When I first came to live in the United States I felt, like many an immigrant, confused and adrift. Food was not actually the most troubling thing, but it did sometimes make me feel very alien. What was I suppose to understand by the term “everything bagel”? It sounded very cosmic but was inevitably an disappointment. But it wasn’t nearly as disappointing as “American cheese." It seemed comprehensible that any country would lend its name to such a hideous, chemical construction.
Well, to cut a long story short, the Simpsons played an enormous part in my assimilation, teaching me a vast amount about America and American ways. The fact that the show was written by a bunch of Yale-educated weirdoes probably helped. And of course I cherished the classic scene of Homer Simpson staying up all night eating 64 slices of American cheese, which suggested that some people out there found American cheese as absurd and hilarious as I did.
And now I read about another immigrant, Gary Shteyngart, an author whose novels include The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan. That’s him below doing some all-American eating.
He’s just written a memoir titled Little Failure. Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and moved to the US seven years later. He decided to become a writer aged four or five. He did it at least partly to please his grandmother, who “paid” him in food. For each page he wrote she gave a slice of (wait for it) Soviet cheese. I’m guessing it looked something like this:
I don't know whether American cheese would have come as a shock to him or not. However, while searching for images of Soviet cheese (yep, it’s a full life), I did find the image below. This looks like cheese spread rather than cheese you could slice, and mete out on a page by page basis, but I’d buy it just for the graphics.