I get why the United States, in the global context, doesn’t have the finest dietary reputation. We love our fattening, sugary, over-processed food. We’re resistant to “exotic” dishes and challenging flavors. Yesterday, I bought a bag of chips because LeBron James was on the bag. (They were decent! Shout out to Ruffles Flamin’ Hot Cheddar & Sour Cream!) Truly, after eating fried Oreos at the state fair, I didn’t believe any lowbrow American cuisine could faze me.
Then I followed a Twitter account that shares regional food from every corner of the country.
It’s kind of like a neural net trained on a hundred thousand diner menus started churning out photos of meals that shouldn’t exist… but each post accumulates replies and shares from people who have lived in those places and swear by the delicacy pictured. And every time I think I’ve seen it all, @RegionalUSFood pulls another “cannibal sandwich” out of thin air.
I love how the Department of Agriculture has a “Tips for Eating Cannibal Sandwiches” page with exactly one tip: Don’t. They go on to recommend that you actually get the internal temperature of the meat to 160 degrees, adding, hopelessly: “You may be surprised to find that it tastes better when cooked!” No dice, bureaucrats. You can’t stop red-blooded Americans from causing salmonella outbreaks with their local traditions.
My god. I have to admit, for all that this nation strives to achieve homogeneity and monoculture, it remains wildly diverse — and endlessly surprising. To think I could travel a few hours or days in any direction, walk into a restaurant and find myself confronted by a novelty I hadn’t once imagined in my 37 years on this planet… well, it’s the most patriotic I’ve felt in a long, long time.
If we bring this kind of ingenuity to our diner fare, it’s within our power to solve climate change and guarantee health care for all. Each regional food that pops up on my timeline is a reminder: In life, there are no rules. Don’t be afraid of greatness. We are the chefs we’ve been waiting for.