The Coke Ad and What Is Great About America

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You sometimes hear people joke about how there’s no such thing as “American food” but that misses the point – what’s great about America’s culinary culture is the access to an unmatched variety of other countries’ cuisines, plus barbecue.

The lack of a singular national dish isn’t a knock on us, it’s a testament to the fact that our country is a place that, at its best, is welcoming to many different kinds of people and cultures, who can bring their traditions here and change our experience of national and regional cultural life.

In my neighborhood in South Philly, there is a large shopping center of Vietnamese stores and restaurants right near the 9th Street Italian Market. South of Washington Ave, the Italian Market basically becomes the Mexican Market. (Philly people, who else wants to start calling this the “9th Street Market?”)

I’m sure some (older) people probably resent the waning dominance of Italian-American culture in this area, but nobody I know does. This area is a great place to eat! And it’s a great place to live and eat because you have great access to authentic Italian food, authentic Vietnamese food, and authentic Mexican food all in one spot.

And what’s more, the adjacent ethnic food clusters influence each other in excellent ways. The Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich (itself a mashup of Vietnamese and French cuisine) is referred to by a number of restaurants around here as a “Vietnamese hoagie” that comes on Italian bread instead of the traditional French baguette. Probably because they buy their bread from the same local bakeries as the Italian hoagie shops. You also see some Mexican hoagies, and I bet somewhere there’s a Mexican-Vietnamese mash-up I’m not yet aware of. One of my friends is working on an Indian food hoagie business concept.

The racists longing for white supremacy over “the culture” and politics will never understand this, but cosmopolitanism is by far America’s greatest strength. What’s great about this country is that people from all over the world want to come live here. Some conservatives will entertain this idea to an extent, but then focus on the need for assimilation and melting pot blah blah blah.

How boring! The retention of cultural authenticity by many of the people who come live and do business here is just as positive as the innovations we get on the margin from the cultural mash-ups. Americanness is about eclecticism and celebration of variety, not sameness.


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