Friday, January 6, 2017

Racist White Lady Mexican Chicken Soup

Foods of the Foreign Born, by Bertha M. Wood [1922]

It is the Roaring Twenties, and America is in trouble.  Immigrants are pouring in, with their foreign ways, and their foreign foods.  It was a threat to public health.  Public health workers and private concerned citizens alike labored to convince these new immigrants to abandon their native foods and homogenize into milquetoast blandness.  How?  With milk, toast, pabulum, and other pale, bland, overcooked foods.  This effort was not met with universal delight by the immigrants in question.

One woman, Bertha M. Wood, decided this approach was... not racist, but ineffective.  She studied different ethnic groups so that she could develop a set of recipes for each group.  These recipes were intended to be within spitting distance of each ethnicity's traditional foods, but stripped down of anything suspicious.  Like flavor.  And spices.  And color.

Gee, thanks Bertha.

Hey, at least she made an effort.  That's pretty forward-thinking for 1922.

With that in mind, by modern standards, this cookbook is really racist.  It seems to be written for health workers and charities, and each section has a preface outlining what each ethnicity is like. Yikes. The section on Mexicans is particularly condescending.  Let's take a look!

*They are not a people who love academic work, but they enjoy any educational training which develops the use of their hands. Their interest lies largely in music, flowers, and the arts.

*To look at their homes, one would think that they were decidedly unsanitary. This is not necessarily so, but depends almost entirely upon the water supply.

*The people are responsive to right treatment, although suspicious, but not necessarily unstable. Their suspicious nature handicaps efforts to get their cooperation. They are responsive only to the degree that they understand the motives. 

*The prevalent idea is that Mexicans are very deceitful. This may be so if their suspicions are aroused; otherwise they are no more deceitful than any other nationality. They are extremely courteous, and in their way cooperative.

*When not too highly seasoned, Mexican dishes are very tasty.

*Only lack of variety and the use of hot flavors keep their food from being superior to that of most Americans.

*Undernourished and malnourished children are frequently found in Mexican families. They are served with the same foods as the adults, foods highly spiced, with a large amount of fat added, or corn meal fried in fat. Bland foods are quite unknown in their dietary. 

*As the Mexicans come north or intermarry, it would be better for the children and adults to learn to eat the simpler foods of the American people, boiled or baked, with less spice and fat.

*Any nurse or dietitian can persuade them to use cereals or baked or boiled fish and meats and vegetables, if they gradually reduce the amount of tomato or pepper for flavor until it becomes a bland dish, easier to digest and not harmful to the kidneys.

Chicken Soup
1 chicken
4 cups water
1 green pepper
1/2 cup rice
2 tablespoons salt

Cut up chicken and boil in salted water with chopped green pepper. When chicken is done, remove and add rice to liquid. Cook until soft.

We know that the soup doesn't actually include the chicken, because this is the next recipe:
Baked Chicken and Rice
Make as Chicken Soup, adding chicken, cut in dice, to rice drained from soup. Brown in oven.

Verdict: I used white rice and one can of mild green chiles, because it seemed most appropriate.  It... it wasn't great.  Before giving it to my family, I added chicken, black beans, lime juice, a packet of taco seasoning (yes I see the irony), and sour cream.  I also added cheese on top.  Much better!


*When the Mexicans intermarry with Americans, the result of the cross dietary is that often there is double the amount of fat taken at a meal by the American. The Mexicans put their fat into the food, while the American puts his on the food. Therefore if he eats bread and butter, or potatoes with butter and green peppers fried in oil and rice, he is getting more fat than a Mexican would get. He would eat his bread without butter, and would not eat potato and butter with peppers and rice.

Well, she's not clearly not wrong on that one.  Tex-Mex is not known for being low-fat. Whatever.  Cheesy refried beans are one of the best things on the planet.

I asked a friend whose family emigrated from Mexico to look over the Mexican section, as I don't know a lot about the subject.  He said many things, including, "Is this how they invented Taco Bell?" as well as, "Peanut butter doesn't go in pork tamales." and ended with a some pointed remarks about Bertha M. Wood as a person.  He said at very least, this soup should have tomatoes and some kind of spices added.

Fun fact for Americans: Did you know that there is a stereotype in the rest of the world that Americans put cheese on absolutely everything?

Fun fact for non-Americans: It is 100% true.  If this meets with your disapproval, please refer to Prince Hal above.

In conclusion: thanks, immigrants!  Your culinary contributions have made my life a lot more delicious.  That said, we will steal your food, and we will melt cheese on it.  The melting pot of America is actually fondue.


Karen K. said...

You are too funny (though the racist cookbook is not). Your final soup sounds delicious, like Tortilla Soup which is very popular in San Antonio.

Also, I love the Hiddleston gif -- any idea where it's from? I've searched the interwebs and cannot find the source.

Jana said...

Thanks! The gif is from Henry IV, part 1. Or... Or 2? I think 1. Hollow Crown series, highly recommended.

S. S. said...

Ever wonder what American food would be had there never been that push to take out all the flavor and fun?

Jana said...

Well, the 20's-40's food probably would have been a lot more exciting.