Exploring Culture Through Food
Posted: July 12, 2012
The Center of Disease Control estimates that by the year 2050, at least 30% of the U.S. population will be of Latino descent. Pennsylvania alone has experienced an 82.6% increase in its Hispanic population in the last 10 years. You may have noticed more people speaking the Spanish language, the growing popularity of Latino inspired dishes in restaurants, and an increase in Spanish language programs in our schools. Our American culture continues to change and diversify with growing cultural populations, especially within the Hispanic community. With these changes in culture, come new foods and traditions for us to learn about, experience, and enjoy.
The United States Latino populations originate from the Central and South American countries including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and many others. Their integration into the U.S. gives everyone an opportunity to explore and learn about new cultures. Although the languages throughout these countries sound similar, each region has a different culture with varying cuisines. From Aztec and Mayan to African and European influences, the South and Central Americas are culinary ports, filled with flavor and diversity from all over the world.
Most of us are familiar with the taco kits and burritos we see in stores and many chain restaurants. However, the cuisine in these countries has much more to offer than the Americanized versions we typically see and enjoy. Flavors range from mild to spicy, depending on the region and variations of chili peppers available. For example, Mexican cuisine is known for its extensive use of chili peppers. In contrast, Puerto Rican food is generally mild with a distinctive flavor from the use of many herbs and spices. Agricultural and livestock practices vary from region to region. Not only do the flavors vary by region, but also by educational level and economic class. With many factors affecting food choices, the introduction of the Latino community in the U.S. gives us ample opportunity to learn about other cultures.
Many resources are available for us to learn about new cultures with our families. Check the local library for reference books about other countries, including the Central and South American regions. The local library, internet, and bookstores contain resources for Mexican, Latin, and multicultural cookbooks for all age ranges and level of cooking skills. Try learning about new foods and picking one dish or ingredient to try each week. As our population continues to diversify, we have an opportunity to expand on our cultural awareness. By exploring other cuisines with our families, we will be able to grow and change with our country and its diverse citizens.