Do You Want To Know Why American Food Is So Bad?

American food is in a crisis, states economist Tyler Cowen. Many Europeans agree that American food has problems: massive portions, excess fat, high levels of sugar, or any combination of those. But, is food in the US really so bad?

Last Friday, at my daughter’s graduation ball, among many highlights, the food turned out to be excellent. We enjoyed fresh rustic breads, exquisite kale-almond salad, grilled beef kabobs, and delicious roasted vegetables. As we ate, I commented on the porcelain dinnerware coupled with linen napkins and heavy silverware. My German table neighbors reacted similarly, praising the venue and the food.

French people can talk for hours about food, and I don’t know a single French person living in the US who doesn’t complain about American cuisine in some way. Personally, I dislike the stereotypical burgers and chicken nuggets, and I prefer using silverware while sitting at a table. But, believe me, American food is not as bad as many foreigners want us to believe.

In my opinion, if you shop and cook for yourself, you have a pretty good chance of eating well in the US. My friend Alexandra lived in Amsterdam before relocating to Washington, DC. When I asked her how she feels about American food, her first response was, “After living in the Netherlands, believe me, I LOVE American food!”

Of course, there are legitimate complaints about many types of American food. Fruits and veggies look wonderful in the supermarkets but have hardly any flavor. It’s really difficult to avoid sugar, honey, or high-fructose syrup in processed food, and even bread isn’t immune to fueling the nation’s sugary addiction. Food coloring is everywhere, and meat often shrinks to half its size once it’s in the pan. Why is this the case?

5 reasons why American food deteriorated

American economist and food lover Tyler Cowen has strong opinions about the declining food quality in the US. In his book entitled An Economist Gets Lunch, he dedicates a complete chapter to this phenomenon, explaining why American food got bad. Unlike the standard theory that blames the expansion of the food-supply network, Cowen tells a story that starts with prohibition and WWII, moves to the education system, and ends with the rise of television in most American households.

Prohibition and WWII rationing

“National Prohibition brought catastrophe to most good restaurants … [that were] unable to make money without alcohol sales.” As a result, the best restaurants closed, and “expensive, high-quality food was hurt the most,” says Cowen.

During WWII, 6 million American women went to work for the first time. Most of them were married and had children while their husbands fought somewhere in the Pacific or Europe. According to Cowen, “Wartime rationing and scarcity made high-quality ingredients and careful cooking distant priorities. Fresh vegetables and fruits were often not available.”

Eventually, the need to ship food abroad triggered the development of the American canning industry. Interestingly, at the same time, France — which, along with Europe in general, was more immediately affected by the war than the US — turned instead to local production methods and personal gardens.

My maternal grandparents had a farm with cows, goats, and chicken. My paternal grandparents lived in a small town that was occupied by the Germans after 1942. My grandfather increased the cultivated surface of his garden, sold his produce on the black market, and bartered fruits and veggies for meat. The absence of mass transportation forced many French people to look for local solutions, which may explain the constant popularity of French farmers’ markets.

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