Thursday, November 26, 2009

The geography of the Thanksgiving meal

The analysis in this New York Times piece is not along the rural-urban axis, nor is the detail presented sufficient to permit that analysis at a scale lower than that of the state. Nevertheless, this feature by Kim Severson, "Online: A National Thanksgiving Barometer" caught my eye and got me to thinking again about rural-urban difference with respect to food and food culture.

I made quick perusal of the accompanying map to see what recipes residents of my home state and my adopted state were searching for on It showed me that of the five foods featured in Severson's report--corn casserole, cheese ball, apple pie, pecan pie, and pumpkin cheesecake--Arkansans were above average in searching for all recipes except that for apple pie (and the West coast paper copy I receive showed them above average searching for that, too!). Californians, on the other hand, were below average in searching for all five foods except pumpkin cheesecake, where they were just average. Indeed, for the five recipes analyzed, there was relatively little West coast search activity. I suspect that a lot of nouvelle and otherwise untraditional holiday cuisine gets served out here). While New England states tended to be above average in searching for apple pie, those in the southeast searched more for corn casserole and pecan pie.

Here's an excerpt from Severson's story with still more state-by-state tidbits.

The fact that cooks in the Southeast rarely look up crust recipes could mean that they are not interested in pies or that they bake so many that no one needs to be told how to do it. And what of all the searches for “cheese ball” in the Midwest? Do people in Indiana just forget how to make it each year, or are cheese balls winning new converts?

We may never know why cooks in North Carolina show more interest in sweet potatoes, their most-queried side dish, than people in any other state. Or why a broccoli casserole belt extends through Appalachia and ends in Florida.

As Severson observes, it is hard hard to draw firm conclusions from the search trends, but I find them fun to ponder.

With this post, I am adding a "food" label to the blog. It is long overdue because the "agriculture" label no longer suffices. Happy eating.

1 comment:

CityMouse said...

I love holiday blogs! Food not only varies from region to region, but household to household. On MSN the other day I read that 82% of people eat Turkey on Thanksgiving nation-wide. That's astounding. Did everyone just send out a memo one day proclaiming "We will eat Turkey on Thanksgiving"? That being said, after having celebrated thanksgiving w/ a few different families in my time...there is always one signature dish that is new to me introduced by a family. For example, creamed pearl onions...pumpkin cupcakes...oyster stuffing...cornbread stuffing...curry apple name a few.

Food also has its own geography regardless of the holidays. Each region certainly has foods that are traditional. The south, midwest, west (what would it be?), east, etc.

To that end, I have no idea what a cheese ball is. Maybe that is a product of living on the West Coast my whole life.