Cuisine is a powerful source of national identity. America is apple pie. Italy is lasagna. France is wine. As the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang wrote, “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”
But a new project from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture reminds us that our national dishes are made up of immigrants. The apples for American pie come originally from Central Asia, the tomatoes for Italian lasagnas and pizzas from the Andes, the grapes for French wine from North America (and North Africa), Thai chiles from Central America, Irish potatoes from South America. Some 70 percent of crops grown around the world are essentially foreign-born.
What we think of as national cuisines are really global cuisines. The more we try to use food to solidify our tribal boundaries, the more we wind up reaching into the communal fridge.