Stuff Upper Midwesterners like: What makes us ... 'us'
By Jasmine Maki
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- From our favorite foods to most popular sports, to the clothes we wear and the vehicles we drive, there are things in every aspect of our lives that people associate with the Upper Midwestern region.
Hotdish, Norwegian dishes
Doug Munski, a geography professor at the University of North Dakota, said, “One of the things that gives distinctiveness to a cultural landscape is the food choices and food ways.
“In geography, we have studies of food ways, and you can regionalize the United States according to cuisine very readily,” he said. “We are more meat and potatoes. We are not in the barbeque belt.”
Kelli Swier, 28, of Grand Forks, is a native of Sioux Falls, S.D., and has lived in the Midwest her entire life. She said, “Comfort food is a big one. Family-oriented dishes and pheasant.”
One of those popular family-oriented meals is hotdish.
“We didn’t know what a hotdish was until we got here,” said Joey Castiglione of Denver. “It was always green bean casserole.”
The sophomore aviation student at UND added that as far as he’s concerned, Midwesterners made it up. And it’s true. According to the documentary “Minnesota Hotdish: A Love Story,” the term was first written down in the 1930s in a Mankato, Minn., church cookbook. And according to the Dictionary of American Regional English, the term is still only regularly used in the Upper Midwestern states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Castiglione and his girlfriend, Courtney Davidson, also from Denver, made note of all the traditional foods they noticed in the area such as lefse, lutefisk and krumkake, which Munski said can be traced back to the Norwegians who settled in the area many years ago.
“There’s nothing better than being home and having your folks make you a meal from home, a traditional meal with the casseroles, the soups, chicken and dumpling, chicken pot pie, any kind of casserole,” said Louie Hodgson of Grand Forks.
When it comes to sports, it’s pretty obvious that hockey is No. 1 on a lot of Upper Midwesterners’ minds. Old hockey jerseys can be seen nearly everywhere one goes, but it isn’t just the game that people associate with the area. Castiglione said everyone seems to know how to ice skate.
He said he bought his first pair of ice skates when he moved here from Denver.
“I figured if I’m going to live up here, might as well fit in,” he said.
During the semester break, Castiglione and Davidson visited the free indoor ice rink in Manvel, N.D.
“We were barely able to make a circle,” Castiglione said. “Then, a bunch of guys came from UND, and they were playing hockey and hitting each other and doing spins.”
“We were watching our feet, and they were like flawlessly going backward, forward, spinning,” Davidson added.
They said they also watched as a 6-year-old boy skated donuts around them.
Along with hockey and ice skating, Laura Gelles, a second semester UND graduate student from Reno, Nev., said everyone here talks about football, too.
“I traveled to Fargo, and I was in a cab and the guy was just chatting up, making conversation, and all he talked about was football,” she said. “Younger generations, older generations, everyone’s about football.”
Back in Reno, Gelles said the closest team is San Francisco, so not as many people watch the sport. Here, it’s a different story.
Leggings, Uggs and camouflage
The clothing choices may not be quite as distinctive (or traditional) as the food in the Upper Midwest, but some clothing is definitely worn more in this particular region than elsewhere in the United States.
“We used to say if you want to see the fashion of Grand Forks five years from now, go look at what they’re wearing in Canada,” Munski said. Others say Midwest trends are about five years behind the fashion trends on either coast. Either way, the Midwest is known for a few trends of its own.
“My husband says most women are going to own a pair of black leggings and brown Ugg boots,” Swier said. “He says you know you’re from the Midwest when that’s in your wardrobe.”
Davidson agreed. She also said people wear a lot more mittens here rather than gloves, which she was used to in Denver.
Like mittens, other fashion choices are closely tied to the cold weather in the Midwest.
“In the wintertime, people will wear snowmobile jackets,” Castiglione said. “And insulated jeans … jeans that have like flannel on the inside.”
Camouflage — pants, shirts, jackets and hats — is another one that tops the lists for Midwestern fashions. Gelles said, “There’s a lot of hunters here, so they all wear camo and loose clothes, and a lot of hats — everyone wears hats.”
Whether it’s to fit in or stay warm, many Midwesterners sport these warm, comfortable trends.
Outdoor recreation, festivals
Outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, camping and snowmobiling also come to mind for Midwesterners when they’re asked to describe their region. Even those who don’t participate in these recreational activities agree that they’re a part of the Midwestern culture.
“I have a lot of friends who check out the festivals, especially in Minnesota,” Hodgson said. “A lot of those festivals they do at campgrounds or out in the woods, and it’s kind of a camping/music thing. People go even if the bands aren’t huge to them.”
Hodgson doesn’t have time to go to a lot of festivals, but he said he does spend time outdoors biking and hiking the Greenway in Grand Forks. He said most people in this region seem to really like being outdoors.
“I personally have never partaken in it … but hunting, of course, is a huge thing in the Midwest,” Swier added.
Along with the outdoor trend, she said there are a lot more sport utility vehicles in the region than any other vehicle.
Castiglione further emphasized that point, saying there aren’t many sports cars and convertibles in the area.
“They’d get stuck in the snow,” he said.
Munski said a lot of the outdoorsy attitude comes from Midwesterners’ tendency to focus on rural, small towns and agriculture.
Hodgson said you only have to drive a few miles out of town before you see a tractor.
Even some of the popular television shows in the Midwest reflect this lifestyle and a love of outdoor recreational activities.
Davidson said her suitemate at UND is obsessed with “Duck Dynasty,” the A&E reality show based on a family who became wealthy from their successful duck call business.
“She even bought ‘Duck Dynasty’ cups,” Davidson said. “She’s always in her room chuckling to ‘Duck Dynasty.’ ”
Even after considering all of this stuff most Midwesterners seem to like, Munski said the region is becoming more homogeneous with the rest of the United States.
“While there may be some general agreements with language, a tendency to connect to the farm, it is not what it was a decade ago, 25 years ago, 50 years ago,” he said. “In the last two decades, there has been more rapid change in the cultural landscapes of the Upper Middle West than the previous 80.”
Munski added that although we like to think of the Midwest as a rural area, it is becoming more of an urban area with more urban centers.
“There’s the reality of it, and then there are people’s perceptions of that reality, and in turn, that gives you the myths of the Midwest,” he said. “And depending on who you talk to, you’re going to get an entirely different answer.”
But as far as Hodgson is concerned, North Dakota will always be home.
“The Red River Valley is a great place to raise a family, and I probably wouldn’t want to raise a family anywhere else,” he said. “There’s more of an emphasis on taking care of our own than other places.”