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5 Beloved Ethnic Foods Invented for Americans

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Many of those beloved “ethnic foods” Americans crave so much—Mexican, Chinese, Italian—were actually invented or popularized in the good old USA.

1. General Tso’s Chicken

Photo courtesy jensteele's Flickr photostream

Who is General Tso and why is his chicken everywhere? No one seems to know. While there was a General Tso (or Zuo Zongtang) in 19th-century China, little about him suggested he was a whiz at whipping up deep-fried, sweet ‘n’ spicy chicken. Especially since, by the time it first appeared, he wouldn’t have been alive to taste it.

An influx of Chinese immigrants to the United States in the early half of the 20th century created a need for somewhere to grab some Chinese cuisine. Ordinary Americans, however, didn’t cotton to traditional Hunan cuisine, so one enterprising chef (one Peng Chang-kuei, according to the claims) battered and deep-fried the chicken, and then added sugar to offset the spicy element. Thus, General Tso’s Chicken was born.

2. Nachos

Photo courtesy jeffreyww's Flickr photostream

Sure, tortillas are a Mexican thing, but tortilla chips--and the practice of putting random toppings on them—that’s all-American, baby. Tortilla chips came out of the true mother of invention: needing to sell leftover scraps. The El Zarape Tortilla Factory took their misshapen and unsellable tortillas, cut them up, fried them and sold them for a dime a bag. One man’s trash is another man’s golden fried treasure.

The combination of tortilla chips and melted cheese, however, took place in a Mexican border town. As the story goes, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, maître d' of the Victory Club, was closing up the restaurant when a dozen wives of U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan across the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, wandered in after a day of across-the-border shopping. Having little to offer, Anaya ran back to the kitchen and threw together chips, cheese and sliced jalapeno. When the delighted ladies asked the name of the dish, Anaya proclaimed, "Nacho's especiales." The dish became so popular that Anaya gave up the maître d' life to open his own Nacho restaurant. The invention of Nacho-flavored spray cheese is a story for another day.

3. Cashew Chicken

Photo courtesy Kominyetska's Flickr photostream

This Chinese restaurant staple can be traced back to the least Chinese of places: Springfield, Missouri. Chef David Leong, who emigrated from China to Missouri in 1940, struggled to turn his fellow Missourians onto traditional Chinese cuisine. Then he noticed how much the people of Missouri loved their fried chicken. Leong deep-fried chunks of chicken, tossed some oyster sauce and cashews on top and suddenly had a winner. Most places you go now offer the non deep-fried variation. Ask for “Springfield-style Cashew Chicken” and you’ll get the battered and deep-fried original.

4. Spaghetti with Meatballs and Garlic Bread

Photo courtesy Jessica Spengler

Sure, you will find spaghetti noodles in Italy. Red sauce and meatballs too—though not the comically oversized meatballs Americans are accustomed to. What you'll have a harder time finding in Italy is the combination of all three on one plate.

As for garlic bread, the closest thing Italians have to it is bruschetta. After WWII, returning soldiers came back with a hankering for the wondrous bread they enjoyed abroad. To meet the new demand, American restaurants whipped up their own version: toasted white bread with garlic and margarine.

5. Fortune Cookies

Photo courtesy Beth Kanter

The humble fortune cookie has a number of origin stories, none of them beginning in China. Some say it was invented in Los Angeles by baker David Jung back in 1918. He handed out the cookies to homeless people, each containing an uplifting biblical passage within.

Another tale claims the prophesizing pastries came from Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara. In 1907, Mayor of San Francisco James Phelan fired Hagiwara for the offense of being Japanese. A public outcry followed and when Hagiwara was reinstated, he supposedly created little cookies with “Thank You” messages tucked inside for all the people of San Francisco.

What is known for sure is the Lotus Fortune Cookie Company began spitting out the machine-made edible oracles by the late 1960s. China didn’t get a taste of the fortune cookie until it came to the country in 1993, sold as "genuine American fortune cookies,” and thus cementing the cookie’s place in fake Chinese lore.

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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