Taco Bell perfectly embodies the authenticity/conformity contradiction of America by walking a fine line between the two ideals. Authenticity, or at least the appearance of its existence, is important to Americans, especially in food. Taco Bell attempts to maintain authenticity through its use of the Mexican language and an ode to Mexican Missions. Inside the store, traditional Mexican words are used for most of the menu items as well as in half of its slogans. Outside the store, the architecture is reminiscent of Mexican Missions featuring “adobe-like tan brick exterior walls, a red clay-tile roof, and … a simple, Mission-style bell.” [source] Additionally, the brand’s company overview on Facebook reads, “Taco Bell is the nation’s leading Mexican-style quick service restaurant chain.”
As for conformity… the taco that most Americans come into contact with today is an American invention popularized by Glen Bell during the 1950s when competition was heating up for fast food burger joints. [source] Bell altered the traditional Mexican fare to suit American tastes (a different mixture of toppings) and to make it easier to eat on-the-go (trading a soft, corn tortilla for a crunchy, flour tortilla). [source] Doing so would launch his chain to McDonald’s level fast food stardom. Not only is the Taco Bell taco very unlike traditional tacos, so is everything else on the menu. The items have been Americanized for our palate. After the jump, Mexicans can be viewed trying various items from Taco Bell’s menu for the first time. Their reactions, and Taco Bell’s failure to open in Mexico, say it all.
But what about all this makes Taco Bell so American? Aside from its American invention, Taco Bell resonates with the American ideal of the melting pot. There are many cultures here; we accept everyone. Look! Mexican food is the 6th best quick service restaurant, following McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Wendy’s, and Burger King. In reality, it’s not Mexican food at all. It’s just altered traditional items, and items made up altogether. So, in reality, we accept cultures as long as they conform to the current mainstream cultural values and behaviors. As Americans, we love to feel like we’re the cosmopolitan example for the world, but it’s not easy to be an immigrant here. The country that’s built on immigration has a hard time letting go of where people came from. Both positively and negatively.
Side note: A few of the definitions on Urbandictionary help my point, like this and this, but most were disgustingly funny like this.
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Okay, this post was a problem. Not so much because the choice was difficult, but because the food in question looks like a monstrosity. In a way, that’s what chili actually is. In 1926, a man named J.C. Clopper, reportedly the first man in America to comment on San Antonio’s chile carne, said that the meat purchased by families was thrown together with plenty of peppers to compensate for the minimal amount of meat. This meat and pepper base is the ground off of which all chili is based. Chili was a meal concocted by poor families to make the most out of what little food that they had available.
Now, chili has evolved far beyond its origins to become a meal that is celebrated in America. Chili recipes are elaborate mixes of vegetables, spices, and other ingredients and cooking techniques. Chili cook-offs are some of the biggest food festivals in America, and yet they cater to a very specific palate. The most renown cook-offs are held by the International Chili Society and the Chili Appreciation Society International, two organizations that pride themselves on revering a dish that was designed for and by the poorest of American families. I think it’s funny that the ICS and the CASI call themselves “international” societies and hold the “World’s Championship Chili Cook-Off” since the world of chili is located nearly exclusively in the U.S. and the biggest cook-offs are held in American cities, such as Palm Springs in California and Terlingua in Texas.
Below is a link to some of the winning chili recipes from the “World’s Championship Chili Cook-Off,” sponsored by the ICS.
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I never grew up eating apple pie. In fact, the only time I would even see an apple pie would be during holidays, but I somehow always associated apple pie with America. To me, apple pie meant those small town American values. Apple pie was what you would bring to a new neighbor just moving in next door. Apple pie stood for the housewife who spent hours making a hearty meal while wearing her apron, but never complained because she enjoyed her duties. Apple pie represented the family of four who ate dinner every night together and talked about what happened in their day. This one food found a way to embrace all of the values of the classic small town American life. For many, apple pie is America.
Apple pie has become an American contradiction through time. As American society changed, the apple pie stayed exactly the same in appearance, in taste, and in what it represents. Society through time has come to change. We no longer expect that a young girl will grow up to be a housewife making a home cooked meal every night. Many of us no longer sit down and eat dinner together every night as a family. We don’t want desert every single day following dinner. Our society has turned away from those small-town family values and towards convenience. We think have changed what it means to be American, but did we really change that much? Apple pie, and the ideas it stands for, has found a way to survive as an American symbol. Although we may now buy our apple pie from the grocery store, rather than baking it from scratch, apple pie still finds a way to encompass all of the values it had in the past. We still find the words “homemade” printed on the apple pie box we buy from the store. We still desire those values associated with the apple pie. It is almost as if by eating a slice of apple pie, we are connected to a time when those American values were abundant. Some people even buy apple pie scented candles to make their homes smell like the delicious food, as if the smell alone will give the illusion that the values associated with apple pie are a part of that home. “Apple pie values” have managed to survive our societal changes leading us to wonder if these changes considerable as they seem.
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