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Commentary Historic America

Is Cauliflower Racist?

Culinary partisans can relax; there’s nothing offensive about eating ‘non-native’ foods.

In the latest Bizarro-World controversy, political partisans have taken to the internet to fight over – cauliflower? Yes, really. This bland and ubiquitous vegetable has become the latest front in the Culture Wars, with freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) even claiming ‘people of color’ have a hard time gardening because cauliflower is a colonialist vegetable.

Many people love cauliflower because it’s high in fiber and vitamins and low in calories. I dislike it for the same reason I dislike vanilla ice cream and plain waffles–I need flavor in my life! But because AOC has become clickbait and her name buries every other search result, I haven’t been able to determine where these anti-cauliflower sentiments come from. Is it actually something argued by fringe identitarians, or did AOC just make it up to grab headlines?

In the dumbest video she’s uploaded since pretending to not know what a garbage disposal is, she said:

“But when you really think about it — when someone says that it’s ‘too hard’ to do a green space that grows Yucca instead of, I don’t know, cauliflower or something — what you’re doing is you’re taking a colonial approach to environmentalism. That is why a lot of communities of color get resistant to certain environmentalist movements because they come with the colonial lens on them.”

Essentially, she’s arguing that South and Central Americans living in the Bronx have been brainwashed into growing European foods, rather than something native to hot, dry regions like the Yucca plant. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why it’s easier to grow cauliflower in New York than a desert plant like Yucca. Yucca thrives in a completely different climate.

Categories
Saudade

Oma’s Beer Soup

After many years of searching, I think I finally duplicated my grandma’s old home recipe.

My paternal grandparents, Albert and Marie Kleen, lived in Park Ridge, Illinois when I was a kid. Both came from German families. My grandma emigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1930s, and my grandpa’s family came here in the late 1890s. We called them ‘Opa’ and ‘Oma’, which is German for ‘grandpa’ and ‘grandma’.

Like many of her generation, Oma often cooked at home, and preferred the food she grew up with. I remember dinners of schnitzel and spaetzle. One item that stands out in my mind, however, was beer soup. I’ve eaten beer cheese soup at restaurants, but none came close to what I remember.

From what I recall, Oma used some kind of cheap beer, milk, sugar, and raisins. Definitely no cheese. The soup was white and frothy, and the raisins would swell up while being cooked.

After years of searching, I finally found a similar recipe. Although Oma was from western Germany (Cologne, specifically), her recipe closely resembles Sorbian Beer Soup. Sorbs are a Slavic people who live in eastern Germany and western Poland. I found this recipe online:

Categories
Roadside America

Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, Home of Chicken Wings

There are a lot of dimly lit bars filled with eclectic knickknacks across the country, but only one can claim to be the birthplace of a wildly popular finger food. The Anchor Bar, 1047 Main Street in Buffalo, New York, is where in 1964 Teressa Bellissimo unwittingly invented Buffalo chicken wings. She whipped them up as a quick snack for her son’s friends, and they caught on.

I’ve loved chicken wings for years, and always wanted to try where they first began. I finally got that opportunity in a recent trip to Buffalo. The wings were dry and well done, great for dipping. They’re served with a wooden bowl to discard the bones. I washed them down with a beer, of course, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. If you’re ever in western New York, I’d recommend checking it out.

Categories
Historic America Reviews

The Founder

The Founder (2016) stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, who took a local California fast food restaurant called McDonald’s and turned it into a global, multi-billion dollar empire. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch co-star as McDonald’s founders Richard and Maurice McDonald. It was written by Robert Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock, who also directed Saving Mr. Banks (2013) and The Blind Side (2009).

Ray Kroc was born in Oak Park, Illinois and he opened his first McDonald’s franchise on Lee Street in Des Plaines, where I grew up. I passed by the old McDonald’s museum hundreds of times, but never knew the story of how McDonald’s got its start. Ray Kroc himself was responsible for much of the popular mythology behind the company’s founding. His claim of being “the founder,” despite his first McDonald’s restaurant actually being the ninth, was so ostentatious, it turned out to be the perfect title for a film about his life.

The film charts Ray Kroc’s rise from struggling milkshake salesman to restaurant/real estate mogul, his tumultuous relationship with the McDonald brothers and his wife Ethel (Laura Dern), and his unshakable faith in persistence. The movie’s first half tells the inspiring story of how Kroc turns around his business prospects despite daunting odds. The second half shows him screwing over everyone who helped him along the way, even stealing a restaurant owner’s wife.

Categories
Historic America

Bread and Gravy

On my recent trip through the South, I played some folk music for the ride and came across this catchy tune, “Bread and Gravy.” I found several different versions online, but couldn’t find the lyrics to this particular one, performed by J.E. Mainer & The Mountaineers with Morris Herbert on the album Appalachian Mountain Bluegrass – 30 Vintage Classics (2007). The song laments the effect of high inflation, as the dollar becomes so worthless his family can only afford to eat bread and gravy, even though everyone is working. At a time when everyone has a smartphone, it’s hard to imagine being so poor things like meat, milk, and butter are unaffordable luxuries. When you think about it, gravy is just melted fat thickened with wheat flour or cornstarch. My grandma used to save the grease from cooking bacon and other meat and reuse it. Imagine pouring that on dry bread for flavor every day of the week!

bg3I read in the paper this mornin’
That a dollar just ain’t worth a dime
We used to pay cash for our roast beef
And can afford pork chops sometimes
We used to eat liver and onions
With these two we never went wrong
But lately I’ve noticed a difference
And that’s why I’m singin’ this song

On Monday we have bread and gravy
On Tuesday it’s gravy and bread
On Wednesday and Thursday it’s gravy on toast
But that’s only gravy on bread
Friday it’s rye bread ‘n gravy
On Saturday it’s whole wheat instead
Sunday’s a treat, ’cause we can’t wait to eat
We have gravy without any bread

[We’d settle for beans after this Sunday.
Kinda cheap, you know…]

My pa’s making more than he ever
My ma’s babysittin’ at night
My brother’s a working, he’s raking in dough
Somehow the picture ain’t right
Now everyone’s working at our house
You can’t count the money we’ve made
The high cost of living has got us
Say, Bill, could you spare a steak?

On Monday we have bread and gravy
On Tuesday it’s gravy and bread
On Wednesday and Thursday it’s gravy on toast
But that’s only gravy on bread
Friday it’s rye bread ‘n gravy
On Saturday it’s whole wheat instead
Sunday’s a treat, ’cause I can’t wait to eat
We have gravy without any bread

Categories
Historic America

Feasting at God’s Table

Father Divine, Conspicuous Consumption & Racial Harmony

Father_Divine_02
George Baker, Jr., “Father Divine”

In American culture, health and prosperity has long been wedded to the consumption of food. At the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the ability to eat what one wanted and when that defined an American family’s assent into the growing middle class. It was no accident that there appeared in America during the 1920s a man who offered salvation through the act of eating. Father Divine, professing himself to be God incarnate, urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking. His message crossed racial lines because he appealed to shared traditions in American culture, traditions like conspicuous consumption, Charismatic Christianity, and the Protestant work ethic.

Father Divine’s movement was at its height during the Great Depression. At a time when scarcity affected millions, this eccentric preacher offered men and women a taste of the American dream―for the price of personal sacrifice and loyalty. He provided Americans across the country, both black and white, rich and poor, the perfect confluence of food, religion, and spectacle to distract them from the harsh realities of everyday life. He offered hope that racial unity and personal perfection could be achieved through the union of religion and the dinner table.

The Importance of Food in America

Americans have always given special significance to food and drink. When the first European colonists arrived in North America they encountered a land teeming with wildlife. At Plymouth Colony in 1621, a storm left the beach covered with piles of lobsters two feet high. “They were so plentiful and so easily gathered that they were considered fit only for the poor,” Waverley Root and Richard de Rochemont explained in Eating in America. The storm left pools of crabs all along the shores of Virginia. Commenting on the abundance of fish at Jamestown, Captain John Smith wrote, “we tooke more in owne hour than we could eate in a day.” The colonists wondered at the size of the salmon, strawberries, and lobsters in the New World, and the Pilgrims, finding the luxury of clams and mussels tempered by their abundance, fed them to hogs.[1]

With origins in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the act of breaking bread with friends and neighbors had long been ingrained in religious ritual. Therefore, it was a feast the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoags after their first arduous winter in New England, which eventually inspired the creation of a national holiday, Thanksgiving, centered around the consumption of large quantities of food. John Smith celebrated his first Christmas in the New World around the dinner table with the Powhatans and noted, “we were never more merry nor fed on more plenty of good oysters, fish, flesh, wild fowle and good bread, nor ever had better fires in England.”[2]

A hundred years later, the American colonists placed food and drink high on their list of grievances with the motherland. The Tea Act of 1773 precipitated the infamous Boston Tea Party, in which fifty angry colonists disguised as Native Americans dumped 90,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor. Under the stifling economics of mercantilism, tea had become a symbol of British rule. The British used excessive taxes as a weapon against colonial merchant-agitators like John Hancock, who customs officials accused of smuggling Madeira; a type of fortified wine.