It’s debatable as to whether the United States is a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl.” These are the metaphors often used to describe the immigrant experience in America and the trends of assimilation and multiculturalism.
Frenchman J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur depicted the nation in the late 18th century as a “melting pot” in which people from different countries were brought together and born again as Americans. The “salad bowl” metaphor arose more recently. Similar to the ingredients of a salad, each culture preserves their own distinct qualities and all come together to form a diverse heterogeneous society.
Discussions of the “melting pot” and “salad bowl” concepts arise regularly in the United States today; it’s an underlying question when the media debates subjects such as language of instruction in public schools and, of course, American “values,” an especially prevalent topic with the impending 2016 presidential elections.
I’ve thought about these frameworks somewhat sporadically over my past three years abroad, particularly when queried about national foods of the United States. It’s not an easy question to answer.
Perhaps too idyllically leaning towards the notion of a “salad bowl,” I sought not to diminish the distinctive diversity of the immigrant nation in which I was born and raised. Growing up in an environment with friends of Somali, Russian, Swedish, Chinese, Hmong, and Indian ancestry, this was my American experience.
The Thanksgiving holiday was the response upon which I settled when asked about national foods of the United States. From my perspective, it is a slightly unusual occasion upon which most people in America share “typical,” per se, foods.
Variations of the November holiday, of course, exist, such as Scandinavian lutefisk and macaroni and cheese in the great American South. I’m quite confident, though, that turkey with stuffing and sides of mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, cranberry sauce, and apple and pumpkin pies appear on a majority of tables throughout the nation.
The broad celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States is one reason it was especially wonderful to share this festive autumn 2015 day with my classmates in the MSc Local Economic Development program. It’s a holiday upon which people gather together and share a communal meal acknowledging gratefulness for the bounties of life, and that’s exactly what happened here at the London School of Economics this year.
A crowd of approximately 45 gathered to share a traditional American feast of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, and warm pie. As well, we extended the celebratory spread to include potluck contributions from all attendees. Other delights in which we indulged included luxurious French sweets, cookies, and jam, Lithuanian honey biscuits, and a Brazilian version of Russian stroganoff with chicken and white rice.
One classmate visited numerous grocery stores throughout London to find ears of corn; this is the traditional food about which he thought when considering Thanksgiving and kindly sought to bring such a great contribution to our collaborative meal.
Well beyond the evening marking my first success at cooking over 20 lbs (9 kg) of turkey, it wasn’t a night to soon be forgotten. And although many in attendance were celebrating their first Thanksgiving, the main gist of this quintessential American holiday was easily understood: friendship, giving, and appreciation for the opportunity to be together learning and sharing during this period of our lives. It was a festive evening created and enjoyed by all and definitely one of my most favourite Thanksgiving celebrations yet!