History of Bland American Food
Humans love flavor. Archeologists have found evidence that hunter-gatherers in Stone Age Europe used garlic mustard seeds (a broccoli relative with a mustardy, peppery kick) to season stews 6,000 years ago. For almost as long as we’ve been cooking, we’ve been adding ingredients to our pots that contributed flavor, not just calories. Salt, herbs, and strongly scented seeds all have nutritious properties, but if you consider the time it would take to gather the seeds from garlic mustard plants, when you could be digging tubers or fishing, then it’s clear that the drive for deliciousness is ingrained and powerful.
So why does bland food exist? Why, indeed, is there a whole group of people known for their love of underseasoned potato salad, passion for plain chicken breasts, and adoration of mayonnaise?
I’m talking about white people. More specifically, white Americans, though Europeans are also complicit in the rise of blanditude.
If you are white, as I am, you may be rebelling against this idea in your head, and thinking about all the spicy, richly complex dishes you enjoy all the time. That’s fine—I am too. I don’t want to be associated with mac and cheese from a box or Taylor Swift’s cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”(paywall) any more than you do. This is not about creating a taxonomy of who eats what and how. It’s about unpacking why anyone, ever, would make the culinary choice to embrace less, not more, deliciousness.