Food on Screen: taste of Western Part. 1
In 1903, the American frontier was officially closed and the western genre arrived in cinemas with the film The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter).
It was the first time that audiences had seen a cowboy on the big screen, not to mention his horse, the food he ate and all the legends that surrounded him.
Coffee, beans, meat, sourdough and stew: the five essential elements of a typical Western meal.
Coffee is the only item that a cowboy will ever share. The rest is jealously guarded because there is never enough food to satisfy a cowboy’s hunger.
In films like Seven Men from Now (Budd Boetticher, 1957) or Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954), coffee is represented as a hero’s best friend when it comes to relaxing. It is no coincidence that in his latest film The Hateful Eight, Tarantino chose coffee to take advantage of a dangerous moment of distraction. A cup of the hot black drink is for when Cowboys are enjoying a break from their adventurous lives. That is why we always see coffee consumed in specific places such as the camp or at home.
Saloons are places for fast consolation, a whisky at the bar before guns start firing. The life of a cowboy is mainly nomadic: they live alone or in caravans. A lot can be deduced about their lives and nutrition from their location. The North is usually home to solitary men and their shotguns: they are hunters and they usually eat their prey. The East is the land of caravans, the home of farmers and their territory conflicts. Vegetables, fruit and cereals grow here which is why they fight over water and boundaries. The West is an abandoned land that only has gold to offer. Cowboys in the West survive on coffee, whisky and lunch meat.
Movies such as The Last Wagon (Delmer Daves, 1956) or Bend of the River (Anthony Mann, 1952), showed life in the caravans. The characters were usually pioneers: former soldiers in search of a new life. They fought against the Indians for years but also learnt a lot from them. In fact, beans, lunch meat and even coffee - a local substitute for tea - are typical Indian provisions (in The Last Hunt - R. Brooks, 1956 - Indians show the pioneers how to smoke bison meat). When pioneers arrive in new territories, they lay the groundwork for agriculture and a new way of eating.
Beans were always associated with the imagery of the cowboy genre, especially Spaghetti Westerns: in Trinity Is Still My Name (Enzo Barboni, 1970), Terence Hill enters a restaurant alone and eats beans directly from the pot. This scene became so famous that an entire generation of Western fans ate beans every day. Their goal? To become real cowboys of course! Terence Hill and his famous friend Bud Spencer brought a national version of the iconic American classic to the Italian and European public. The Spaghetti Western is now a b-genre that is famous across the globe and can namecheck directors including Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci and Lucio Fulci, as well as artists such as Ennio Morricone.