Food in Books, ep.1: One-storied America (1937), by Ilf & Petrov


Reading Ilf & Petrovs One-storied America (1937) I started realizing that years pass, some things become obsolete and are scrapped, others are simply given a new shine or shape, but most things stay, fundamentally, the same. So here it is, an excerpt of the American experience, seen through Eastern Europeans eyes and stomachs.

“Serving a meal is a process as perfectly organized as the automobiles’ or the typewriters’ production.
In the same street, a bit farther away from the cafeterias, were the self-service restaurants. Seemingly similar with the cafeterias on the outside, they were transforming the process of pushing food into the American stomachs into a true virtuosity. The walls of these establishments are fully covered with glass cabinets. Next to each cabinet, there’s a small slit for introducing a nickel (a five cents coin). Behind the glass, sits a sad plate with soup or meat, a glass of juice or a pie. Despite the shining of the glass and the metal, the freedom-less meatballs or hot-dogs leave you with a wired feeling. You pity them, as you pity cats in a show. The client introduces the coin which gives him the possibility to open the cabinet door, take out the soup, carry it to a small table and eat it there, while hanging his hat under the table, on a special bar. Then, the client approaches a tap, introduces the nickel and the glass gets filled with the exact, appropriate quantity of coffee or milk . In this whole process, one can feel something offending and humiliating to the people.
For a long time, we didn’t understand why American food, so deliciously looking, doesn’t really have any taste. In the beginning, we thought that Americans simply don’t know how to cook. But then we found out that it’s not only about this, but also about the organization, about the essence of the American economy itself. The Americans are eating a terribly white bread, absolutely lacking any taste, frozen meat, salty butter, cans and partially-ripped tomatoes. How is it possible that the richest country in the world, the country of farmers and of cattle herders, of gold and of an amazing industry, a country with enough resources to create heaven on Earth, is not able to offer its own people flavorful bread, fresh meat and butter and ripen tomatoes?
We saw, close to New York (City), empty spaces, covered in weeds, parcels totally abandoned. No one was planting wheat or raising cattle. We saw neither hens with small chickens, nor vegetable gardens.”



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