Bloomsbury Food Library - United States: The Pacific Northwest
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Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia
Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia

Ken Albala

Ken Albala is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific and chair of the Food Studies MA program in San Francisco. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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© ABC-Clio Inc, 2011

Subjects

Content type:

Encyclopedia entry

Discipline:

Geography of Food

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United States: The Pacific Northwest

Page Range: 337–346

Overview

The Pacific Northwest is the North American geographic region along the northeastern edge of the Pacific Ocean. It is predominantly limited to the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States and the province of British Columbia in Canada, though it often includes Idaho, western Montana, southeastern Alaska, and northern California. This region’s major metropolitan areas consist of Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle, Washington; and Portland, Oregon, and the region’s total population is approximately 16 million people. Many people from the region refer to it as “Cascadia”; in fact, talk of secession has been taking place in the region for nearly as long as Washington and Oregon have been part of the United States. Today, the region is still strongly identified with political liberalism and radicalism, though this is primarily concentrated in urban areas; most of the rural areas in the region are politically conservative.

Located along the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Northwest is highly representative of America’s so-called melting pot of cultures, and this is highly evident in the variety of ethnic cuisines commonly available throughout the region. Though the majority of the regional population is comprised of Caucasians of European descent, Latinos and Asians (immigrant and naturalized) are the second and third most populous. Of the provinces of Canada, British Columbia has the highest proportion of visible minorities, comprising 24.8 percent of the total population. Vancouver, British Columbia, has the second-largest Chinatown district in North America (after San Francisco, California), and 45 percent of all Japanese living in Canada live in British Columbia—more than in any other Canadian province. People of Asian origin also dominate foreign immigration to Washington. Commensurate with the situation in other regions of the United States, Latinos comprise the majority of immigrants to Oregon and the second-highest proportion of immigrants in Washington, representing the majority of the agricultural workforce in the Pacific Northwest.

Indigenous peoples (the aboriginal peoples of Canada, American Indians, and Alaska Natives) also make up a central part of the Pacific Northwest’s cultural identity, though their populations in the region are only slightly higher than national averages. Alaska purports to have the region’s highest proportion of indigenous people, with approximately 20 percent of Alaskans identifying themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native. Many Pacific Northwest indigenous people strongly advocate upholding their ancestral hunting and fishing rights in order to observe tradition as well as for subsistence.

Food Culture Snapshot

Matt and Sarah Roberts are a married couple in their early thirties. They’re originally from the Midwestern United States but moved to Portland, Oregon, after graduate school to find work and live in a region that was more representative of their active, environmentally conscious lifestyle. Matt works at a large software company, and Sarah works for an environmental engineering firm. Their lifestyle and diets are typical of so-called DINK (dual-income, no kids) couples. They live in an older house in a neighborhood approximately 10 to 15 minutes from downtown and have a small backyard where they grow a few vegetables and have an old apple tree that was probably planted sometime in the 1920s. Rosemary grows well in the Mediterranean climate of the Pacific Northwest, and like many homes in the area, the Roberts have a large shrub of it in their front yard.

Instead of making large shopping trips to stock up on groceries, they usually make daily or near-daily shopping trips to their neighborhood grocery store, health-food store, or farmers’ market, if the weather is nice. These trips are often made on the way home from work, to pick up ingredients to prepare that night’s dinner.

The Roberts try to shop sustainably whenever possible—for them, this means buying primarily locally produced, organically grown meats and produce. Conversely, they make occasional visits to one of the Asian supermarkets that are common in their neighborhood. Imported Asian produce and packaged products are readily available in Pacific Northwest urban centers, thanks to the large number of immigrants from all over Asia. Many of these Asian products, such as tofu, miso, and a variety of Asian vegetables, are produced locally.

Sarah, like many young North American women, watches her caloric intake and leans toward a lowfat diet. She sometimes skips breakfast but tries to at least have a piece of wheat toast with peanut butter and a cup of green tea before she runs out the door to catch a bus to work. She usually brings lunch from home (often last night’s leftovers) so she can have something healthy and save money. Matt usually opts to buy breakfast from some coffee shop near his work-place—usually a bagel or English muffin sandwich with scrambled egg and ham for breakfast (with a latte), and he will usually buy a burrito, a slice of pizza, or maybe some Vietnamese beef noodle soup for lunch. Dinner, at around 8 p.m., is often eaten in front of the television. Tonight’s dinner will be wild-caught Alaska salmon fillets with rosemary-roasted baby potatoes and a green salad with some sliced apples on top. Sarah enjoys a glass or two of wine with dinner, and Matt usually has a microbrewed beer (in warmer weather he might opt for a domestic brew such as Pabst Blue Ribbon).

Major Foodstuffs

Seafood

Fisheries are a major economy in the Pacific Northwest, and this is reflected in the abundance of locally available seafood including wild-caught Pacific cod, albacore tuna, sole, Alaskan halibut, Dungeness and Alaskan king crab, pink shrimp and spot prawns, and more than 25 varieties of oysters raised in commercial beds in the chilly bays and sounds of Washington and British Columbia. But no other fish is more central to the cultural and regional identity of the Pacific Northwest than the salmon ( Oncorhynchus spp.): Chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon and steelhead trout (a close relative of salmon) are the region’s most important fish species, being generally available to commercial and/or recreational anglers during most of the year. Due to a variety of factors, populations of wild salmon have been on the decline for years, warranting the protection of some species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This decline has recently led to restrictions on commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

Agriculture

Agriculture and viticulture are also important Pacific Northwest economies. The majority of North America’s pomes and stone fruits (specifically sweet cherries) are produced in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington’s Yakima Valley. The region’s volcanic soils and mild, maritime climate are also ideal for growing berries and grapes. Berries in the Vaccinium genus such as huckleberries, cranberries, and blueberries thrive considerably in the deep, acidic soils of the region, though raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, and kiwi berries (a small, hairless variety of kiwi) are all commercially grown in the Northwest as well.

Hazelnuts (colloquially called filberts ) are another regionally specific agricultural product. Only Turkey produces more hazelnuts than the Pacific Northwest, though Oregon produces vastly more than Washington or British Columbia (approximately 23,000 tons per year, compared to 100 tons in Washington and 360 tons in British Columbia).

Potent Potables

Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Washington’s Yakima Valley are second only to Germany in world production of hops, and this is reflected in the production and consumption of microbrewed beers in the Northwest. Since the 1980s, more than 360 microbreweries (breweries that produce fewer than 20,000 barrels per year) and brewpubs have become established in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

Viticulture is a somewhat recent agricultural development in the region, taking off in the 1990s; however, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla counties in Washington, and Yamhill County in Oregon are now considered to be comparable to grape-growing regions of France and Italy for their terroir. Enology and viticulture are highly commercially viable in the region because of economies of scale, with the region’s wineries being typically small and family owned, compared to other major wine-producing regions such as California’s Napa Valley.

More recently, connoisseurs of hard alcohol have followed suit, and artisanal distilleries have begun to comprise a niche market in the Pacific Northwest—of the approximately 100 distilleries in the United States, 20 are microdistilleries located in Oregon, producing fragrant gins, vodkas, and eauxde-vie (literally, “water of life”; fruit brandy), all from locally produced ingredients. One Oregon microdistillery even produces an eau-de-vie poire with a small pear grown inside the bottle.

Dairies and Creameries

The Willamette Valley in northwestern Oregon is known as the “grass seed capital of the world.” While most grass seeds are neither fit nor intended for human consumption, this achievement does point to the fact that the Pacific Northwest is good at growing grass, which is a preferred food of dairy-producing livestock (cows, sheep, and goats). As a result, the region is home to more than 80 artisanal creameries as well as several large-scale commercial dairies. Many independent cheese makers in the region rival the highest-quality European creameries.

Wild Foods

In addition to fishing, hunting is a popular pastime in the Pacific Northwest, and the region supports large populations of big game such as deer and elk (also antelope, moose, and bear, though these are hunted less frequently); upland birds such as turkey, grouse, quail, pheasant, partridge, and ptarmigan; and waterfowl including several species of ducks and geese. Though some hunters in the region participate for sport and keep trophies of their game, the majority are subsistence hunters and eat what they kill (trophy hunters are generally tourists to the region and are treated with disdain by locals). Many hunters utilize the numerous small-scale meat processors located throughout the region to butcher large game and convert meat scraps into sausage.

Gathering wild foods, particularly mushrooms and berries, is another hobby that has been growing in popularity over the past several years. The Pacific Northwest provides excellent habitat for expansive thickets of several species of wild huckleberries and an abundance of choice edible mushrooms such as chanterelles, boletes (known in Italy as porcini or in France as cèpe), oyster mushrooms, chicken-of-the-woods (a variety of maitake ), cauliflower mushroom, white “Oregon” truffles, and matsutake. Recreational and commercial mushroom hunters tend to return to favorite spots year after year, the locations of which are often closely guarded (sometimes with firearms). Stories of mushroom hunters shooting their own family members during disputes over prime picking territories are common, but national forests and private properties closer to residential areas tend to be relatively safe for casual pickers.

Cooking

Like in most regions of North America, home cooking in the Pacific Northwest is typically performed by women, though men still comprise the majority of cooks and chefs in commercial kitchens. Most Pacific Northwesterners learn to cook from their mothers or other elder women in the family. Nearly all households come equipped with a standard four-burner electric or gas range, electric oven, and refrigerator/freezer. The majority of households also have an electric toaster and a microwave oven, though many health-conscious people in the region avoid using microwaves due to concerns that microwaves destroy the nutritional content of foods (these concerns have yet to be substantiated by scientific evidence).

Many households also equip themselves with electric slow cookers. These appliances allow busy people to safely and conveniently cook time-consuming foods like tougher cuts of meat and stews on a countertop without supervision (e.g., while away at work). Other small electric appliances such as toaster ovens, electric blenders, and food processors are also fairly common.

Sautéing in vegetable or olive oil and baking/roasting are two of the most commonly employed cooking techniques, likely due to their ease and relatively low health impacts. Vegetable fats tend to be preferred over animal fats for general cooking purposes.

Most households in the Pacific Northwest also have a means of outdoor cooking, such as a propane or charcoal grill. When weather permits, many people in this region prefer to cook outdoors and frequently have social gatherings centered around the cooking and consumption of foods. These gatherings are often erroneously called barbecues. Unlike the more regionally significant true barbecue of the southern United States, wherein proteins (generally large cuts of pork or beef) are slow-cooked for several hours (or even days) over indirect heat at low temperatures, Pacific Northwest “barbecues” consist of grilled foods that are generally prepared fairly quickly over direct heat and may include more vegetarian-friendly options such as hot dogs and burgers made from soy protein, fish fillets, and skewered vegetables.

One technique that is intrinsic to the Pacific Northwest is cooking fish, typically salmon, on a plank of cedar or alder wood over a direct heat source such as a flame or coals. This cookery method was adopted from indigenous people of the region, and wood planks specifically made for grilling salmon are readily available in the region. Smoking fish and meat for flavor and as a means of food preservation is still a fairly common practice in the Pacific Northwest, especially among recreational anglers. This has been particularly true since the advent of small electric, gas, and charcoal smokers and smoker-grills intended for home use.

Many younger people in the Northwest draw culinary inspiration from foreign cultures and are somewhat more adventurous with flavor than their parents were, preferring to prepare their foods with fresh rather than canned or frozen ingredients, and they tend to use more fresh herbs, garlic, chilies, and flavored oils and vinegars. It is also common to see younger home cooks prepare vegetarian or vegan versions of foods typically associated with a high amount of animal fats and proteins, such as making Southern-style biscuits and gravy using soy sausage and almond milk instead of pork sausage and cow milk for the gravy, or a Reuben sandwich with tempeh (a fermented soybean cake) instead of corned beef.

Typical Meals

Families tend to eat meals together, sometimes at the dinner table in the kitchen or dining room, but often in the living room or family room, seated in front of the television. Breakfast and dinner are usually eaten at home, but lunch is almost always eaten away from home (at school or at the work-place), at least on weekdays.

As in much of the United States and Canada, most people in the Pacific Northwest tend to eat fast breakfasts before school or work, such as cold breakfast cereals with milk; store-bought frozen waffles reheated in the toaster and served with a sweet topping such as maple syrup, nut butter, or a fruit spread; oatmeal with a bit of nuts or dried fruit; or a cup of yogurt that contains fruit. Toast and eggs are another common quick breakfast.

Among working people, weekdays in the Pacific Northwest often start with a cup of coffee and a bagel or pastry from a neighborhood coffee shop (though many people skip eating breakfast and opt only for coffee). The Pacific Northwest is the birthplace of Starbucks, and espresso and coffee drinks have been building in popularity in the region since the 1990s. Now, nearly every town in the Northwest has at least one place that serves espresso drinks— even rural gas stations have instant latte machines.

Preferred lunchtime fare in the Pacific Northwest is not particularly distinct from lunch foods across the United States and Canada. Women are more likely than men to bring lunch from home, often leftover dinner from the previous night. Many large companies in the region are sited on campuses that include employee cafeterias where restaurant-style foods are prepared by experienced cooks.

Most children eat a lunch that was prepared by one of their parents and brought from home, though many children instead eat lunch foods that were purchased in their school cafeterias. Children from low-income households may qualify for free lunches that are provided by their schools; these are the same lunches that are served to the rest of the student body, but they are offered at no cost to the child’s family. Some public school districts also offer free breakfast to children from low-income families.

Dinners usually consist of a protein (meat or fish), a starch (pasta, rice, or potato), and a vegetable. This can be as simple as roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans or as elaborate as coffee-rubbed venison tenderloin with polenta and wild mushrooms, depending on the cook’s interest and skill in cooking. Sometimes these components are combined into a hearty soup or stew and served with a bread product such as a biscuit (a chemically leavened quick bread) or a dinner roll (a yeast-leavened bread). Soups, stews, and chowders are considered comfort food in the Northwest and are favored during the cooler, rainy months between October and April.

Thai-Spiced Salmon Chowder

This chowder combines the best of the Pacific Northwest: local salmon and Southeast Asian spices. Corn’s sweetness pairs wonderfully with salmon.

Serves 4–6

Ingredients

2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 oz salt pork (or 2 slices bacon)
1 celery rib, diced
½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
½ c red onion, diced
¾–1 lb waxy potatoes (such as Yukon gold), diced
1 c frozen corn
1 can creamed corn
1 c coconut milk
3½ c fish stock (or chicken stock)
2 bay leaves
½ tsp grated fresh galangal (or ginger)
3 star anise pods
2 tbsp basil chiffonade
8 oz coho salmon fillet, skinned and deboned
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: arugula chiffonade or chopped cilantro

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to prevent the butter from browning, and add the salt pork. Let the pork render for a minute, then add the celery, jalapeño, and onion (mirepoix). Toss in a pinch of salt so the mirepoix sweats (avoid browning the mirepoix).

Add the potatoes and frozen corn, and stir to coat with the buttery pork fat. Add the creamed corn, coconut milk and stock, the bay leaves, the galangal, and the star anise. Simmer over medium low until the potatoes are tender, approximately 20 minutes. When the potatoes are nice and tender, turn off the heat and remove the bay leaves and star anise. Slice the salmon into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup with the basil. The latent heat from the soup will cook the salmon.

Pairs well with a peppery, slightly acidic Pacific Northwest Pinot Gris.

Eating Out

Breakfast and brunch establishments are highly popular in the Pacific Northwest. These are typically inexpensive neighborhood restaurants that also serve lunch and dinner, but they include some higher-end prix fixe restaurants that serve sophisticated weekend brunch items. Waits for a table at popular breakfast spots may exceed an hour on Saturday or Sunday. Typical brunch offerings consist of a scramble (eggs scrambled with vegetables and/or meat), home fries (fried or roasted cubed potatoes), and a piece of toast. This will typically be served with locally roasted coffee. Many people in the region also enjoy a breakfast cocktail during weekend brunch, such a screwdriver (orange juice with vodka), a Bloody Mary (tomato juice with vodka and a dash of horseradish and Worcestershire sauce, garnished with a rib of celery or pickled vegetables), or a mimosa (orange juice with champagne or Prosecco).

Recently Portland, Oregon, has received some notoriety for its populations of food carts. Food carts are a popular alternative to indoor dining establishments, and they tend to be clustered in parking lots in neighborhoods or streets that receive ample foot traffic. Food carts usually specialize in one type of cuisine, including Kazakh, Czech, Lebanese, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Mexican, though some are more generalist (e.g., “Mediterranean”). Some carts specialize in one type of food, such as barbecue, hot dogs, crepes, handheld pies, waffles, or Belgian-style frites (thin French fries). Neighborhood carts are often open very late to cater to crowds spilling out of closing bars, whereas the majority of the food carts located in the downtown area are frequented by lunch crowds and close after lunch.

Asian restaurants are widely available and usually provide diners with a substantial meal for little money—Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian restaurants are all common in the Pacific Northwest. In Vancouver, British Columbia, alone, there are more than 130 Japanese sushi-ya (sushi restaurants) and izakaya (restaurants serving small plates of grilled foods like yakitori and robata ) that are tucked into every nook and cranny, providing diners with an experience reminiscent of wandering the streets of Tokyo. Vietnamese beef noodle soup ( pho ) houses are abundant in the Pacific Northwest, serving fragrant bowls of star anise– spiked beef broth with thinly sliced beef and rice noodles. Adventurous eaters can usually order more traditional ingredients such as beef tendon or tripe. Authentic Hong Kong–style Chinese restaurants are also widespread, offering freshly roasted duck or pork, fried yi mein (thin wheat noodles, colored yellow with lye water), and seafood hotpots, in addition to traditional Cantonese dim sum.

The Pacific Northwest is also well known for its fine-dining establishments, though not all of them are necessarily expensive. These restaurants tend to be staffed with young, often heavily tattooed chefs who have their own style of cooking, though many rely on the implementation of European techniques with local, seasonal ingredients. An appetizer such as French-style pork pâté (made with local pork) served with house-pickled baby heirloom vegetables is an example of this marriage between technique and product and is commonly featured on menus. Most fine-dining and higher-quality casual establishments, even if not inherently French, also feature a salad of roasted beets with (local or French) bleu cheese, the ever-popular steak frites as an entrée, and a pot de crème (a chilled custard) or seasonal fruit dessert. Fresh seafood, if featured on the menu, tends to be obtained from local waters, and restaurants specializing in seafood dishes are fairly common.

Special Occasions

Major holidays and events such Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthdays, and weddings are celebrated in the Pacific Northwest much in the way they are celebrated elsewhere in the United States and Canada. Meals on holidays and other special occasions are typically casual gatherings of family and friends.

Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October, whereas American Thanksgiving is observed on the third Thursday of November. There are not really any components of the Thanksgiving feast that are specific to the Pacific Northwest; the meal typically focuses on roasted turkey served with cranberry sauce and a variety of side dishes that traditionally consist of mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing (cubed bread cooked with onions, celery, and poultry broth, with variations in ingredients occurring among households, such as the use of oysters, cornbread, dried fruits, or nuts), green bean casserole (green beans baked with cream of mushroom soup or a béchamel sauce and topped with fried onions), and candied yams (technically a sweet potato, baked with butter and brown sugar, and often topped with marshmallows). Vegetarian households may prepare a product called tofurkey, which is a soy-based, savory loaf that bears little resemblance to turkey. Dessert traditionally consists of pumpkin pie, and an additional fruit pie might be served as well.

The Pacific Northwest does not have any particular meal or foods associated with New Year’s Eve. Like elsewhere in the United States and Canada, the event is often celebrated with champagne or another sparkling white wine (or apple cider), with a toast to the new year being traditionally conducted at the stroke of midnight.

Canada Day (Canada) and Independence Day (United States) are national holidays observed on July 1 and July 4, respectively. Being summertime holidays, these are typically celebrated with outdoor parties—backyard cookouts and camping excursions are both common. Foods typically consumed during these holidays include grilled chicken (with or without barbecue sauce), hamburgers, hot dogs or sausages, corn on the cob, potato or macaroni salad (usually with a mayonnaise-based dressing), baked beans, and watermelon. Cold beer is often consumed in copious amounts during these holidays. The foods typically eaten during these holidays are similar to those eaten at American parties that celebrate sporting events.

Birthdays and weddings are typically associated with cake. A birthday cake may be homemade or purchased at a bakery or grocery store and is usually one or two layers of cake with frosting. If the cake is for a child, a dusting of colorful sugar sprinkles, toy figures, or other accoutrements may decorate the cake. One candle representing each year the honoree has been alive is another traditional topping; the birthday boy or girl then attempts to blow out the candles, and tradition speaks of a wish being granted if all candles are extinguished with one breath.

Wedding cakes tend to be much more elaborate, consisting of multiple tiers of (usually white) cake with buttercream icing or fondant and decorated according to the bride and groom’s preferences and the season during which the wedding is being held (floral themes are common, though an autumn wedding may include colorful leaves as part of the decor). In the Pacific Northwest, this tradition is typically observed in the same way as in other parts of the United States and Canada, though whimsical alternatives to a cake may include a cupcake “tree” (a selection of cupcakes arranged on a tiered platter) or doughnuts arranged in a pyramid. One Portland, Oregon, doughnut shop caters weddings and allows wedding ceremonies to be conducted in their bakery. In addition to the traditional wedding cake, many weddings include a groom’s cake. The groom’s cake is usually a smaller, informal cake that is decorated in a way that represents the groom’s interests or personality. Groom’s cakes are usually a flavor other than vanilla.

Though Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is widely celebrated by non-Christians in the Pacific Northwest. At Christmastime, homemade cookies and candies are typically prepared and exchanged among friends and family members. Christmas dinners are granted a little more creative license than Thanksgiving, with no specific protein being symbolic of the holiday. Some households prepare another roasted turkey, while others serve a pork roast or roast beef. Side dishes vary as well. Coconut cream pie and desserts with a peppermint and chocolate component are fairly representative of American and Canadian Christmas celebrations.

Hanukkah, like most Jewish holidays, has symbolic foods that are traditionally eaten in observance of the holiday; Hanukkah’s food is latkes. Latkes are fried potato pancakes that are often served with sour cream and/or applesauce. Children may be given gelt, which are thin chocolate wafers wrapped in gold foil to resemble coins. Dinner will often focus on a beef brisket. A traditional Hanukkah dessert, particularly among Sephardic Jews, is sufganiot (a raised donut dusted with powdered sugar).

Easter dinner is traditionally a ham, though lamb may be served instead (the lamb is viewed in Christianity as a symbol of Christ). Eggs are also symbolic of Easter, though this predates Christianity as a pagan fertility symbol. Hard-boiled eggs are colored with food-grade dyes and then hidden by adults for children to hunt for and place in a basket lined with plastic grass. These eggs can then be eaten as a snack or breakfast following Easter. Egg-shaped candies are also traditional gifts to children during the Easter celebration, along with chocolate bunnies (another remnant of pagan fertility celebrations).

The Passover seder is a ritual feast that has six symbolic components: The maror and chazeret are bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery that the Jews endured in ancient Egypt. The maror is usually grated horseradish, and chazeret is usually a lettuce leaf. Charoset represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt and is usually comprised of a blend of chopped nuts, apples, and sweet spices. Karpas is another vegetable (usually parsley, though celery or potato is sometimes used) that is dipped in saltwater or vinegar to symbolize the tears shed during slavery. Beitzah, a roasted egg, is a traditional symbol of the festival sacrifice (or may be interpreted as a symbol of mourning the loss of the Temple of Jerusalem). Z’roa is a roasted lamb shank bone that acts as an additional symbol of the Passover sacrifice. Traditional seder dinners usually include gefilte fish (cakes of chopped whitefish), matzo ball soup, and brisket or veal, though modern households often prepare different versions of these dishes.

Diet and Health

The Pacific Northwestern diet is comparable to that in the rest of the United States and Canada, though it leans toward slightly healthier choices. The Pacific Northwest has a high proportion of vegetarians and vegans compared with elsewhere in the United States and Canada. Its major urban centers (Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver) are considered to be the top three vegetarian-friendly cities in North America according to surveys by the nonprofit organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Vegetarians and vegans in the Pacific Northwest tend to simply eat meatless versions of the same foods that omnivores eat or meat substitutes that are usually made of soy or textured vegetable protein (TVP). They also tend to rely more heavily on Asian cuisines, deriving much of their protein intake from tofu (soybean curd originally from China but now widespread across Asia), tempeh (fermented soy or grain cakes from Indonesia), and seitan (solid wheat gluten from China, Japan, and Vietnam). Many vegetarians add nutritional supplements to their foods as seasonings—Bragg Liquid Aminos (a salty-tasting source of 16 amino acids that resembles tamari or soy sauce) and nutritional yeast flakes (a source of B-complex vitamins that is often used for flavoring cheese substitutes) are in nearly every vegetarian kitchen in the Pacific Northwest.

Ecologically conscientious or so-called green lifestyles are common in the Pacific Northwest, and this is reflected in the dietary choices that are made by many of its residents. Organically grown produce and free-range, organic meats are readily available at most mainstream grocery stores, and specialty stores that provide a wide selection of locally grown meats and produce are relatively common, even in smaller cities. Many heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits are grown and sold in the region, and these are more available and affordable than in other parts of the United States or Canada. Many of the region’s restaurants have received accolades for taking advantage of the Pacific Northwest’s bounty by showcasing local flora and fauna on their menus. Some restaurants even have their own farms.

Farmers’ markets are another successful means of closing the gap between farm and table, in that the people who grow or raise the foods can sell directly to the consumer. Most neighborhoods or districts in each urban center have a farmers’ market (usually open one day per week), and even smaller urban areas (especially college towns like Eugene, Oregon, and Olympia, Washington) tend to have at least one farmers’ market. Community-supported agriculture, or CSAs, enable individuals or families to purchase a yearly share of a local farm’s seasonal produce (sometimes delivered directly to their homes), while simultaneously providing income to small, organic farmers.

Further Reading

Aquilar, W. When the River Ran Wild! Indian Traditions on the Mid-Columbia and the Warm Springs Reservation . Portland: Oregon Historical Society/University of Washington Press, 2005.

Burmeister, Brett, and Lizzie Caston. A Guide to Food Carts in Portland . http://foodcartsportland.com.

Cook, Langdon. Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager . Seattle, WA: Skipstone Press/Mountaineer Books, 2009.

Long, M. Regional American Food Culture . Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009.

Manning, Ivy. The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally . Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books, 2008

Parr, Tami. Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest: A Discovery Guide . Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 2009.

Williamson, B. The Way We Ate: Pacific Northwest Cooking, 1843–1900 . Pullman: Washington State University, 1996.