Field Report: Marketing of Food and Health

The Grocery Stores

To understand more about the placement of food, health, and society in my everyday life, I completed a third field report that focused on the marketing of food. In this field report, I wanted to explore the marketing of food from two similar, yet different, sources: Company Shops Market (co-op) and Food Lion. Both are stores that sell groceries including produce, meat, and beer. Even though the sell similar items, when I took a look deeper, I saw many differences.

Company Shops Market in Burlington, North Carolina may seem a bit out of place for its niche, but it does a lot for the community. What is a food cooperative? Food cooperatives are distinguished by seven key principles, which are displayed at Company Shops Market:

1.      Voluntary and open membership

2.      Democratic member control

3.      Member economic participation

4.      Autonomy and independence

5.      Education, training and information

6.      Cooperation about cooperatives

7.      Concern for the community

Even though the Company Shops Market is owned by more than 3,000 people, it is open to everyone. Ownership comes with certain perks and rewards but the co-op is certainly open to the public. The first thing I noticed about the co-op is its employees. They approached me, asked me if I have any questions, wondered how my day was going, and ultimately wished me a good one. They really tried to engage me in conversation, which I enjoyed.

Company Shops Market also provides a variety of allergy specific ingredients and food options, including gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, diary-free and lactose-free. It serves locally baked bread and pastries. The co-op also provides lunch with their hot bar, salad bar, and made-to-order sandwiches. You can tell immediately that the co-op and its employees are dedicated to the community and healthy living.

As I was talking to an employee there, she told me that what’s amazing about the co-op is that it provides purposeful shopping. For every dollar I spent there, 68% goes back to the community through donations, taxes, and payroll. That means I am helping support the local small farms, businesses, and producers in order for them to provide my community with all-natural, free-range, fair trade, and organic food products. Company Market Shops provides only the freshest food that is produced within 250 miles from Burlington. To further exemplify its support of the community, another employee explained that the co-op was going to open an espresso machine but didn’t because there was a coffee shop opening across the street and didn’t want to interfere with their business. The employee said it wasn’t going to be a loss for them to wait a few months to open their espresso machine because the new coffee shop would bring people into downtown Burlington, anyway.

Food Lion, on the other hand, is a massive grocery store headquartered in North Carolina that operates more than 1,100 supermarkets along the Mid-Atlantic and South-Atlantic states. I tried to talk to a manager at the Burlington store, but none were available at the time. Upon research on the Food Lion website, I see that they have a social mission to give away free meals to families in need. They do this through donation, charitable foundation grants, and reusable Food Lion Feeds grocery bag sales. So far, Food Lion has served over 71,000,000 meals and supports food banks in states from Pennsylvania all the way down to Georgia and as far west as Tennessee. In North Carolina, the closest food bank to Burlington that Food Lion supports is in Winston-Salem (In Our Community). Yes, it seems like Food Lion is supporting “the community,” but the Burlington Food Lion does not seem to support the Burlington community. The Food Lion website also has very little in portraying the personality and emotion of the brand like the Company Shops Market website does.

The Beer Section

When I took a closer look at the beer section at Company Shops Market, I was quite impressed with the selection. They had two different sections; one for local beer and one for out-of-state, mass-produced beer.      

Local Beer

Local Beer

Non-local Beer

Non-local Beer

Compared to Food Lion, the co-op had a much bigger selection and variety in sizes. Because Company Shops Market had the local and non-local beers obviously separated, I could really understand what I was buying. The mass-produced, non-local beers included the generic Bud Light and PBR, but I also found some breweries from my home state, Pennsylvania, like Yuengling and Victory. It’s not difficult to find Victory in regular grocery stores, but the co-op had a much bigger selection of flavors than offered at grocery stores like Food Lion.

Because my roommate is gluten intolerant, I noticed right away that the co-op had a much bigger variety of gluten free beers and ciders than Food Lion normally does. Food Lion does carry Omission, a gluten free beer, but it doesn’t nearly carry the amount of gluten free beers as Company Shops Market does.

What impressed me the most, though, was the local beer selection. They sold singles, 6-packs ($9-10), cases, growlers ($9), and pints ($5-11) of probably 40 local breweries. Company Shops Market also has specialized beers. The KCCO brewery is made from a photo and video blog app called The Chive and is hard to find. The co-op even has a “Build Your Own 6-Pack” which is a unique addition to the beer section. The beer prices were similar to Food Lion. One last interesting part that is different from Food Lion is that the co-op has a supplies section for home brews.

Homebrew Section

Homebrew Section

The Meat Section

The meat section was surprisingly small at the co-op compared to the one at Food Lion. I was impressed because every single part of the co-op meat section was clearly labeled with the specific farm from which the product originated.

It was actually very impressive how local and fresh the meats were. Asgard Farms and Reedy Fork Farms are just about 20 minutes from Company Market Shops. Reedy Fork Farms, located in Elon, NC, praises itself on organic feed. For example, it serves its chickens feed made from corn, oats, barley, wheat, flax, field peas, soy, and/or crab meal (Organic Chicken Feed). Plainville Farms practices humanness when raising turkeys. It advocates for clean barns to raise its turkeys, a pure vegetarian diet, no antibiotics, and short travel times to the processing plant (Animal Welfare). At Food Lion, none of this information is shown on the meats. Even though a product or two is labeled “organic” at Food Lion, it doesn't go into detail as to how and why it is organic, which leads to skepticism.

meat

When I went to Food Lion, they had chicken wings on sale for 99 cents per pound while they were about $2.50 per pound at Company Shops Market. It seems like raising animals locally and humanely means higher costs at point of purchase. Both stores had a variety of meat packaging. For example, both had individually-packaged pieces of chicken, 2-3 breasts of chicken together, and whole birds.

The Market

It is obvious that Food Lion and Company Shops Market cater to two very different shoppers. Regular grocery stores like Food Lion are for people who are looking for cheaper groceries and may not have time to drive into downtown Burlington for them. Buying Food Lion brand meat will definitely be a lot cheaper than buying organic, humanely raised meat from the co-op; however, it’s not clear where that Food Lion meat came from and how long it took for it to get there.

My critical thinking question before beginning this field report explored the effects of our society’s need for variety and choice. I determined that grocery stores like Food Lion are so successful and big because they have the money and power to put 10 brands of meat on its shelves—almost all of which have no details about the production. This makes me wonder, are they trying to hide something? Do they not advertise their farming techniques because they know it’d be unpopular? The fact that grocery stores like Food Lion are able to grow is an example of Phillip’s point of a population feeding globalization. People who shop at Food Lion appreciate globalization because it allows their food to be cheap and plentiful. Food is mobilized as a commodity production and trade (2006). It is easy to forget where your food comes from if it’s the cheapest option in order to feed your family. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. Company Shops Market customers are people who take pride in where their food comes from. These are people whose mission it is to support the local community—even if it is a little more expensive to do so. How more local can you get by obtaining your family’s chicken dinner from just 10 minutes down the road or brewing beer right in your own home? Don’t get me wrong, I, too, shop at Food Lion because my grocery budget is not as big as I’d like. However, I enjoy splurging at the co-op when I can because it makes me feel closer to my community and my food. Life revolves around food which means there must be a strong relationship with it. 

I’ve never been to a co-op until I came to Elon University but I think it’s an important asset to a community. It gives the community members a choice as to where their food comes from. It is also an education tool to allow its patrons to learn about different kinds of food sources. Because it’s community-owned, it puts the community responsible for spreading the word about better ways the things we ingest can be made. In addition, it takes some power away from the big companies who own 1,000+ stores and buy and sell products as cheaply as possible, even if the product isn’t produced in a humane way. Company Shops are necessary for a community to be able to trust where their food is coming from instead of eating blindly.

 

Works Cited

Animal Welfare. n.d. http://plainvillefarms.com/products/consumers/.

In Our Community. 2015. http://www.foodlion.com/InOurCommunity.

Organic Chicken Feed. 2015. http://www.northcarolinaorganicfeed.com/41/organic-chicken-feed/.

 

Field Report: Food Insecurity

Field Experience

I completed a cooking shift on April 28th with Campus Kitchen at Elon University. Campus Kitchen “collects unused and unserved food from community partners, including ARAMARK Dining Services, while engaging students, faculty and staff as volunteers who prepare and deliver the meals to those in need in the Burlington community” (The Campus Kitchen at Elon University 2015). That evening, we prepared food for the next morning’s deliveries. I helped prepare a colorful salad and ratatouille pasta. We put together a few metal tins for the Allied Churches of Alamance County which provides emergency services for the people in the community in need including meals, shelter, and support. According to the Cooking Shift Coordinator, their services target those facing homelessness, hunger, abuse, mental illness, and lack of education and job training. We prepared food to feed about 200 people.

We also packaged 54 to-go containers with pasta and salad. 24 were for Graham Recreation Center Senior Program and 30 for the John Robert Kernodle Senior Activities Center in Burlington. Local senior citizens come to these programs for food, fellowship, church services, and presentations. Every senior citizen receives a hot meal there then can take the packaged meal that we prepared home. Marissa, a Cooking Shift Coordinator, sometimes delivers these packaged meals to the Kernodle Center. In our interview about her experiences, she said that by the time they arrive with the meals, the senior citizens are sitting at tables talking to each other and playing cards. Sometimes, the volunteers give presentations to the senior citizens about staying healthy with information about exercise, sugar intake, the food pyramid, etc. Marissa says they seem to enjoy these presentations because they always ask a lot of questions and are very chatty with the volunteers and with each other.

The Campus Kitchen volunteers completed all of the food preparation during the cooking shift. While making good conversation, we cut the vegetables, cooked the pasta, packaged everything and deep cleaned all of the surfaces and dishes. I personally cut up lettuce and potatoes and taught the rest of the volunteers how to properly cut up fresh garlic. I also helped mix up the salad and pasta and pack them in the to-go packages. After that, I helped wash all of the knives and cutting boards. The kitchen area, which is located in Varsity Sports Grill,  is run by mainly Varsity employees while we had a corner section to prepare the Campus Kitchen food. The Varsity manager was very concerned about Campus Kitchen’s cleanliness and cross-contamination.

While all of the Campus Kitchen volunteers were mainly white female Elon students, the workers at Varsity were all black except for one female manager. This could emphasize the differences between the “Elon bubble” and the rest of the Elon and Burlington community. Elon provides many jobs for the community, but there seems to be a divide between the Elon students and Elon workers.

According to both Dettwyler and Chavez et al., many times, poverty and malnutrition go hand in hand. Dettwyler explains that socioeconomic status is an important factor influencing nutritional status. Many times, as people grow older, their retirement fund gets smaller and smaller. Without the constant help of their adult children, some are forced to go to these senior programs for food and company. I have seen this circumstance first-hand with my family friends and their grandparents. If Campus Kitchen has to feed so many people in this situation, are the senior citizens getting the nutrition needed to stay strong and healthy? Providing a balanced diet is sometimes expensive, after all.

Before this field experience, I wanted to know how nutrition plays a part in feeding people with food insecurity. I wondered if these meals included a lot of lean, healthy ingredients or cheap and unhealthy ones. I was expecting that in order to feed so many people in need every week, Campus Kitchen would have to utilize only cheap and donated ingredients. Even though Campus Kitchen did rely on donations and wholesale foods, the ingredients were all very nutritious. We spent most of our time cutting up potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers to add to the pasta and salad. We also used whole grain pasta, which is a bit healthier than regular pasta. Even though Campus Kitchen did not prepare any meat this week, sometimes it cooks chicken and rice or chicken and pasta for Allied Churches and the senior programs. Campus Kitchen tries to always balance the food groups and add a colorful side salad.

Campus Kitchen receives many of its vegetables from Loy Farm, right on Elon’s campus. In fact, the lettuce I cut up came directly from Loy Farm that morning. Campus Kitchen also gets a lot of its food from small, local farms in Raleigh. Other than that, it buys food in bulk—like the tomatoes for the pasta ratatouille—from BJ’s.

Final Thoughts

I never knew Campus Kitchen helped feed senior citizens in the area. I figured that all of the food would go toward feeding the homeless in the community. Senior citizens are often forgotten about in a community. I spend a few hours a semester with Sigma Kappa at Blakey Hall Retirement Community and interact with the Alzheimer’s residents. We stimulate their minds by engaging in conversation, doing arts and crafts, and karaoke. Sigma Kappa is the first collegiate organization to focus their philanthropy efforts to gerontology and Alzheimer’s research. The Alzheimer’s Association, Blakey Hall, and Twin Lakes—the other retirement community at which we volunteer—is always so thankful of our focus on the sometimes forgotten older generation. The same appreciation occurs when volunteers of Campus Kitchen interact with the people at the senior programs. Marissa noted that giving these deserving senior citizens food and speaking with them is the highlight of their day. The senior citizens look forward to the days they can go to these programs and only wish they could go more than once a week.

Through this experience, I learned that food insecurity is not limited to a specific group. When I thought of food insecurity before, I imagined packed soup kitchens with a line around the block full of homeless neighbors that haven’t showered in a while. As awful and narrow-minded as that may sound, I blame my past ignorance to my middle-class upbringing. I grew up in a small neighborhood with three-bedroom homes and minivans in the driveways. I didn’t live in a lavish neighborhood, but I also was not exposed to extreme poverty. I had a single, narrow-minded idea about what food insecurity looked like and I could not have been more wrong. Food insecurity happens to families with two incomes, it happens to senior citizens running out of their retirement fund, and it happens to families with a roof over their heads. The main lesson I learned from this field experience is that there is not one picture perfect representation of food insecurity.

Works Cited

The Campus Kitchen at Elon University. The John R. Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement. 2015.

Field Report: You Are What You Eat

The Food Log Experience

Even though I thought this field report would be a bit difficult, I actually found it quite easy. Although I did slip up a couple times and forget to write down a meal or two right when I ate it, I was excited about this assignment so it was simple to remember. I was excited because I wanted to know exactly how poorly I was eating. I figured, I’m a college student, I probably just eat whatever I can get my hands on—healthy or not. However, I figured this week’s meals would be even less healthy because I went back to my parents’ house for a few days and there’s always yummy, highly caloric food made there.

However, I was quite impressed with my log. It seemed like the more I thought about this assignment, the better I wanted to eat. Sometimes I thought, hmm, yes, I could eat that Snickers bar, but I’d have to write it in my log. I could have lied to my log—and myself—but I didn’t. How sad is that? I didn’t eat what I wanted to eat just because I had to admit to eating it. Most likely, this food log doesn’t exactly resemble my normal weekly food intake. When I actually had to record what I ate, I was much stricter on what I thought I could and could not eat. This is probably why diets like these don’t work. Freshman year, one of my friends started using My Fitness Pal so she could eat better and maybe lose a “few pounds.” She ended up becoming obsessed with the app. Any food, drink, or snack that entered her mouth, she logged. After a while, though, she stopped because of how much work it took to log everything. Plus, toward the end, she started “lying” to her food log and just ate and drank whatever she wanted without logging it. It may be a good strategy to understand exactly what you eat for a week or two to then figure out how to change your habits, but it’s too difficult to keep up with long-term.

The Log

Something I realized is that I eat out a lot more at my parents’ house than at school. This is probably because I want to save money at school and my parents pay for most things when I’m with them—makes sense. At school, I make easy dinners like stir fry and I buy quinoa bowls on campus from Freshii.

Coffee and iced tea were both very prevalent beverages in my week. I usually had coffee right when I woke up then maybe an iced coffee or an iced tea later in the day. I always make my own unsweetened iced tea when it starts getting warm out. However, because of this I replace my daily water intake with iced tea which means I intake a lot more caffeine and become dehydrated easier.

coffee
tea

No matter what, I always have a breakfast that will fill me up. Usually, when I have some time in the morning, I like to make a couple eggs. When I have a lot of time, I usually add vegetables like spinach, onion, and peppers. I also found this amazing sweet chili sauce from Trader Joe’s that goes great with it. Sometimes, I add a slice of toast.

For a quick substitute, I like to have Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds and almond milk. I recently discovered almond milk and love it! My family always had whole dairy milk growing up and it took a lot for me to convince them to switch to 2 percent. It was mainly my dad and brother who don’t like change. Then when I came to college, I realized I could drink whatever milk I wanted! I know, this sounds like a lame thing to be excited about but I just always heard that dairy milk (especially whole) was so much less healthy than other milk items like coconut and almond milk. I tried coconut milk first and didn’t care for it much. Then I tried almond milk and loved it. I still can’t drink the milk out of a glass like I could 2% dairy milk but I like it on cereal.

I love to try new foods. It’s one of my favorite things to do when I travel. I’ve found, though, it’s very easy to find different foods and food combinations right in your hometown. Since my grandmother on my father’s side was born, she’s been going to the annual Oyster and Ham Supper at her family’s Methodist church.  Over 80 years later, the Calvary United Methodist Church hosts this extremely popular supper three to four times a year. Every time we go, we have to wait at least a half hour for a table.

Whenever I tell people about the Oyster and Ham Supper, they usually make a face like that looks like they just smelled a skunk. It doesn't seem like the most appealing food combination in the world, but the church makes it work. They normally bake the ham, but the oysters are a bit different. The way they bread and deep fry the oysters makes them crunchy and yummy. They have ketchup, but we bring our own hot sauce to spice things up. On the side, the church provides string beans, potato salad, and pepper hash. Pepper hash is a South Jersey/Philadelphia favorite. It consists of minced cabbage and green peppers with vinegar, celery seed, mustard seed, salt, and sugar. It actually reminded me exactly of curtido, the El Salvadoran cabbage slaw I had at El Carbonero. The only difference I could tell was that the El Salvadoran slaw had bigger pieces of cabbage, not minced like Philadelphia pepper hash. How interesting that two seemingly different cultures and regions have extremely similar local foods. This meal is definitely not a routine one, but it’s a fun opportunity to see my family.    

Fried oysters with Frank's Hot Sauce and ketchup, baked ham, pepper hash and potato salad

Fried oysters with Frank's Hot Sauce and ketchup, baked ham, pepper hash and potato salad

One final observation from this experiment is that if someone gave me free food this week, I probably ate it. The first picture is at the Sigma Kappa Cupcake Bar to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. My friend, Elizabeth, bought us cupcakes that we could decorate. Of course I’d eat a cupcake if it's free! The second photo is during a presentation in my Food, Health, and Society class at Elon University about comfort food. As you can see, the presenter brought in some mac n cheese, the go-to comfort food, and I gladly ate it. In the third photo, my friend bought me a grilled cheese and cookie from the Periclean Scholars Midnight Munchies. I figured it’d be a great way to get my energy up during midterms week.

There’s a trend here: all are fatty and high-caloric foods. Most likely, if I had to pay for these foods, I would not buy them. The action of purchasing food gives me a kind of power. It’s the same at the grocery store. If I don’t purchase something, I know I won’t eat it later. However, if someone gives me potato chips, for example, they’re already in my possession so why not eat it? 

Two Main Points

Food very much revolves around family at home. I never eat alone and I always have dinner with my family or friends. My grandmother is very passionate about her church because she’s been going there since she was born. The Oyster and Ham Supper is a tradition that involves family and supporting her church so it is very important to her, which means it’s very important to us as well. This is similar to meals shared with family and culture in Chinese families (Liu and Lin 2009).

I have a relatively healthy diet unless unhealthy food is handed to me. Women generally see food more for nutritional value more than men. This is probably why my friend who used My Fitness Pal and I thought twice before eating unhealthy food. Many times a week I hear women say, “It’s not worth the calories.” I believe this links back to a woman’s desire to look small (Counihan 1988). This “fat stigma” means that being fat is a negative quality (Brewis, et al. 2011).

Food very much tells your story. It describes where you go, what is important to you, and how you relate with others. This food log and analysis allowed me to understand and criticize my meal activities to help identify my culture.

Works Cited

Brewis, A. A., A. Wutich, A. Falletta-Cowden, and I. Rodriguez-Soto. "Body Norms and Fat Stigma In Global Perspective." Current Anthropology 52, no. 2 (2011).

Counihan, C. M. "Female Identity, Food, and Power in Contemporary Florence." Anthropological Quarterly, 1988: 51-62.

Liu, Haiming, and Lianlian Lin. "Food, Culinary Identity, and Transnational Culture." Journal of Asian American Studies 12, no. 2 (2009): 135-162.

Field Report: Exploring Culture through Cuisine

El Carbonero: An El Salvadoran Cuisine

            Before preparing for this assignment, my friends and I were talking about how we wanted to get out of the Elon bubble and explore what our community has to offer us in terms of food and culture. When I thought of incorporating this field report, we decided to visit a cuisine we’ve never tried before. We asked around—where can we get an authentic cuisine? A friend recommended El Carbonero. She said her Spanish professor treated her class to lunch there once because it was his favorite South American cuisine around Elon. Specifically, El Carbonero serves very authentic El Salvadoran dishes. It sounded good to me! I figured, I like Mexican food, how different can El Salvadoran food be? I called to make sure they would be open that Thursday night and the woman on the phone could barely speak English! I took that as a good sign that this restaurant would exceed my expectations of authentication.

            Four friends and I drove out to Graham to find this place. After passing it twice, we finally spotted the building. Pulling in, it definitely looked a little rough on the outside. It had very little parking and it didn’t seem like it was in a great part of town. However, we were warned of that from El Carbonero’s reviews on Yelp so we continued. We sat down and realized that we were the only Caucasian people in the building. There were four other tables with families—all from Central or South American decent and all speaking Spanish. Yup, it looks like we found the place. I believe that our waitress, Alejandra, was the one I talked to on the phone because she was the only waitress there and spoke very little English.

2
1

            We could tell it was a family-run place. It was small, but the walls were covered in love for El Salvador. The walls were a rusty orange color, along with some brick, with ornaments and pictures hung all around. There were El Salvadoran maps, framed paintings, figurines of praying Catholics and caballeros on horses, and the El Salvadoran Coat of Arms. I felt bad thinking this, but the Latin soap opera that was playing on a small TV in the corner made the place almost stereotypical. I could instantly tell that I would not be eating Central/South American food—I would be eating El Salvadoran food.

3

            Alejandra brought out some corn chips and salsa when we sat down around our circular table. The chips were warm and you could tell they weren’t from a bag—they were crisp, but some that weren’t baked all the way had a softer texture which was still delicious. We ordered a couple bowls of guacamole as we scanned the menu trying to figure out what we wanted for dinner. Everything was in Spanish. We knew what fajitas were and guessed that plátano was a plantain—but what the heck was a papusa? Since we didn’t know what papusas were, we all decided to get some—especially because the reviews raved about them. I ordered the fried plantains with sour cream, refried beans, a zucchini and cheese papusa and a bean and cheese papusa.

Homemade Nachos & Salsa

Homemade Nachos & Salsa

Bean & Zuchinni Papusas

Bean & Zuchinni Papusas

            Before Alejandra left to put our orders in, we asked if the food we ordered would be enough. Believe me, it was plenty! Everything—especially the fried plantains—were so abundant!

My friend, Lindsay, was a little nervous about ordering the plantains, but she promised she’d try one of mine. This resembled the neophobia that Addessi wrote about in her article. Children don’t like to try new things unless their friends are eating the same item (2005). It turns out she loved them! They were so warm and sweet. Then my papusas and refried beans came out. I normally don’t like refried beans, but I saw a family next to us eating them so I figured I’d try them again. They were delicious! I asked Alejandra how they made them and (I think) she said she used only red beans instead of pinto or black beans.

Plantains

Plantains

My only regret is that I ordered only two papusas instead of three! They were so delicious. Each looked like a pancake the size of the palm of my hand. The corn tortillas were moist, fluffy, and not too greasy. They came with a picante-like sauce and cortido (pickle cabbage similar to slaw but without mayonnaise). The acidity of the sauce and cortido balanced really well with the heaviness of the pupusa. What made the meal even better was that it was under ten dollars!

meal

Our waitress was nice but didn’t speak much because of her difficulty with the English language. I tried to ask her a few questions about the cuisine, but I didn’t want to pressure her to answer. She explained that all the ingredients are very fresh and everything is made on the spot. Her family moved to North Carolina from El Salvador. She said that diverse people visit this restaurant, but mostly people from Central and South America.

I learned a lot about the culture of El Salvador by participating in the cuisine at El Carbonero. When I experienced my meal, I wanted to understand the differences between El Salvadoran food and Mexican food, which is what I am more used to. I also wanted to determine if the food and atmosphere would be affected by American culture. First, it seems like a very family-oriented culture—just like Mexican (and really Latin American) culture. At least four families were there with four or more members each. The table was full of food and everyone was sharing. This shows that food emphasizes social and familial activities. Like many other Central American countries, the food is based on maize, vegetables, meat, and tortillas. Even though the cuisine bases were similar when it came to guacamole and fajitas, I’ve never seen papusas or fried plantains on a Mexican menu.

The cultural problem is that many Mexican restaurants in the United States are very affected by American culture. Instead of the traditional slower-paced environment that focuses on the enjoyment of food, many big Mexican restaurants must speed up their service and cooking in order to appease their fast-paced American customers. Luckily, El Carbonero is such a small, dive restaurant that it has been able to keep its authenticity. It’s such an intimate restaurant that our checks were written on ripped pieces of notebook paper and we had to pay in cash only. Yes, the menu had chicken fingers on it for kids, but it was also saturated in Latin American food and verbiage.

Religion also presented itself during our meal. Like in many Latin American societies, the Catholic Church is a very prominent religious institution in El Salvador. The walls displayed many relics of the Catholic Church such as Rosary beads and images of men and women praying with Rosary beads. Prayer before a meal is a very prominent Catholic tradition. There was a family that received their meal while we were waiting for ours and they immediately held hands, bowed their heads and prayed.

Food is extremely important to a culture. Unfortunately, in our society here in the United States, food is not always fully utilized for social and familial activities. We go out to dinner on special occasions and expect speedy service and constant attention from the waiter. This is drastically different from the religious, social mealtime witnessed at El Carbonero. Rozin spoke about this a bit in his article, Development in the Food Domain. He said that family preferences of food do stem from cultural aspects. However, the members of the family may have distinct preferences within that cultural sphere (1990). In other words, each member of an El Salvadorian family may agree to go to El Carbonero together, but they may order different things because of their unique tastes. The American culture uses food for socialization, but not to the degree that El Salvadoran culture does. Food defines so much in a culture that it is impossible to ignore.

My critical question related to how globalization and Americanization affected the cuisine at El Carbonero. It was very easy to see from the menu typed in Spanish, the relaxed environment, and the Central/South American families that Americanization touched El Carbonero very little compared to Mexican restaurants in the area like La Cocina.

I loved finding this hidden gem with outstanding food and large portions. El Carbonero has the potential to become my favorite ethnic restaurant in this entire area. I enjoy trying new foods, but it’s a bit scary when you can’t even read the menu! Because of this field report, I ordered the papusas instead of the fajitas and now I have such a greater an appreciation of El Salvadoran food and culture.

Works Cited

Addessi, E., A. T. Galloway, E. Visalberghi, and L. L. Birch. "Specific social influences on the acceptance of novel foods in 2-5-year-old children." Appetite 45, no. 3 (2005): 264-71.

Rozin, Paul. "Development in the Food Domain." Developmental Psychology 26, no. 4 (1990): 555-562.