Sophie in Santa Cruz
During my road trip from San Francisco to New York, it quickly became clear that the United States of America are in fact not as unified as they might appear from a European perspective. This is a political reality that can be mapped with astonishing precision through food. Driving down California State Route 1 we encountered Mexican food that made sticking to a vegetarian diet a test of iron will. ‘I won’t be able to get burritos like that back home…’
Away from the coast, food turns into what we know from the movies: diners in Utah serve thick, creamy chocolate milkshakes to Mormons in pressed white shirts and in rural Colorado outdoorsy families dig into steaming stacks of pancakes. Men clad in full Cowboy gear with hat and everything sell buffalo jerky (a dried meat snack) out of the trunk of their cars by the roadside.
We knew we had truly hit Middle America (Nebraska and Iowa on our trip) when the concept of vegetarianism vanished off the face of the earth. ‘Yes, I would like the salad without shrimp. No please don’t replace it with chicken. Really, I just want the salad!’ In Detroit, upscale art galleries and beaten up buildings housing falafel restaurants welcome the same clientele who drift between the two worlds. Cleveland is here to feed the students, knows what they like and supplies it by lining up late night pizza joints next to cult vegan restaurants (the latter introducing me to my new passion, tempeh, an Indonesian fermented soy product).
Arriving at the East Coast felt realest when we tried ordering Mexican food but it came to the table sad and soggy. What do East coasters eat instead? The coast that was the first port of call for many European immigrants boasts a history of migration on a plate. Nowhere else have Italian food and Jewish Eastern European fair coexisted so harmoniously.