Last Friday there was a palpable sense of celebration in the air. Revellers adorned in flags could be seen drinking beers and singing patriotic songs on the streets of London. However, these were not the normal group of sunburnt British sports fans. Given England’s recent athletic failings national pride is running at an all-time low. No, this patriotism belonged to our American cousins; lauding their victory over the country which hosts them and celebrating the birth of the U.S.A.
The 4th of July (or should that be July 4th?) was American Independence Day and London was a shimmer of stars and stripes: mechanical bulls and cheerleaders could be found at the Steam and Rye, there was a huge picnic in Portman Square exclusively for U.S. citizens, and the Blues Kitchen hosted a hotdog eating competition. As I tucked into a double chilli bacon cheese dog, I began thinking about the popularisation of American food in England. American style diners and grills continue to perform well in London, with interest in gourmet burger joints and hot dog stands reaching near manic levels. But why are we so enamoured with food from across the pond? And should the trend be encouraged?
The first question is easier to answer, after all who doesn’t love a good burger? American cuisine is full of fat, sugar, and salt, and is therefore delicious. Equally, as pointed out by Paul Buckley, marketing and consumer psychologist at Cardiff Metropolitan University; “American foods have been easily assimilated into our culture because they’re fairly bland […], there’s no learning curve for consumers like there is with more complex food”. People know what they’re getting, which makes for great comfort food. The reliability has also helped restaurateurs get their American themed businesses off the ground. Compared to risky new concepts, banks are more likely to fund a burger joint which is considered a ‘sure thing’. Plus ingredients are cheap and readily available, a fact which inspired Tom Byng, founder of Byron, to label American cuisine as “perfect recession food”.
In fact, the recession helps explain the rise of American food in more than one way. In these times of cuts and austerity, it offers the UK consumer a bit of fun. The same phenomena occurred in the 1950s: hard times in the UK make American culture shine. Big, colourful and kitsch, who else would think of stuffing the crust of a pizza with a hot dog? Bad taste has never tasted this good.
But should we celebrate this American craze? As the festivities got the better of me, I too raised a bud to toast American Independence, later thinking how ridiculous this was. The 4th of July commemorates America’s victory over the UK, and there I was celebrating our historic loss. Whats more, American victory has reached beyond the battlefield. The U.S. dominates us culturally and politically, and is beginning to push us around in the kitchen, with our burger and hot dog obsession appearing to make us forget our own food culture. As pointed out by Marina O’Loughlin, The Guardian’s food critic: “I do get the impression that we think everyone does everything better elsewhere – typical Brit self-deprecation. Shame, as our indigenous produce knocks almost everywhere else out of the water.” Why not beat the drum a bit louder for our world-class seafood and meat, Jersey Royals, Yorkshire rhubarb, cask ales and crisp British apples – and the hundreds of dishes we can make with them?
It can also be argued that the reliability of American food is stifling culinary innovation. Reliability manifests itself in terms of similarity; whether you fry it, bake it, or flame it on a grill, a burger is still a burger. The range in US restaurants is inevitably quite small, and as they continue to overrun the high streets, our culinary horizons are shortening.
But why change a winning recipe? People want burgers, and you can’t blame the restaurants for accommodating this demand. If anything, attempting to make a familiar formula stand out requires more imagination than when dealing with unusual concepts. Try a burger with goat’s cheese, avocado and SunBlush® tomatoes, or a hot dog loaded with a tangy Roquito® Chilli Salsa, and tell me that those aren’t innovative flavour combinations.
American comfort food makes people happy, and in this age of vegan, gluten free food, the happiness inspired by this gluttonous, greasy grub offers a sweet respite. As proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence; all men have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. And with this American principle still fresh in our minds, burgers aren’t just an option, they’re a human right.
By Ben Schroder, Marketing Intern