We are not a united food states of America. Despite the commonalities, we are a nation of unique regional foodways. Who better than an artist, and a British artist at that, to show those food traditions to us?
Meet Lucy Stephens, graphic artist and book designer. Inspired by a visit to California this February, the London-based artist created this map that captures many of America's diverse regional food specialties, but leaves out others. Why no California sand dabs in California? Or barbecue ribs in Illinois instead of Tennessee? Keeping in mind that everyone thinks their X better represents their state better than someone else's Y, read on to find out the process that led to this map.
Squid Ink: You have designed many book covers with typographic print. What draws you to this form?
Lucy Stephens: I've always loved patterns, I find there is something very satisfying about designing them so combining that with a love of typography and words has lead my work down this route. I also really like things that appear to be one thing, and then turn out to be something else – so that you actually get more from it the longer you study it.
SI: As an Englishwoman, did you feel at all uneasy about summarizing America's regional food cultures in your print?
LS: I hoped people would see it as a homage to a country I love, and the best place to eat in the world, and not query the fact that I'm British.
SI:How did you research all the foods you selected?
LS:I decided to do it after a recent trip to California and I thought I wonder if there are specific foods that are linked to each state. I started to research it and realised that there were and it was an incredibly diverse mix and thought it would be great to show that visually.
SI: Which was a more difficult task: to eliminate food items from states with too many, or to find specialties from states with too few?
LS: There were many states where I was spoilt for choice but then a few I really struggled with. The most annoying thing was finding loads of options for the smaller states and knowing I couldn't fit them all in.
SI: What were food items that didn't make the final edit?
LS: There were quite a lot that didn't make the cut, but a couple I can think of were Ozark pudding from Missouri and Jonny cakes from Rhode Island.
SI: California has an overabundance of renowned foods. Why Cobb salad over tacos, wine or Santa Maria-style tri tip? Do people love Cobb salads more than those other things?
LS: I went with Cobb salad because I think even outside the US its considered a well known American dish so I wanted it included, and it was supposedly invented in LA so I couldn't really put it in any other state. Whereas wine and tacos are both associated with many other places. As for the Santa Maria-style tri tip…I'm afraid I don't know what it is! So I'm really sorry if I've missed off something important!
SI: Have you eaten the more obscure foods, and if so, what was your most favorite? Your least?
LS: I think I've eaten a lot of the food on it, that was my main means of elimination. But there were some like the choke cherry that I used because I love the word!
SI: What's surprised you about the feedback from Americans?
LS: I suppose I've been quite surprised by how much people have engaged with it. I've had a few people telling me their life story through food, so I grew up in Mashed Potatoes but now I live in Popcorn etc. which is quite funny, but also people being a bit hacked off that their state only got one thing – but it was quite hard to fit much into the smaller states and for it to still be legible! Maybe Ill do prints for specific states next to get around that problem!