Tuesday, January 31, 2023

How Low Can We Go?

My heart sank the other day after I saw a meme re-posted on social media by a friend, someone whom I like and admire, well at least thought I did.

Like much of the rhetoric coming from the far right today, the meme is a troll to promote the culture wars, all the fashion it seems, by pissing off a large portion of the populace or as they like to say: "sticking it to the Libs". Well it certainly worked on this lib, by their definition of a lib anyway (that is to say anyone to the left of Attila the Hun); as it made my hair stand on end.

This particular troll employs a logical fallacy by expressing an opinion that while not altogether incorrect, (I'll get to that in a minute), was nonetheless outrageous because of its comparison of two disparate events taking place on opposite sides of the planet. 

This particular fallacy, one I didn't cover per se in my post last year on the subject, is called a "false equivalence fallacy". 

And boy is it ever.

In case you missed the post, you can read it here.

The meme presented a sentiment that to me anyway, expresses either remarkable ignorance, unconscionable indifference, or both.

Verbatim, broken up by some comments of mine in parenthesis, this is what the meme said:

If 10 thousand Russians (a number underestimated by about twenty-fold) crossing the Ukranian border is called an invasion, then why isn't the 2 million people crossing the American southern border not (sic) called an invasion?

My friend's only comment to the post were three "thinking face" emojis, as if to say: "hmmm... maybe this person has a point."

No, the person does not have a point. As any half-way intelligent five year old could point out, there is a world of difference between soldiers armed to the gills, entering a country in armored vehicles, tanks, fighter jets and other vehicles of war, with the intent of, in the words of Merriam Websters' first definition of the word invasion, "conquest or plunder", and individuals entering a country carrying little more than the clothes on their backs, with the sole intention of hopefully improving their lives. 

On the other hand, there is another definition of the word "invasion" that goes something like this:

An incursion by a large number of people or things into a place or sphere of activity.

By that definition, the two million (an only slightly exaggerated number) people crossing the U.S. southern border could in fact be called an "invasion."

So what?

If you're old enough to remember, so too was the phenomenon in the sixties of musical acts from Great Britain becoming famous upon these shores appropriately referred to tongue and cheek as the "British Invasion." 

Well that invasion had exactly as much in common with Vladimir Putin's degenerate war as does the current situation on our southern border.  

So what exactly is the point of that moronic comment?

Besides propagating the culture wars, it conveniently ties together two of the MAGA crowd's favorite talking points, opposition to immigration and opposition to this country's support of Ukraine in their ongoing battle for the survival of their nation. 

There are legitimate arguments one can make on both sides of the immigration issue, less so on the issue of Ukraine, but comparing the two is not legitimate. The one thing that unites the two issues is human rights, an issue that at least in my opinion, trumps all others. In the case of immigration, the current situation is untenable and while we must do our best to look out for our own interests, it is at least as important if not more to be compassionate to the struggles of our brothers and sisters, whatever country they come from. That said, solving the immigration issue is certainly not an easy task with a simple solution. 

To my mind anyway, the situation in Ukraine is far less complicated. Putin's war is illegitimate, there is no valid argument a sane person can make for it that could not be refuted by that same half-way intelligent five year old.

Lumping Russian soldiers and soldiers of fortune from other parts of the former Soviet Union sent by Putin to plunder, pillage, rape and murder innocent civilians in Ukraine together with immigrants crossing the U.S. border is beyond belief. And making the comparison between the Ukrainian victims of Putin's war to the "victims" of the immigration issue, i.e.: the American people, is heartless, cruel and downright stupid. 

Which shouldn't be surprising as this is what we have come to expect from these MAGA folks.

Have a nice day.

Saturday, January 28, 2023


Here's another one for the day late and dollar short file.

At my daughter's suggestion, we watched a movie I could have sworn was only a year or two old. Wasn't it just recently that I saw J.K. Simmons accepting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the abusive (to put it mildly), music teacher in the film Whiplash? No, my wife said having looked it up, the movie was made in 2014. So either the pandemic is really messing with my sense of time, or it's my age. Probably both.

Anyway, Whiplash has received many accolades as being a contemporary classic. On this site it is ranked as the 298th best movie of all time. You can take that or leave it. Judging by the list's top twenty two movies which includes zero movies NOT made in Hollywood, and top thirty six films which were NOT made in this century, I prefer to leave it. But the film must have been very well received critically to rate so highly on a list of the best movies ever made since the year 1900!

Does it deserve all the praise? 

Whiplash is a tightly directed (by Damien Chazelle who also wrote the screenplay) and edited (by Tom Cross) psychological thriller featuring two outstanding performances by Simmons and Miles Teller in the lead role as Andrew Neyman, a talented young musician enrolled in a fictional New York music academy.

The premise is this: Andrew, a drummer, becomes involved in the school's premier jazz band led by the Simmons character, the notorious Terrence Fletcher. Fletcher is mean to everybody, but really seems to have it in for drummers, especially Andrew. But Andrew is fiercely driven to be the next Buddy Rich, (yes Buddy Rich) and willingly puts up with the abuse, accepting it exists only for the purpose of teaching him to be the best drummer he can possibly be.

Given that setup, you can probably fill in the rest of the plot and get it about ninety percent right, as it has been a formula for countless stories told over the ages.. 

It's the remaining ten percent that makes the film worth watching.

If by chance you haven't yet seen this eight, check that, nine-year-old movie and still plan to see it, you may want to stop reading now as much of what I have to say from here on contains serious spoiler material.


Don't say I didn't warn you. 

My first criterion for what makes a good movie is that I think about it long after the closing credits. One way of doing that is being left with more questions than answers. Whiplash is open ended, it doesn't leave you with a sense of resolution at the end, even though it has a closing scene for the ages.

Films with premises such as this one, at least American ones, usually end in one of two ways. Either the Andrew character despite all the heartbreak, struggle, and fits and starts along the way, triumphs over adversity and in the end, sometime later, thanks his mentor for all the "tough love" making him what he is today. Or he triumphs despite the mentor who gets his comeuppance in the end. In both cases, the Andrew character gets the girl, and they live together happily ever after, at least until the sequel.

Does any of this happen in Whiplash? Well, with the exception of what happens with the girl, we don't know, it's up to us to decide.

Just like real life. 

It turns out, I seem to have a much different take on the story than many folks, including my family. After having digested the movie for a day or so, I asked my wife, daughter and son if they thought the movie had a happy ending. To a person they said yes.

I said no, I didn't think so. 


If you're still reading this, I'm assuming you've either seen the film or don't care. So this is how the movie ends, last chance, here goes:

With a band directed by Terrence Fletcher, Andrew performs a prolonged, no-holds-barred drum solo at Carnegie Hall which leaves everyone, including Fletcher, in awe. When he finishes, Fletcher gives the band it's cue for the closing chord, then the screen fades to black.

Andrew wins, he has proven to his abusive mentor that he's truly got what it takes, he has earned his rightful place in the pantheon of musicians, and presumably what he expressed a desire for earlier in the film, a shot at being remembered long after he's gone. More important perhaps as many have pointed out in reviews, in the end Andrew proves that he is the equal of Fletcher. 

On that last point I agree.

But what did he have to give up getting to that point and in reality, in which direction did he have to go to get there?

My view is that Andrew did not climb the heights in order to achieve equal status with Fletcher but rather, sank deeper and deeper into the depths to get there. In other words, in my view Whiplash is a modern-day Faust story, where the protagonist sells his soul to get something he desperately wants. 

So, if Andrew is Faust in this updated version, does that make Fletcher the Devil? 

It isn't until the last reel (so to speak) of the movie that you realize Fletcher is truly an evil character. Up until that point he is simply an asshole who despite sociopathic tendencies, may actually give a rat's ass about his students. He does show a trace of humanity in a scene where he expresses what seems to be genuine grief after the tragic death of a former student. And outside of class he displays a bit of charm at times.

After their student-teacher relationship ends, Andrew runs into Fletcher as he's playing a gig at a New York jazz club. After his set, Fletcher explains to Andrew that there should be no hard feelings because he uses his controversial techniques only to achieve perfection in his students' work, pushing them to places they never expected to go. Despite having just finished playing what to my ears anyway, was an insipid set of music, Fletcher explains to Andrew that the real enemy is mediocrity. The most memorable line in the movie comes at this point when Fletcher justifies his methods by telling Andrew:

There are no two words in the English language more harmful than "good job."

Fletcher then invites Andrew to join him and his new band at the aforementioned Carnegie Hall gig.

Before going on stage, Fletcher tells his band that this could well be the make-or-break performance of their careers. The man's true nature becomes apparent the next scene when on stage, Andrew discovers that Fletcher has intentionally tripped him up by giving him the wrong score. Just before the band begins the number that Andrew didn't rehearse, on stage Fletcher reveals he knew all along it was Andrew who anonymously testified at a hearing against his former teacher, thereby costing him his job at the academy.

Does that make Fletcher evil?

Looking at his actions toward Andrew before that final scene, I'd say yes. Not a man of many layers, in my opinion, Fletcher is not a particularly complicated character. 

Fletcher recognizes Andrew's talent because upon hearing him play for the first time, he invites the new student to sit in with his elite band, when one would assume that normally, prospective band members would come to him. Before the first rehearsal, Fletcher acts as if he's taking the new member under his wing by expressing interest in Andrew's family, information he would soon use to humiliate Andrew. Fletcher learns that Andrew was brought up by his single father, a writer whose day job is high school literature teacher.  His mom left the family shortly after her son was born. Fletcher concludes the scene by telling the young man to take it easy and most of all, to "have fun." 

The easy-going manner continues briefly during the rehearsal, even after the first few times Fletcher stops the band, noting that Andrew is messing up the tempo. As Andrew continues to be not quite up to Fletcher's impossibly rigorous standards, the tide turns quickly and after about five starts and stops, Fletcher hurls a chair at Andrew's head. He then gets in Andrew's face, berates him, slaps him, and brings up for all to hear, the boy's family history, claiming his mother left her husband because he was a loser. 

Beyond the horrifying way in which the teacher hazes the pupil, it's a brilliant scene. As Fletcher picks up on mistakes in the band that are imperceptible at least to untrained ears, it gives the viewer the idea that while his methods may be way out of line, the guy sure knows his stuff, and that his perfectionism may in some way, justify his actions.

It's not until after the credits roll, when you realize that's nonsense. Well at least, in my opinion.

Putting everything together with a bit of dime store psychoanalysis, Fletcher is all about power, manipulation, control, and nothing else. From the outset Fletcher sees three things in Andrew that he could use to his own ends: his talent, immense drive, and perhaps most important of all, his vulnerability.

As we would learn later, Fletcher himself is no great shakes as a musician. Knowing that, in retrospect his comments on Andrew's father being a failure were really a reflection on himself. It's not a stretch to imagine that he despised Andrew because he knew form the start that his student had far more potential than he did. 

So, the extra "attention" he gave Andrew would result in one of two things, it would either turn the young man into a successful musician, which would look great on Fletcher's resume, or it would destroy him. Either way, Fletcher wins.

It's worth pointing out here that the student whose death inspired some human emotion from Fletcher, turned out before his death, to be a success story, a member of Wynton Marsalis's band, "first chair" no less. In retrospect, it's hard to imagine a less successful student eliciting that kind of response from Fletcher. It's also worth pointing out that the former student did not die in a car accident as stated by Fletcher, but rather took his own life, which some attributed to his experience with the monstrous teacher. 

In an interview, writer/director Chazelle, admitted that his character Fletcher had no redeeming qualities. 


Andrew's character is more complex, which also becomes apparent as the movie progresses. His vulnerability is on display early on when we see him work up the nerve to ask Nicole, the girl behind the movie theater concession stand, played by Melissa Benoist, out for a date. After he falls deeper and deeper into the clutches of Fletcher, he coldly dumps Nicole when he realizes his obsession, which at one point in the film nearly costs him his life, trumps everything else. 

In another telling scene, Andrew makes some snarky comments to his cousins at the dinner table, which seem out-of-line with the character we met at the opening of the film before he falls under Fletcher's spell.

Superficially, neither of these scenes make Andrew appear likable, no doubt, the influence of Fletcher. But like everything else in Whiplash, there is another side. As my wife pointed out, the comments to the family members, nasty as they may have been, were not undeserved. And as my daughter pointed out, beyond the obvious differences in their approach to life, there was little chemistry from the get-go between Andrew and Nicole. Come to think of it, he was doing her a great service by breaking up with her right to her face, rather than simply ignoring her, which I'm afraid is what most guys would do.

So in a sense, Fletcher's influence on the young man was not altogether negative.

No, it wasn't those two scenes that defined Andrew losing his soul as I thought at first. It was that damned drum solo at the end of the movie.

When Andrew is humiliated for the last time by Fletcher, he leaves the Carnegie Hall stage and runs into the arms of his father waiting for him in the wings. He then summons up the courage to return to the stage to take over the performance. "Follow me now" he says to the band which they willingly do, much to Fletcher's wrath.  

He then goes on to give a performance filled with bluster, death-defying velocity, theatrics, and pyrotechnics. In short, he does everything humanly possible on a drum kit except play with the sticks between his toes while standing on his head.

Maybe I'm tipping my hand here but to me, the only thing worse than a one-minute drum solo, is a two-minute drum solo. And the only thing worse than a two-minute drum solo is... well you get the idea. I have no idea what the running time of the last scene of the movie was, but it seemed to go on forever. In that sense, it was a fitting and even brilliant depiction of the conflict between the two main characters. 

But was it good music?


It probably doesn't matter as Whiplash isn't about music at all, as countless YouTube videos of real-life musicians commenting on the film testify. So it probably doesn't matter that any teacher no matter the discipline in the 21st Century using Terrence Fletcher's methods of humiliation, degradation, and emotional and physical abuse bordering on violence, wouldn't last a week in an academic setting, not even the great Wynton Marsalis himself.

And it probably doesn't matter that that kind of teaching style wouldn't produce the intended results anyway. Maybe that was the point. Fletcher's anecdote about (Chicago) Joe Jones throwing his cymbal at Charlie Parker's head, nearly decapitating him, is bullshit. What really happened was during a jam session with members of the Count Basie Band in the thirties, to express his dissatisfaction with a solo performed by the then very young Bird, Jones dropped a cymbal to the floor. Did that humiliation make Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker as Fletcher implied? 

I doubt it. 

That's not to say there isn't a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice that goes into becoming a successful musician. And yes, there is blood shed at times, usually from popped blisters, not the copious amounts the film would have us believe.

What I missed in a movie that is ostensibly about making music, is the real motivation behind all the hard work and sacrifice of musicians: the love and pure joy of making music. You see it in the faces of nearly all decent musicians as they perform, from the humblest to the most accomplished, from pop to the avant guarde, and everything in between.

It isn't until the end of Whiplash that you see that look on Andrew's face. But the way the film is cut, it's obvious that his satisfaction comes not from the music he's making, but the fact that he has finally gained the favor and acceptance of the monster whose spell he is under. And the look on the monster's face at that very moment says he's satisfied, having gained another victim. 

At the dinner table scene mentioned above, Andrew reveals his true motivation by recalling the Charlie Parker anecdote to his family. His father, beautifully underplayed by Paul Reiser, points out that Parker, a heroin addict, died at 34. He said that wasn't exactly his definition of success, but what do fathers know? It didn't matter to Andrew who claimed defiantly that he'd rather die young and be remembered than live to a ripe old age and be forgotten. 

What that comment brought to my mind was the fact that nearly 60 years after his death, the name Lee Harvey Oswald is more remembered today than that of practically every jazz musician, living or dead. It might have been a good comeback line for the dad if only he had thought of it in time.

But I digress.

Like I said, Whiplash is not at all about music but it does hint to what's important in life. What really made an impression upon me having thought about it for quite a while was that Terrence Fletcher's idea of success, (which would also become Andrew's), is fleeting and superficial.

We are left at the end of the move, with the two of them, Fletcher and Andrew, being one, hardly a happy ending, for me at least. 

Whatever happens after the final chord, one can only guess. Perhaps Andrew follows the path of Fletcher's other student who makes it big only to hang himself. Perhaps Andrew gets Fletcher's old job at the music academy and picks up where his mentor left off, beating the crap out of new, vulnerable students. Or perhaps Andrew and Fletcher, now BFFs, team up to take their maniacal act on the road.   

On the other hand, maybe Andrew leaves music altogether and follows the lead of another of the talented Mr. Simmons' many characters, the avuncular insurance salesman in those Farmers adds. 

Considering the other options, THAT would be a happy ending.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Food Culture: USA

If you google "lists of great food cultures of the world", the same countries keep coming up. It should come as no surprise that France, China, India and Japan are found on nearly every such list. As I pointed out in an earlier post, if the food cultures of all those countries rate as tens on a scale of one to ten, one country would have to rate as an eleven. Naturally Italy usually comes in at or near the top of all these lists.

And why not? Food is such an integral part of Italian culture that their language has two words for table. "Tavolo", refers to a piece of furniture, the physical table made of wood, metal, plastic or whatever. Its feminine counterpart, "tavola", refers to the conceptual table, the place where people (most often family members) come together to share a meal, and truly much more. It is similar to the way the English language differentiates the words "house" and "home", something that many languages do not. 

Countries with lesser-known food cultures such as Indonesia and Turkey, almost always show up on these lists. One country I would put at or near the top of my own list of great food cultures, but only occasionally makes the public ones, is Mexico. I think that Mexican food culture is perhaps the most underappreciated in the world, even by many people of Mexican origin whose associations of Mexican cuisine are based upon the type of food they ate at home which often is limited to a particular region of that country. In reality, Mexican cuisine is as diverse as the cuisine of India and can be as complex in flavor and technique as anything you'll find coming out of a French kitchen. 

In this wonderful 2015 interview held at the 92nd Street Y in New York, (which I highly recommend viewing), the late Anthony Bourdain asked the renowned French/American chef Jacques Pépin this hypothetical question: if he were forced to limit the remaining meals of his life to the cuisine of one country (excluding France or the US), which country would that be? Pépin without hesitation said Mexico.

With the exception of Morocco, these culinary lists generally exclude the entire continent of Africa. You'll also find a large swath of Europe routinely excluded: namely Central Europe, including Germany, Austria, The Czech Republic (Czechia if you prefer), and Poland to name a few. Exclusions such as these lead me to believe that the selections made for these lists are based more upon current trends and the personal taste of the authors, rather than any objective criteria regarding what constitutes a great food culture. My guess is that the food cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa are still off the radar of many list compilers, although that's rapidly changing, and the off-the-chart, high-caloric levels of much Central European cuisine, once all the rage 'round these parts, is now as out of style as 8-track tapes and Oldsmobiles. Simply put, the glorious Wiener Schnitzel, just isn't hip anymore. 

To put more food cultures on the radar, if not to ignore fashion trends, every year, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, updates its "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" list, part of which is devoted to food culture. Their food culture list largely consists of specific dishes of specific nations, including two in Sub-Saharan Africa: Ceebu Jën the national dish of Senegal, and  Nsima, a thick porridge, of Malawi, and, it turns out, many other African nations. The list does get more general at times, including "The Regional Mexican Cuisine in Mexico", "The Gastronomic Meal of the French in France", and sometimes really general with "The Mediterranean Diet in (where else?), the Mediterranean Region."

Being the United Nations, I suppose there have to be great number of political considerations involved to compile such a list in order to spread around the wealth. Because of that I find it somewhat peculiar that of thirty entries, over one third of them come from a select part of the world, the region surrounding the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains of Western Asia. By contrast, the Americas in their entirety are only represented by three entries, one each from Haiti, Mexico and Paraguay. 

Once again, Central Europe is shut out entirely although there is a nod a little to the East. This year UNESCO added Ukrainian (not Russian, nor for that matter Polish) Borscht to its list. You don't think politics could be involved in that decision, do you?  

So where does the food culture of the U.S. fit in to all this? 

What food culture you may ask, hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti and meatballs?

I was expecting that.

It may come as a surprise to some that the good ol' USA does make at least some of the lists of countries with great food cultures, as it should I might add. The problem is, United States food culture is so diverse, it's hard to pin down. The American cuisine of the United States is at least as diverse as those of India and Mexico combined, and then some.

The American image of the Italian chef.

The problem in categorizing American food is that most of what we eat here has origins in other places, so it's hard to define what exactly is American cuisine. In reality however, the same is true for every cuisine on the planet except for those of indigenous cultures with no contact with the outside world. From the post I linked above, I brought up the national dish of Spain, paella, whose essential ingredients, rice and saffron, were brought to the country by the Arabs who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century CE. 

Everyone knows that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy, which he actually didn't. That staple of Italian cuisine had been around at least since the days of ancient Rome. But another essential ingredient in Italian cooking, the tomato, was not known in Europe until well after the voyages of Columbus. 

Then there are the Japanese who are famous for adapting all sorts of things found in other cultures and making them their own, including their cuisine. 

We do that here in the States as well, although we have a propensity to give our dishes foreign sounding names to give them street cred, even if they are American inventions.

Take the hamburger. While there are dishes made of ground up meat found all over the world, there is only a tenuous connection between arguably the food most associated with this country, and the city for which it's named. Despite its name, the hamburger is American through and through. 

Our second most famous dish, the hot dog, also bore the name of a major German city, Frankfurt. This makes sense because frankfurter refers to the type of German sausage which is the heart of the sandwich. But a frankfurter doesn't become a hot dog until somebody puts it inside a sausage shaped bun, an American invention, although no one agrees exactly where in this country that took place. On this site, you'll find all, and perhaps more than you've ever wanted to know about the history of the hot dog. 

What is common knowledge is that the name frankfurter went out of fashion during World War I when anti-German sentiment ran high in this country, and people began referring to them with names that already existed such as red hots and hot dogs. The same happened to the hamburger which for a brief time became referred to as "Salisbury Steak", named I just learned not after the town in England, but after the American guy who invented it. During WWII, hamburgers took on another name, "liberty sandwiches". 

Thank God those spite-filled names didn't stick, otherwise we'd be ordering my one-time favorite meal by asking for a liberty sandwich with freedom fries. 

In this country, you can almost be assured that a food named for a particular country, almost certainly has little or no connection to that country, and probably was invented by an American. 

Here are some examples:

  • French and Russian Dressing
  • English Muffins
  • Italian Beef, born, bred, and flourishing right here in Chicago
  • Swiss Steak
  • German Chocolate Cake
  • The French Dip Sandwich
  • The Cuban Sandwich
  • Chinese Chicken Salad

I'd list French Fries here as well, but my Flemish friends would take offense, pointing out that they are in fact Belgian, although they don't refer to them as such. Obviously, neither do the French. 

The last two dishes on the above list do have connections to the country they are named for as they were both invented by chefs from those countries who immigrated to the United States. 

The same can be said for the following dishes with foreign, i.e.: non-English sounding names, which while invented in the States, do have a connection to the places we assume they come from. 

From the U.S. via China:

  • Chop Suey, perhaps the granddaddy of dishes invented by immigrant chefs in an attempt to conform to the American palate.
  • Egg Foo Young.
  • General Tso's Chicken.
  • Kung Pao Chicken.
  • Sesame Chicken, starting to see a pattern here?
  • Fortune Cookies, who woulda thunk?

From the U.S. via France:

  • Vichyssoise.

From the U.S. via Italy:

  • Veal Parmigiana, a dish invented by Italian/Americans that has found its way back to the old country. Ironically, some Americans mistakenly believe that Eggplant Parmigiana is an American vegetarian alternative to "authentic" veal and chicken parmigiana, but in fact, it's the other way around.
  • Fettucine Alfredo.
  • Pepperoni Pizza. Pepperoni, (a name made up in the U.S.)  is actually a type of salami which you will find on occasion on pizza in Italy, just not in the form we are accustomed to in the States.
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs. In Italy you will find spaghetti, and you will find meatballs, but never together on the same plate.

From the U.S.  via Mexico:

  • Chimichangas.
  • Fajitas. I'm kind of cheating here because these two dishes come from just north-of-the-border.
  • Hard shell tacos.
  • Nachos.
  • Margaritas, which while probably not invented in Mexico, can certainly be found there, especially in tourist destinations.

The list goes on and on...

All of these things are quintessentially American, specifically because they reflect back upon our cultural origins, that is to say, all over the world. 

That's not to say that there aren't thousands of American dishes that have no pretensions of being anything other than American. 

Here are just a few of them in no particular order, lifted in part from yet another internet list, CNN's "American Food: The 50 Greatest Dishes" along with some of my own picks that didn't make the list:

  • Key Lime, Apple and Pecan Pie,
  • Delmonaco Steak.
  • Jambalaya.
  • San Francisco Sourdough Bread.
  • Wild Alaska Salmon.
  • Fried Chicken.
  • Pot Roast.
  • New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder.
  • Cornbread.
  • Meatloaf. 
  • The Po' Boy.
  • Oysters Rockefeller.
  • Rocky Mountain Oysters.
  • Spam.
  • California Roll. 
  • Indian (Native American) Frybread.
  • Scrapple.
  • Oreo Cookies.
  • Grits.
  • Maryland Crab Cakes.
  • Baked Beans.
  • BBQ Ribs

Unless you're the pickiest eater imaginable, there is probably something on this list that appeals to you. It ranges from high cuisine to junk food such as Twinkees, which were included on CNN's list, with stops everywhere in between.

The mention of some of these foods will probably make your mouth water, while others may be more likely to turn your stomach. Some of the items on the list you might eat, but would never admit to in public, unless you happen to be Jacques Pépin, (watch the video).

The list is so diverse it probably makes sense to divide U.S. cuisine into its component parts defined by region. The East Coast, The South, The Southwest, The Midwest, and the West Coast all have distinct food cultures. All of these regions can be further divided by cultures from specific states, cities, and even neighborhoods.

Then there is the vast array of foods specific to the groups of people who make up this country, starting with Indigenous Americans and working its way through every group that has found their way here, by whatever means. 

So what is the quintessential American dish? 

Well, number one on CNN's list of great food found in the USA is the Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner.

This is a holiday that almost everyone in this country celebrates, despite its troubling provenance in our day and age. More than any holiday in this country, Thanksgiving centers around the meal. As a ritual it is to Americans much as Seder is to the Jews, the Tea Ceremony is to the Japanese, and Sunday dinner is to the Italians.

One of the beautiful things about Thanksgiving Dinner in the US (I don't know much about its Canadian equivalent) is that every culture living here brings something of its own to the meal to add on to the center of attraction, naturally the roasted turkey. It's common to find kielbasa at a Polish American family's Thanksgiving table, cornbread dressing and collard greens at a Black American family's table, and pasta at an Italian American family's table, to name just three examples. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving in my own family with its Irish-American roots, without a bowl of turnips (that's what we call them, they're actually mashed rutabagas) at our table. 

Of course, Thanksgiving Dinner comes around only once a year and symbolic as it is, the same goes for the dishes featured at the meal. As much as I adore the rutabagas, the green bean casserole and especially the dressing, less so the turkey, once a year is plenty for me. 

Since it doesn't live outside of its context, I wouldn't use T-giving dinner to present to the rest of the world as the quintessential American dish. 

So, what would I pick? That's pretty easy. 

If I had to pick favorite food culture in this country, like many, I'd have to go with the Creole/Cajun culture of Louisiana, whose culinary if not political capital is New Orleans. 

A microcosm of the United States, but unique in so many ways, New Orleans like most major American cities, is a mix of people from all over the world. Specifically. the Crescent City is a mix of European, African, Latin, Carribean and Indigenous American cultures, with a little Asian thrown in for good measure.

And Gumbo is the dish that represents all the cultures found in Louisiana. As anyone who has made it knows, the heart and soul of Gumbo is the roux, a mixture of flour and fat that originated as its name implies, from France. From there the dish is thickened either with okra, a vegetable cultivated in Africa, or file (pronounced "FEE lay"), ground sassafrass leaves, introduced by Native Americans. The hot seasoning comes from the settlers from the Spanish Canary Islands, and the andouille sausage from the Cajuns, via the French-speaking part of Canada. 

Like Paella, Gumbo originated as a peasant stew, infinitely adaptable to whatever ingredients its maker has lying around the kitchen. 

Also like Paella, everyone has his or her own recipe. As such, Gumbo has made its way onto the tables of homes and restaurants of Louisiana from the humblest to the swankiest.

And Gumbo has found its way to tables all over the United States, especially in the past several decades with the growing popularity of Creole/Cajun cooking thanks in part to the two Julia Childs of Louisiana cuisine, celebrity chefs Paul Prudhomme and Justin Wilson.

Like America, coming from humble beginnings, Gumbo is infinitely diverse, and like Americans, it can be whatever it wants to be, good, bad, and everything in between. 

As long as you don't forget the roux.

So would Gumbo be my pick for THE quintessential American food AND the national dish of the USA?

Yup, you betcha I gawr-on-tee.