When you hear “America,” what do you think of? The land of the fry? The home of the burger? For many Americans, the quintessential meal is just that: the greasy, fattening, and super-sized foods that seem to encompass this country and feed its ever-growing obesity epidemic.

But with over 320 million people in the U.S., American food is a melting pot in of itself and therefore can’t be boiled down to just one category alone. Our true cuisine exemplifies the cultural hybrid that makes our country so unique, but unfortunately gets overlooked by the convenience of the salt, sugar, and fat so prevalent in the American diet.

What Americans Really Eat

Photo courtesy of Aarthi Chezian

With almost 50,000 fast food restaurants in the United States, many Americans turn to junk and fatty foods for obvious reasons: the time, the cost, and the ease. In fact, although Americans are cutting calories, the one-third of our population that is affected by obesity gets their calories from the wrong foods (sugar-sweetened beverages and refined carbohydrates).

However, our true cuisine is not fast nor beyond greasy, but it has been developing since the Native American and American colonial diets, creating a vast array of many, many different tastes and dishes around the country.

Regional Foods

The foods that make up what Americans consume every day include each of the regions where we live and eat, including the Northeast, the Pacific/Hawaii, the Midwest, the South, the Southwest, and the Northwest.

As I mentioned before, you can’t simply round up the entirety of American food due to the fact that there are just too many different types of people who define each cuisine. But, it’s important to note the stark culinary differences in the regions where certain populations tend to settle, which makes the U.S. the diverse and unique country that it is.

Photo by Christian Urso

Even so, each region can be differentiated further by its states in the area. For example, The Northeast represents Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, with each state having its own traditions and tastes. While Vermont is known for its fresh and local maple syrup and cheeses, Massachusetts prizes its seafood, cranberries, and the Boston Cream Pie.

Photo courtesy of Renée Wool

And while clam chowder, fish and chips, and lobster rolls are clearly a crowd favorite in the Northeast (because they are wicked good), tex-mex (NOT Taco Bell) is a staple in the southwestern states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and of course Texas. These foods are a fusion of Mexican and American cuisines and are characterized by a heavy use of shredded cheese, beef and pork, and beans.

Why This Matters

Photo courtesy of Scott Ableman

The “fast food nation” and its junk food craze are constantly expanding throughout the world, creating a unified but not all-encompassing culture of culinary negativity in the United States.

And as the quality of the products and the treatment of the workers at the establishments that value hamburgers, fries, and pizza as the epitome of American cooking are becoming more prevalent to consumers worldwide, it’s crucial that Americans understand that our cuisine is so much more than fast food.

The Future of American Food

Photo courtesy of Sean Lee

As we advance and move on from the cliché of “American” food, chefs in the U.S. are creating mouthwatering new types of cuisines that will continue to change how we view food today. In fact, the phrase “New American Cuisine” was created to describe the mix of many different culinary tastes, including French, Asian, and Spanish flavors.

And while the classic hamburger will forever be one of our nation’s most beloved foods, it’s important to realize that there is so much more to America than its grease and fat. The ingredients, regions and new styles are constantly changing what we eat today to show that American food reflects American culture: a growing and diverse country.