Getting a global view of a local phenomenon

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

NPR had a fun piece today about how the United States is now a spicier nation.

U.S. Is A Spicier Nation (Literally) Since 1970s

I am glad to see that seasoning other than salt is making its way into the US kitchen. (Much healthier.) And I am glad to see the internationalization of cooking. (I still remember 25+ years ago when pita was introduced into Air Force One and the uproar it caused.)

But let’s look at why different spices are now selling so well in the States.

When I taught a feature writing class at George Mason University I gave my students an assignment to find connections in everyday student life and the world. (Use of the Internet and interviewing foreign/exchange students did not count.) In a brainstorming session about what those possible links might be I suggested the food court.

The impact of foreign students on the school meant the restaurants had to adjust. So there was Arabic food and Hispanic food. There were places that offered food under the rules of halal and kashrut.

And now NPR tells us

The consumption of spices in the United States has grown almost three times as fast as the population over the past several decades. Much of that growth is attributed to the changing demographics of America.

So here is the entry to a whole series of LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL articles that include an international perspective.

A local reporter could look at the sales of spices in his/her area. Then figure out what ethnic group is most closely tied to those spices. Then he/she could look at the local growth of that ethnic group in the area.

Finding out the how and why these immigrants came to the United States and to that local area could provide the fodder for a whole series of local profile stories.

Getting the basic information is easy. Just go to the Census Bureau.

For example, in just 30 seconds I found that 10.4 percent of the Southern United States is foreign-born.

Digging a little deeper — another 30 seconds — I found that 10 percent of Virginia’s population is foreign-born.

And just a little deeper I learn that 27.7 percent of the Fairfax County population is foreign-born, with 50.7 percent of that group from Asia and 30 percent from Latin America. (Could that be why there are so many Asian grocery stores in Fairfax County?)

And the foreign-born population in Arlington County comes to 24 percent, with 30 percent from Asia and 44 percent from Latin America. (Could that be why there are more Latin American restaurants and stores in Arlington than in Fairfax?)

And let’s not forget how those differences also play out in issues other than spices and restaurants. Think about taxes, education and other social and political issues.

The mantra of LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL these days should include more stories that involve international aspects. It just takes an enterprising reporter to dig out the stories.

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