitchen a convenient place to maintain readily available food stocks. However, plentiful wholesome food, when combined with the sedentary 20th-century lifestyle and work habits, brought its own unpleasant consequences—overeating and excess weight. During the 1970s, 25 percent of Americans were overweight; by the 1990s that had increased to 35 percent. America’s foods began to affect the rest of the world—not only raw staples such as wheat and corn, but a new American cuisine that spread

throughout the world. American emphasis on convenience and rapid consumption is best represented in fast foods such as hamburgers, french fries, and soft drinks, which almost all Americans have eaten. By the 1960s and 1970s fast foods became one of America's strongest exports as franchises for McDonald’s and Burger King spread through Europe and other parts of the world, including the former Soviet Union and Communist China. Traditional meals cooked at home and consumed at a leisurely pace—common in the rest of the world, and once common in the United States—gave way to quick lunches and dinners eaten on the run as other countries mimicked American cultural patterns. By the late 20th century, Americans had become more conscious of their diets, eating more poultry, fish, and

fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer eggs and less beef. They also began appreciating fresh ingredients and livelier flavors, and cooks began to rediscover many world cuisines in forms closer to their original. In California, chefs combined the fresh fruits and vegetables available year-round with ingredients and spices sometimes borrowed from immigrant kitchens to create an innovative cooking style that was lighter than traditional French, but more interesting and varied than typical American cuisine. Along with the state’s wines, California cuisine eventually took its place among the acknowledged forms of fine dining. As Americans became more concerned about their diets, they also became more ecologically conscious. This consciousness often included an antitechnology aspect

that led some Americans to switch to a partially or wholly vegetarian diet, or to emphasize products produced organically (without chemical fertilizers and pesticides). Many considered these foods more wholesome and socially responsible because their production was less taxing to the environment. In the latter 20th century, Americans also worried about the effects of newly introduced genetically altered foods and irradiation processes for killing bacteria. They feared that these new processes made their food less natural and therefore harmful. These concerns and the emphasis on variety were by no means universal, since food habits in the late 20th century often reflected society’s ethnic and class differences. Not all Americans appreciated California cuisine or vegetarian food,

and many recent immigrants, like their immigrant predecessors, often continued eating the foods they knew best. At the end of the 20th century, American eating habits and food production were increasingly taking place outside the home. Many people relied on restaurants and on new types of fully prepared meals to help busy families in which both adults worked full-time. Another sign of the public’s changing food habits was the microwave oven, probably the most widely used new kitchen appliance, since it can quickly cook foods and reheat prepared foods and leftovers. Since Americans are generally cooking less of their own food, they are more aware than at any time since the early 20th century of the quality and health standards applied to food. Recent attention to cases in which