Food Studies: An Immigrant Food Field Trip

Why are most Indian restaurants run by Pakistani families? Why is Chinese food cheaper than Japanese? An edible exploration of ethnic food in America.

Food Studies features the voices of volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. Don't miss Josh's last post, on the first grow-your-own pizza of spring.

Lately in my "History of Food and Cuisine" class we have been talking about the culinary impact of immigrant communities on the American food landscape, from the 19th century to the present.

It's a fascinating string of tales that hardly runs straight as we grapple with questions like: Why is it that many immigrant families have no problem eating toast and cereal for breakfast but definitively eat food of their own country for dinner? Why is it that most "Indian" restaurants in New York City are actually owned and operated by Pakistani or Bengali families? Why do we gladly empty our wallets for French, Japanese, and even Italian cuisine, when we feel the same is hardly appropriate for Chinese, Thai, or Middle Eastern food of the same caliber? And what does "ethnic" food mean in America, really?

To further explore these and other questions, my class took a field trip last Wednesday to a couple of majority immigrant neighborhoods of New York to meet people, have discussions, and of course, eat great food.

The first place we stopped off was in Jackson Heights, where we went to a Pakistani restaurant that is well-known as one of the best in the area. We were treated to a lunch feast (the samosas were some of the best I've had—pillowy, flaky, well-spiced, and full of veggies; the gulab jamun, a sort of syrup-soaked dumpling, were incredible), had some great discussion about the development of restaurant culture in immigrant populations with one of the NYU professors who was showing us around, and the owner even brought us back to the kitchen to teach us how to bake roti, their flatbread, in their huge clay ovens. Mine didn’t turn out exactly right, but the center drooped down to form a perfect heart shape, so as far as I was concerned it was at least an artistic success.

After lunch, we went around Jackson Heights in search of pa'an—traditionally, a post-meal ritual involving the chewing of betel leaves, areca nuts, slaked lime, and sometimes tobacco. Our version, however, was much tamer (and far less addictive): in sweet pa’an the betel leaf is stuffed with slaked lime paste, dried coconut and other fruits, candied fennel seeds, and then folded into a little pocket. It was a singular experience, and an incredible blend of flavors— sweet, sour, astringent, bitter, and herbaceous—and textures, from crunchy to chewy to crispy: much more potent and complex than your average breath mint. The taste lingered in my mouth for hours.

From there we took the 7 to the end of the line for the second half of the day. When we exited the metro station in Flushing, it felt like we had walked straight into Hong Kong: The air was full of exotic smells and sounds, there were people everywhere going about their business, and delectable morsels beckoned from every storefront. We tried Peking Duck buns, watched cooks make hand-pulled noodles in the Golden Mall, visited different Korean and Chinese grocers, and went to a Korean-French fusion bakery.

We finished the day with a multi-course Chinese meal, where we discussed our various impressions of "authenticity" and what it means to search for an experience of "the other" (our understanding of the "ethnic") as an "outsider."

That last sentence involved a lot of scare quotes, and our conversation was definitely pretty academic, but the day's eating and visiting really did help to ground all the theoretical issues we've been discussing in class. It could have hardly been more valuable—or delicious.

To be continued.

Josh is a student blogger for the Food Studies feature on GOOD's Food hub. If you enjoyed this, you should check out the rest of the Food Studies blogger gang here, including recent posts on food labels, papaya pollination, and farmer-activism.

All photos courtesy of the author.


The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.


Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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