Access to an abundance of delicious food accompanied by a depressingly low wage is a reality for small-scale farmers like me. Thus, “cook with what you have” becomes the golden rule of eating. This guiding principal eliminates ingredient choice and puts the emphasis on creatively utilizing what’s on hand.
Throughout the summer tomatoes have found their way into every single meal:
Basically, we try really hard to prevent getting tired of what’s in season.
This got me thinking. The cuisine of a particular place is influenced by what crops are on hand. For example, Italian and French dishes often showcase beans alongside wheat because rotating these crops maintains soil fertility. Likewise, farming conditions in Japan make a crop rotation of buckwheat and rice sensible and therefore, soba noodles and rice are integral to their food culture. As chef/food activist Dan Barber notes “that kind of negotiation with the land forced people to incorporate those crops in to the culture.” In other words, being confined by ingredients induces creativity and forms a strong food tradition.
In contrast, American agriculture has always been defined by abundance. A farmer could grow anything they pleased until the land was depleted and then move on. Americans were not constrained in the same way as other countries were and this could explain why our cuisine is not historically noteworthy.
Now that American agriculture is grappling with a scarcity of fertility, the future is actually bright. We might see new pockets of distinct American cuisine, each cooking with what they have and bringing us into an era of never-before-seen deliciousness.