There is much Americans argue about when it comes to immigration to the U.S. Though we’re the country with the largest number of immigrants, we’re also a country with a low percentage of foreign-born citizens. Our attitudes toward immigrants are—safe to say—complicated and contradictory. So it’s news when pollsters find one aspect of immigration that most of us can agree on: We think immigrants make our food landscape better.
We’re not alone in this. A new YouGov survey conducted in seven countries found that the most commonly agreed-upon benefit of immigration was a nation’s food. (Only France deviated from this answer, citing sports as the top benefit of immigration.) In the U.S., 50% of more than 1,200 respondents cited food, while 43% cited local businesses or economies, and 42% cited culture. Exactly what is meant by the broad category of “food” is unclear: more dynamic restaurant options? Laborers to fill jobs in the agricultural system? Small business growth?
Still, that food is cited as America’s most beneficial facet of immigration is worth noticing. Restaurants are, for some Americans, their first or most important or perhaps sole means of interacting with immigrants. According to National Restaurant Association data, 29% of businesses in the hospitality industry are immigrant-owned, compared to 14% of businesses overall.
Is tasting a banh mi or molé sauce going to single-mindedly change a person’s attitudes about immigration? Probably not. But perhaps the power of a meal, not just the actual food on a plate, to bridge cultures could transcend clichés. How best to harness that power to create meaningful dialogue, progress, and cross-cultural exchange is the million-dollar question.