I define North American food as of belonging to either USA, Mexico or Canada. Information about Central American food you will find in the section for Central America. The idea of defining North American Food as one is not very useful due to the very eclectical populations. Instead it is better to approach the subject from cultural background.
Indigenous Populations – Pre Colonization
Before the Europeans started to arrive the continent was dominated by Indian populations organized in tribal societies (or nations). Some of them lived as nomad hunter gatherers following the large herds of bison that were roaming the land. Others cultivated the land with basic agricultural methods – maize, squash and beans being the staple foods (all with origins in Central and South America). On this huge continent, regional differences in climate and geography of course had a great influence – the Inuit population lived off fishing and hunting mammals whilst tribes like the Cherokee could live in one place mainly from agriculture.
The First Immigrants
With start in the 16th century the first waves of immigrants arrived from Spain, France, Britain and other parts of Europe. This is when the first foundation is laid for something very typical to North American Food: The mixing of cuisines. Lacking the typical ingredients for their ordinary cooking the newcomers were forced to seek inspiration from the Indians. Maize, beans and squash soon is absorbed into new dishes. The Indians in their turn learned to appreciate what the newcomers had brought with them; like cows, chicken, bananas and wheat. Vast quantities of African slaves were brought over bringing with them their traditions – the influence of African cooking is still big today in southern USA.
More Immigrants More Meetings
Things stay more or less like this until the 18th century when immigrants started to come with greater frequency. United States declaration of independence in 1776 and the quite tolerant laws of its constitution led to that many religiously oppressed groups sought their way over the Atlantic. In the 19th century poverty and other tough conditions brought millions of people from countries like Ireland, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, China, India and Japan in different waves of immigration. All of these groups brought with them traditions and customs they kept alive in their new home countries.
US and Canada has continued to receive lots of immigrants, many times from Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. Many Mexicans have emigrated to the US. North American food is the a result of all these cultural meetings and regions have developed their special cuisines a lot with respect to this. Thus you have Tex Mex in the Southwest, Northern European food in Minnesota and Japanese food in California. In bigger cities like New York you have immigrant groups concentrations like in Little Italy and Chinatown with corresponding cuisines.
Another trend, largely with foundation in the US, is the big scale commercialization of food. The results have been that fast food chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are found all over the world, that Coca Cola is the globally leading soft drink. The health effects of this has been quite bad since the food many times is unhealthy – rampant obesity and heart diseases are examples of that.
Read more about North American Food categorized under countries. Just click the links below to get there.