After exploring L.A.'s perceptions of Indian, Armenian, and Vietnamese cuisine in our oh-so-scientific Venn Food Diagrams series, it's time to circle back to some American regional cooking, and do like we did for Southern food--this time with the Midwest.
Moral of the Story: Meat (specifically beef), corn, and potatoes were among the most prevalent answers from both groups surveyed, indicating that foods thought of as "Middle American" may in fact be consumed in the middle of America. Aside from a couple of spot-on specific items (PBR and beer brats), Angeleno's perceptions of Midwestern diets were only accurate in gross generalities--again, corn, meat, and potatoes
Methodology: Primarily the soft science of online surveying. Through Facebook polls, forwarded emails, and the occasional face-to-face conversation, we cast a wide net through the heart of this city and this country, and even found a Minnesotan ex-pat living in China, who grew up eating homemade bread and butter.
Conclusions: The boundaries and borders defining the Midwest are nebulous. Some tried to pass off Texas as a Midwestern state; others insisted that Pittsburgh was an Eastern city, despite its proclivity for City Chicken. Because of its geographic expanse, small pockets of micro-regional preferences emerged. We heard about Tater Tot Hotdish (a ground meat and cheese casserole topped with tater tots) from a group of Minnesotans. Hoosiers raved about pork tenderloin. Wisconsinites couldn't go without Friday fish fries, and those blasted Cardinals fans extolled the virtues of toasted ravioli.
These regional distinctions perhaps explain why most Angelenos cleaved to generalities, such as "anything you'd find at a Super Bowl party" or "pizza and burgers," when describing Midwestern cuisine. Yes Midwesterner's like pizza, but in Chicago, they cited deep dish or Chicago thin, whereas in the Motor City, they were partial to a thick Sicilian style pie or their home state heroes, Little Caesars and Domino's.
Interestingly, one of the foodstuffs most mentioned by Midwesterners that failed to make it to any Angeleno's imaginings of what their countrymen to the east enjoy, was fresh, locally sourced meat and produce. Midwesterners are crazy about CSAs, farmers' markets, food co-ops, and even meat shares pooled from members' hunting trips. We heard a lot about berry picking and backyard gardening, and given the region's frosty winters, Midwesterners made a clear distinction between cold- and warm-weather eating. Sara Johannes, chef de cuisine at WP24, who was raised in Milwaukee, waxed poetic about the changing of the seasons. "Each food had a place. Rhubarb and berries in spring, sweet corn and watermelon in the summer, pumpkins, and apples in the fall," she recounted in an email to us. "You could not possibly take a fresh strawberry or a crisp apple for granted. They were too fleeting."
That said, Squid Ink's own Iowan, Amy Scattergood reported still having "nightmares about pot luck fruit salads." So bad things can happen to even the best fruit.