Not Just Wings

My hometown of Jamestown, New York is relatively unknown to the rest of the world. Instead, I always introduce myself as being from the nearest big city in the state, Buffalo. Even then, the people I’ve met during my stay in Long Island only have a vague familiarity of the culture, practices, and ideas of Western New York. “It’s close to Canada, right?” “Is Buffalo really the most depressed city in the state?” “Isn’t it pretty snowy?”

To address most of these aforementioned inquiries, the assumptions are correct. Buffalo shares a border with Canada and sees an average snowfall of 93.4 inches each year, in part due to Lake Effect Snow from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario (Freedman). And yes, the gloomy weather, decline of industrial jobs, and rising unemployment has made Buffalo the second least satisfied metropolitan area in New York State, according to a 2010 Gallup study (Crabtree). But what gnaws at my mind most is the usually arrogant remark that follows my verbal acknowledgment of Buffalo’s shortcomings: “I can’t imagine what it’s like to live upstate.” It’s an insult to my culture, comfort, and home.

So what, then, does my pride come from? Snow isn’t the most favorable weather, and a close proximity to Canada isn’t anything special. To understand what makes Buffalo unique, one must first look at a timeline of immigration to Buffalo. The city’s establishment began in 1810, with English-Americans moving to the newly-planned settlement (Saylor). The English were followed by Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine, and after them came a wave of German and Polish Jews. In 1870, the Polish began immigrating to Buffalo “in earnest.” The migration of the Polish to Buffalo surged again in 1890, joined by Italians and Ashkenazi Jews.

In the early 20th century, 3/4’s of Buffalo’s population was foreign born. During this period, the city saw a growing Italian population, an influx of Syrian and Armenian refugees after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and a large number of African-Americans settling in the north to escape Jim Crow laws. To the south, my hometown of Jamestown had long since become a hub for the furniture industry and a hotbed for Scandinavian migration (“The Furniture Industry.”). The many groups who made their homes in Western New York created a melting pot culture and, consequently, an incredibly unique cuisine.

Of course, the general population would know Buffalo as the progenitor of “Buffalo Wings.” Chicken wings are deep fried and covered in cayenne pepper sauce, served with creamy bleu cheese and celery. Rumors surround exactly how the now-famous wings were first created, but generally agree that it was started in 1964 by Teressa Bellissimo at her and her husband’s bar, the Anchor Bar, with Mrs. Bellissimo looking for a creative snack to serve (Trillin). Ever since, wings have rose in popularity nationwide, and remain in their home region as a popular addition to the side of pizza.

In speaking of which, Buffalo is also home to a unique form of pizza (Addotta). Compared to New York styled pizza, the pizza one finds in Buffalo has a fluffier crust, a thicker and sweeter sauce, and is only topped with pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. Buffalo pizza, to those who have had it, is commonly seen as a middle-ground between Chicago’s deep dish and the flat New York style.

A local sandwich known as a “beef on weck” appears, at first, to simply be a roast beef sandwich on a seasoned bun. However, the combination of fragrant caraway seeds, crunchy salt, a fresh kaiser roll, and juicy roast beef makes for a popular lunch in the Western New York region (Eckfelt). Though the origin of the sandwich has never been confirmed, many believe it to be the inception of a German immigrant, William Wahr, imitating the breads his family would make.

Food greatly affects one’s personal and cultural identity. Gina M. Almerico explores this in “Food and identity: Food studies, cultural, and personal identity.” She explores the cultural and symbolic significance of food, highlighting bread as a prime example:

“When people sit together with friends at a meal they are said to break bread with one another . . . Bread has been called the staff of life. The type of bread consumed by a person has been known to indicate social standing. For instance, white bread has traditionally been eaten by the upper class . . . while dark bread is consumed by the poor . . . An affluent person has ‘a lot of bread.’ In some cultures, bread is shared by couples as part of their wedding ceremony. In the Christian religion it represents the body of Christ in the sacrament of communion. Superstitions about bread have also been documented.”

Almerico then elaborates that food from one’s childhood often fosters positive feelings. How could the plight of a German man, longing for the bread that defined his childhood, be anything but endearing? He kneads the bread, bakes it, dresses it with seeds and salt, and layers beef between. It’s a simple comfort to him, and he shares it. Years later, with Wahr’s name being all but lost to history, his creation has become the definition of home for thousands of others.

Even in Jamestown, the cuisine has its own rarities. Markets have long catered to the Swedish population (Jones). Ecklof’s Bakery also produces a flat cookie with a single pink stripe. While basic, a google result will yield the admiration for it, all nearly contained to the Jamestown region (save for a single, unpopular Martha Stewart recipe and a review of a similar product from British Colombia).

Jamestown’s affinity for the Swedes is most evident in the popularity of korv, a Swedish sausage with a mild to sweet flavor. In the summer, the residents of Chautauqua county enjoy it in a bun and topped with lingonberry jam. At longtime local establishments Ecklof’s Bakery and Peterson’s Farm, korv has been a popular order for many years. Korv is such a defining staple of Jamestown that it has caused a noticeable bond within the community. As of May 2017, there are eight pages of condolences left in memory of the former local provider–Norman A. Owen–who passed away on January 8th, 2017 (“In Memory of Norman A. Owen.”). Even my personal Facebook was filled with memories and honors for Owen. I too share the sentiments for him, for his korv burgers helped me develop a love for my Nordic heritage at a young age.

Tim Hortons is an additional specialty of Western New York. As of 2015, the coffee chain had 220 locations in Western New York (“This map shows where all of WNY’s Tim Hortons outlets can be found.”), with those in Buffalo earning an average annual revenue of $1.6 million in 2011 (Fink). The closeness to Canada is to blame for this. Of course, Tim Hortons is hard to find outside of my home region, Canada, and (oddly enough) the United Arab Emirates (“Tim Hortons opens in second Middle East market.”). My college life is thus less reminiscent of home; I can only tolerate two hot coffees made on campus, and one is only made in a building I don’t normally go to. The rare occasions when I go to Penn Station are in large part bliss, all because of the small Tim Hortons beside the Amtrack waiting area.

In her essay, Almerico concludes that food often unifies those within one culture through not only the diet, but the way food is eaten, prepared, and shared. Food allusions are shared among cultures as similes, metaphors, and indicators of wealth. Food can bring up positive memories of home and childhood. Therefore, food is a concept people unknowingly take pride in.

So how is it that I live in Western New York, a land of snow and winter, of joblessness and relative metropolitan seclusion? I live very well! Western New York is distinct and comforting to me. The unique culture, coming from a blend of migrants and a search to replicate the tastes of their own homes, is a topic I find fascinating. The smooth taste of a Tim Hortons mocha latte is a taste Starbucks can never replicate, beef on weck will always hold a special place in my heart, and nothing will beat the satisfaction of a “korv burger” when I return to Jamestown this summer. In case you couldn’t tell, I think the food is good.
Works Cited

Addotta, Kip. “Pizza!” Kip Addotta, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2017. Wayback Machine. Web. 24 April 2017.

Almerico, Gina M. “Food and identity: Food studies, cultural, and personal identity.” Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies, vol. 8, 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Crabtree, Steven. “Jobs Key to Residents’ Satisfaction With Their Communities.” Gallup, 25 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Ekfelt, Lynn Case. “Buffalo’s Other Claim to Fame.” Voices, vol. 29, no. 2, 2003. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Fink, James. “Tim Hortons keeps expanding in WNY.” Buffalo Business First, 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Freedman, Andrew. “Buffalo snow peaks at 7.3 feet during week of once-in-a-generation cold.” Mashable, 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

“The Furniture Industry.” Prendergast Library, 9 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 May 2017.

“In Memory of Norman A. Owen.” Lind Funeral Home, 8 Jan. 2017. Web. 14 May 2017.

Jones, Barbara Ann. “Chapter 1.” Recollections of a Jamestown Swede. Xlibris, 2009. Phalanx Associates, Inc. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Saylor, Dana L. “A timeline of immigration in Buffalo.” Buffalo Spree, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

“This map shows where all of WNY’s Tim Hortons outlets can be found.” Buffalo Business First, 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

“Tim Hortons opens in second Middle East market.” Tim Hortons, 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 May 2017.

Trillin, Calvin. “An Attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing.” The New Yorker, 25 Aug. 1980. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

“This map shows where all of WNY’s Tim Hortons outlets can be found.” Buffalo Business First, 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Trillin, Calvin. “An Attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing.” The New Yorker, 25 Aug. 1980. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.


One thought on “Not Just Wings

  1. Hi Emma! I really enjoyed reading your essay as it resonated deeply with me — I am also from Upstate New York, but from Rochester! Being from a city neighboring Buffalo, I can relate to a lot of what you expressed. It is difficult to talk with natives of NYC or people from other states who have inaccurate assumptions of Upstate New York.

    It was interesting to hear about specific details of food in your hometown, because even though I am from upstate as well, I did not know a lot about Jamestown before reading your essay. I think you did a good job of balancing research of food in the area with your personal experiences relating to food. Additionally, you tied in historical information which shows that you are very knowledgeable on Jamestown, beyond its cuisine.

    One suggestion I have is to connect your overall research on bread with your own experience with it. Whether it’s how you “break bread” with others or simply the different types of breads you ate growing up, and if that at all verifies what you found on the connection between bread and economic status.

    Great job overall!


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