5 Foods To Thank Immigrants For (Slideshow)

The popular discourse about immigration has become so ugly in the US that it often seems Americans have forgotten that we are a nation of immigrants; that, unless we can trace most of our ancestors to Native Americans, we — whether our relatives came over on the Mayflower or whether we just arrived last week from Nigeria, whatever the color of our skin or the religion we practice — are all immigrants.

So much for the US being a “melting pot” or “salad bowl” in which individuals of many different ethnicities and races see themselves as co-existing. The notion of e pluribus unum, “out of many, one,” seems in danger of being lost today.

Anti-immigrant policies are all the more exasperating when you think about how central immigrants are to the US. A recent study from the Fiscal Policy Institute found that 18 percent of small business owners in the US are immigrants. It is an eye-opening figure when you consider that immigrants make up 13 percent of the overall US population. In fact, between 1990 and 2010, 30 percent of growth in small businesses was thanks to immigrants.

Immigrants own restaurants, doctor’s offices, real-estate firms, groceries and truck-transportation services, notes the New York Times. How often is a Latino-owned bodega or a Chinese restaurant the sole business in a small town or urban neighborhood where nearly every other storefront is shuttered?

In honor of the fourth of July and of Americans who trace their roots to countries around the world, and in celebration of the diverse traditions that are part of American culture, here are five foods that we can thank immigrants for. They foods that most of us can find in our communities and that some (many? all?) of us may well routinely eat.

1. Pizza

New York City

3 billion pies are sold in the US per year out of 5 billion worldwide. At least once per month, 93 percent of Americans eat at least one slice (which may, admittedly, not bear too much resemblance to what you get in Italy).

Photo by Rob Boudon via Flickr

2. Bagels


Photo by psd via Flickr

Bagels, brought to the US by immigrant Polish Jews, have become standard American breakfast food, available now in fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, the freezer case, national bagel chains and (still) delis in New York City; in flavors from salt to blueberry to French toast; slathered with anything from cookie dough cream cheese to tuna salad to plain old butter.

Brooklyn, New York City

Photo by melissa.delzio via Flickr

3. Chinese Takeout

late meal

Photo by MissMessie via Flickr

Chinese restaurants are as ubiquitous as McDonalds and Starbucks in the US. Their menus contain a standard array of items — wonton soup, egg rolls, chow mein, kung pao chicken, cashew chicken, beef with broccoli, fried rice — that are more properly termed Chinese American (i.e., not what you’ll eat in China or what you eat in a restaurant if you can read the Chinese language menu). Fortune cookies, for instance, are an American invention.

But I am glad to go out for dim sum, for dumplings, baos and some noodles any time.

dim sum

Photo by lookslikeamy via Flickr

4. Sushi

Sushi in NYC

Photo by vladislav.bezrukov via Flickr

Sushi is a $2 billion industry in the US, with American sushi consumption having increased 40 percent from 2000 – 2005.. We still have a long way to go to catch up to Japan where there are some 45,000 sushi restaurants, vs. not quite 4,000 in the US. Concerns about levels of mercury and other substances in fish remain — but there’s always the vegetarian options.



5. Burritos


Plus tacos, tostadas, empanadas, tortilla chips, salsa, chile rellenos and all foods “Tex-Mex.” These are not the foods you’ll necessarily eat in Mexico or in other Latin American countries but, like those fortune cookies, are very much a hybrid, and highly popular, American creation.

I admit that these five foods are not, in their original versions, the healthiest. There have been efforts to make them more healthy — by taking MSG out of Chinese food, lowering sodium and fats, using different cooking oils and revising recipes to suit different diets, whether you are vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free, or if you eat halal or kosher.

A recent New York Times article mentions these quintessentially multi-ethnic variations on Mexican food: enchiladas suizas or “Swiss enchiladas,” with a dousing of béchamel sauce, and teriyaki rice bowls, an “inflammatory Japanese-Hawaiian-Cal-Mex mashup of short-grain rice, teriyaki meat, scallions and Tapatío hot sauce.”

Move over, metaphors of the “melting pot” and “salad bowl”: What says “American” better than a Korean taco, “stuffed with bulgogi and kimchi” and served up at the likes of TGI Friday?

Seoul on Wheels - Korean Tacos

Photo by arnold | inuyaki via Flickr


Related Care2 Coverage
Mitt Assures Murdoch He Won’t Flip-Flop on Immigration

Feds Stop Immigration Cooperation With Arizona

All Calories (and All Foods) Are Not Created Equal

Minority Births Outpace White Births in the US



Photo by @cdharrison

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

Yes, we owe a lot to immigration. HOWEVER, the US isn't fighting immigration, it's fighting ILLEGAL immigration. If people come here, file the proper papers and follow the laws, then the majority would have no issue with where they are from

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

What about kebab, hamburgers and Indian food?

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

Freya H.: The US invaded Iraq, unlawfully and lied about the reasons. Do you know who took more Iraqee refugees in than US and Britain combined? A small city named Södertälje in Sweden! Besides, a human can't be illegal, only actions can. And US actions globally brings about millions of refugees and they usually end up in neighboring countries that have their own problems. The few refugees and immigrants that enter the US will sooner or later adapt and be included in the country, some will become citizens and some won't. Citizenship should never be forced upon anyone for the right to live in another country. BTW, did your ancestors (or you yourself) ask the Native Americans (American Indians) permission to live here? So, who's the illegal?

Margarita G.
Margarita G.3 years ago

Interesting! Thanks!

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Belinda, with all due respect, you are WAY off topic. The topic isn't whether picking tomatoes is paid for with adequate wages, and many Americans would be quite thankful to get a $10/hour PAYING job. Picking tomatoes is also hardly "back breaking" work. Have you ever picked tomatoes? They grow on vines UP and one doesn't even have to bend over to pick them. What, BTW, is a "fast food checker"? I think you may be confused. Fast food workers typically are paid minimum wage, which in MY state is $9.05/hour. Doesn't take a whole lot of skill to bag hamburgers or pour a coke into a cup and hand to somebody. They don't even have to know how to make change anymore, computers do it for them. Cashiers in a grocery store, on the other hand, typically are paid more, are unionized and have to deal with quick, repetitive motions, often leading to such conditions as CTS. Would you be suggesting that they are OVERPAID? What does either have to do with the topic in the first place? Again, it's a misleading SUBJECT and doesn't even have a thing to do with ILLEGAL immigrants.

Belinda E.
Belinda E.3 years ago

Oh, and by the way, has it occurred to anyone that if they can't get Americans to pick tomatoes at $10 an hour, maybe they aren't paying what the labor is worth? I would think that picking tomatoes--hard, back-breaking work under the hot sun, under pressure to pick fast but carefully, with few breaks even for the toilet--should earn the worker several times what a fast-food checker earns for standing at a cash register, yet $10 is only about a third more than minimum wage. If picking tomatoes paid what it was worth, with medical benefits for back pain and other injuries, I daresay you could find Americans who would do it. Yes, the price of groceries would go up, but so would the employment rate.

Belinda E.
Belinda E.3 years ago

We have two conflicting problems with regard to immigration.

First, few illegal immigrants want to flout the law; they just can't get into the US legally because of quotas and red tape. If we made it easier to get a work visa, and easier to become a citizen, the illegal immigration problem would disappear.

Which brings us to the second problem: every country has the right to decide who may visit and who may immigrate. (One of the reasons the Colonies joined into a federation was to ensure unhindered passage of citizens between the states.) In the case of the United States, the number of people who would like to live here greatly exceeds our ability to absorb them. In particular, the Hispanic communities seem to be growing ever more strident in their demands for special treatment (like public services in Spanish) and their expectation that we should ignore the fact that many are here illegally, because we need them.

Which creates a third problem: allowing immigrants to come here, get an education, marry and have children creates a natural expectation that this situation will continue. When an illegal immigrant is deported, leaving behind his or her American-born children, that is a heartbreaking injustice.

I don't know the answers. But I do know that anyone who says, "It's simple! Just...." either doesn't understand all the aspects of the problem, or doesn't care about the human cost.

Oh, and by the way--has it occurred to anyone that if they can't get Americ

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

(cut off)............What angers me is someone who comes across the border ILLEGALLY, in the dead of night, either by being in a car trunk, an undeground tunnel, climbing over a border fence, or inside a container in an ocean-going vessel (or when referring to Cubans) a row boat or small vessel ............WHATEVER they use or do where they do not go thru proper channels, apply for Green Cards, VISA's, citizenship or even let legal departments know of their being here, then STAY here and try to reap all the benefits afforded to those legally entitled to receive them.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Dee C., every square inch of what is now the United States used to be part of something else at one time or another. Get over it. Texas and California were Mexican territory. Florida was originally colonized by Spaniards, but I do believe there were "Indians" that already lived there.

In Europe, most of the U.K. was occupied by various "tribes" including Anglos. Saxons invaded and there were wars (I'm sure you have heard of King Arthur and the "Knights"). Poland was occupied by Russians. Ghengis Khan invaded and held half of the then known world. Alexander the Great (Greek) went in the other direction...........occupied Eygpt, most of the Middle East.

In other words, wars to occupy territory have existed since the beginning of time. The stronger overthrows the weaker. Boundaries are established. We are now a country with borders. Immigration is allowed. We have rules on the books explaining the procedures. NOBODY has an issue with legal immigration. Actually, wchi is not correct about aside from "Native Americans" we are all immigrants. I'm not.............I was born here, and so were both my parents and THEIR parents.

What angers me is someone who comes across the border ILLEGALLY, in the dead of night, either by being in a car trunk, an undeground tunnel, climbing over a border fence, or inside a container in an ocean-going vessel (or when referring to Cubans) a row boat or small vessel ............WHATEVER they use or do where they do not go thr

Dee Campbell
Deborah Campbell3 years ago

Arizona was part of Mexico at one time....so who are the illegal immigrants?