The Food of America

Photo from: http://www.nicolaginzler.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/USA-food-map.jpg

Hamburgers. Fries. Corn on the cob. These are all things that come to mind when one thinks of American food. But what would you think if foods like tacos, burritos, and sushi were on that list? Over the past twenty-five years the demographics of the United States have been shifting due to both immigration and interracial marriage, causing America’s menu to become more culturally diverse than ever before. Indeed, as the ethnic makeup of America changes, the definition of American food continues to adapt to its creators, taking the category of American cuisine into domains it has never before ventured.

The Melting Pot of America

Photo from: http://www.pewresearch.org/next-america/#Two-Dramas-in-Slow-Motion

Photo from: http://www.pewresearch.org/next-america/#Two-Dramas-in-Slow-Motion

A nation with roots in immigration, the U.S. entered an abnormal time of relatively low immigration rates in the mid 20th century. In that time, the majority of the population was either white or black, with 85% of the population being non-Hispanic white [1]. Since then, immigration into the U.S. has gradually resurged and brought America an influx of new races and cultures. While immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries were largely from Europe, the vast majority today (88%) come from continents other than Europe [1]. Forty million immigrants, about half Hispanic and 30% Asian, have arrived in the U.S. since 1965, increasing the U.S.’s diversity immensely. It is estimated that by 2050, immigrants and their children will make up 37% of America’s population [1]. Most of these immigrants come from Latin America and Asia, both of which have unique cultures that have been readily fused with preexisting American customs.

Further ethnic diversity stems from an increasing tendency towards interracial marriage in the United States. In 1970, due to cultural norms and lingering racial prejudices, interracial marriage occurred infrequently, at a rate of only 4%. Today, as more Americans progress towards racial unity, the rate of interracial marriage has increased to 15% of all marriages [1]. This has lead the population of America to become inherently intercultural, as more and more people come from mixed backgrounds. In fact, by 2055, it is projected that there will be no longer be a majority race in the United States [2]. Indeed, America has become a true melting pot of ethnic diversity.

Impact on Food

Photo from: http://thevista.tv/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/chips-and-salsa.jpeg

Due to the ever-changing population makeup of America, foods previously considered to be exclusively ethnic are becoming more mainstream than ever before. In particular, foods with Hispanic and Asian backgrounds are surging due to the corresponding influx of immigrants from these areas of the world. Items such as tacos, tortilla chips, and salsa are on the rise in a big way, and it’s beginning to show in U.S. markets. Salsa recently overtook ketchup as America’s most popular condiment [3], and tortillas are now eaten more often than burger rolls and hot dog buns [4]. These changes are brought upon by a rise in American Hispanics’ population and buying power. In fact, Hispanics in the U.S. have increased their purchasing power from $208 billion in 1990 to $542 billion in 2001, and it only continues to rise today [5].

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Similar to Mexican food, Asian cuisine grows more popular with each passing day. While fairly obscure just a few decades ago, Asian food now holds a prominent place in America’s food market today. The category’s fast food sales have increased by 135 percent since 1999 [6], with chains such as Panda Express becoming some of America’s most popular stops for a quick bite to eat (it brought in almost $2 billion in sales in 2014) [6]. Just as Hispanics have popularized Mexican food in the U.S., Asians have brought much of their culture to share as well.

But perhaps the most prominent aspect of climbing racial diversity in America is the impact it has had on traditional American cuisine. Though authentic ethnic foods certainly play a consequential role in U.S. dining, the fusion of American foods with various ethnic flavors is what has truly changed the landscape of eating in the United States. Tex-Mex, a category of food combining both Mexican and American components, has risen to become one of America’s most sought-after dining options. Tex-Mex burrito chains like Qdoba and Chipotle have exploded over the past 10 years, with Chipotle adding 195 new restaurants in 2014 alone and beginning to outperform traditional rival fast food chains like Wendy’s [7].

Red Robin’s Guacomole Bacon Burger Photo from: https://sandwichtalk.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/redrobin.jpg

Furthermore, foreign concepts continue to be incorporated into what many consider to be tried-and-true American foods. Burger chains like Whataburger now offer items such as chicken fajita tacos [3], and Hardee’s is now selling a Teriyaki burger [6], demonstrating influences from both Mexico and Asia. Red Robin offers a hamburger with Mexican-inspired guacamole paired with American-founded bacon [8], and even Lay’s now sells a “Chile Lemon” flavor of potato chips [9].

It is apparent that foreign cultures have been influencing American food, but to what end? Is the sanctity of American food being ruined by such changes, and is storied tradition lost with each subsequent food fusion? While some might view the transformations in this manner, perhaps the answer is that these influences are not foreign at all, but fundamentally American in nature. After all, we are a nation founded by a mix of races from all over the world, ready to adapt to fit the identity of its population. Moreover, one cannot deny that Asian and Mexican cuisine has brought American inhabitants some of the best food they have ever tasted. As America’s population continues to change, so will its food, but this shift is not one to view with contempt. The evolution of American cuisine is not only acceptable, but is as an embodiment of the country’s ideals. So next Fourth of July, pass on the barbecue, and indulge in a taco—it just might be the most American thing to do.


1. “The Next America.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/next-america/#The-New-Us 
2. Ravitz, Jessica. “Pew Study: Asian Immigrants May Overtake Hispanics” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/28/us/pew-study-immigration-asians-hispanics/
3. Hirsch, J.M. “Tortillas And Salsa Are Outselling Burger Buns And Ketchup In The US.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/salsa-is-americas-favorite-condiment-2013-10
4. Chumley, Cheryl K. “Hispanic Influence: Tortillas Take over Burger Buns as Fast-food Fave.” Washington Times. The Washington Times, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/17/hispanic-influence-tortillas-take-over-burger-buns/
5. Denis, Nicole Potenza. “The Hispanic Influence of U.S. Food Retailing.” Specialty Food, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. https://www.specialtyfood.com/news/article/the-hispanic-influence-of-us-food-retailing/
6. Ferdman, Roberto A. “Asian Food: The Fastest Growing Food in the World.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/03/the-fastest-growing-food-in-the-world/
7. Solomon, Brian. “Chipotle Continues Explosive Growth In The Burrito Bull Market.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2014/10/20/chipotle-continues-explosive-growth-in-the-burrito-bull-market/
8. Red Robin menu http://www.redrobin.com/menu
9. Laboy, Suzette, and J.M. Hirsch. “Latino, Other Ethnic Influences Changing America’s Food choices.” NBC Latino. Associated Press, 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. http://nbclatino.com/2013/10/17/latino-other-ethnic-influences-changing-americas-food-choices/

The Evolution of the Modern Hamburger

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Left photo from: nationalreport.net; Right photo from: http://whiskedfoodie.com/

The hamburger is one of America’s most iconic foods, but its tradition as a fast food staple might be changing. Despite historical success in popular fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, recent data has shown that consumers are shifting away from the traditional fast food burger and towards a more sophisticated, quality-driven one. Indeed, current national opinion has driven gourmet burger chains to the top of the casual food market, and has left fast food stops questioning the validity of their go-to formula for success.

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The first ever McDonald’s, located in San Bernardino, California                                             Photo from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

The hamburger’s popularity can largely be attributed to the rise of most modern fast food chains. It first made a significant appearance with the start of McDonald’s in 1948. Since then, its popularity has only grown, causing the sprouting of over 50,000 fast food restaurants in the U.S. alone, and a net worth for McDonald’s of almost 62 billion dollars. Despite this early success, it is apparent that something has changed in the burger industry. Burger places serving organic or premium beef, along with quality toppings and buns, have begun to outperform fast food joints, and in a big way.

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Over the past few years, several quality burger chains have experienced significant growth. Establishments such as Shake Shack, Smashburger, and Five Guys have all expanded tremendously, some as much as 140 percent in one year. On the other hand, traditional burger restaurants are beginning to lose ground. Burger fast food chains have suffered a recent 3% loss of customer traffic , and McDonald’s profits have declined by 28% in the first quarter of 2015 alone.

The cause of the shift is apparent. Independent and upscale burger joints are putting out more expensive, yet higher quality burgers. Consumers that once craved a cheap and easy bite are now looking for a more immersive experience from their hamburgers. A recent pro-health movement has also led customers to think harder about where their meat is coming from. Those who would previously eat a McDonald’s burger are now opting to choose a hamburger that might be grass-fed or hormone-free from a nicer restaurant. Moreover, a gourmet burger elevates one’s sense of social status, making burger diners more likely to shell out a few more dollars to avoid the possible shame of being seen devouring a McDouble.

All of these factors have led to a positive feedback loop for gourmet burger chains. An influx of consumers looking for more expensive, higher quality burgers has increased both the price and sophistication of the coveted sandwiches. Some restaurants now offer exquisite meats and toppings from around the world, like the $60 Rossini Burger at Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar in Las Vegas, which includes Kobe Beef from Australia.

The Rossini Burger, topped with sautéed foie gras and shaved truffle Photo from:  http://aht.seriouseats.com/

The Rossini Burger from Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar, topped with sautéed foie gras and shaved truffle
Photo from: http://aht.seriouseats.com/

Hardee's "Most American Thickburger" Photo from: http://mms.businesswire.com/

Hardee’s “Most American Thickburger”
Photo from: http://mms.businesswire.com/

Even fast food chains are beginning to shift towards higher quality burgers in attempts to stay competitive. McDonald’s is testing a new collection of gourmet burgers in the UK in hopes of restoring former glory, and Hardee’s is trying to change things up by introducing the “Most American Thickburger,” a hamburger topped with potato chips and a split hot dog, along with normal burger toppings.

Whether it is from changing American tastes or a shift in overall food culture itself, it is apparent that burgers nationwide are trending towards a position of higher quality and loftier prices. As fast food chains struggle to keep up, independent burger restaurants and “better burger” chains have continued to rise, suggesting that the average American’s burger dining experience can only improve in the near future.