Sensory Memory in Space

Introduction

After my semester in EALC 345 “Everything but the Table, Food and Culture East Asian Literature and Film,” I have discerned how food can be considered as a marker of individual identity, collective memory, and social hierarchy; as a product of gender and religious traditions; and also as a part of migration and movement. I am particularly interested in the investigation on how food, as an element of the material world, embodies and organizes our relationships with the past in socially significant ways. The taste, smell, and texture of food can be extraordinarily evocative, allowing us to relate to the private and collective memories safely contained within it. There is also a strong connection between memory and the spatial dimension of food, especially with regard to our sense of the dining space.

In my final portfolio, I will examine the interwoven themes of memory and space in relation to food practices, citing examples from my four projects for this course (Cooking project, Creative project, Mapping project, and Foodstuffs project) as well as relevant theoretical readings. My central analysis will be the study of food in the age of supermodernity, when the blossoming of excessive space and food services blocks us from forming a clear sensory memory. I argue that despite the ambiguity of the spatial concept, we always find ways to invest meaning and significance into the places that we occupy and thus consciously construct our dining memories in a novel fashion.

Food and Anthropological Place: Moving between Historical and Modern Memory

Food functions as a powerful device to evoke personal and collective memories, especially when its physical presence is in a space that closely ties to notions of history, identity, and relations. Such a space can be defined as an anthropological place, which is redolent of history, constitutes the identity of its inhabitants, and builds a relationship between the individual and the space. Throughout the semester, I have explored how memory is embedded in anthropological places, especially with regard to the Chinese diaspora food experience in Chinatown, both past and present. One project that corresponds to my interest in sensory memory is the cooking assignment, in which my group recreated the chicken dish called Moo Goo Gai Pan based on an examination of Lin Yutang’s 1938 novel Chinatown Family. This novel tells the culinary experience of a Chinese family (the Fong family) that settled in the United States during the Chinese Exclusion Act. While this family had the economic opportunity to achieve their American dream, they faced the risk of losing their family bond—a very important value in Chinese traditions. To strengthen the family relationship, they cooked and ate dinner together every day to preserve the memories of their home cuisine. They also established the Fong restaurant in Chinatown, a place filled with the history of Chinese immigrants. In serving representative Chinese dishes, the Fongs allow other people of similar backgrounds to engage in a mutual act of remembrance, thus together fostering a stronger sense of national identity.

lin

Notably, the creation of any dish must be based on the previous experience of making or tasting that dish; therefore, memory plays a crucial role in the cooking process. As the Fongs have a collective understanding of what constitutes signature Chinese cuisine, they can cook them with ease. However, the same scenario did not apply to us in our cooking project. We, as students from various nationalities, had no united memory of eating, let alone an established memory of cooking, a Chinese dish. Although we chose to cook Moo Goo Gai Pan, a relatively simple chicken dish, we had many difficulties selecting a fitting recipe. Unlike the Fongs, who basically follow their culinary instinct as they cook, we meticulously looked through multiple versions of chicken recipes on the menu archive of New York City restaurants during the 1930s. Overwhelmed by the variations in names and ingredients of the historical Moo Goo Gai Pan, we eventually decided to cook from a modern recipe. Despite largely depending on the instruction of the recipe, we also cooked according to our embodied memory and sensory knowledge of previous dining occasions. Our cooking process corresponded well to David Sutton’s article “Cooking Skills, the Senses, and Memory,” in which he argues that recipes act as memory-jogs for previous learning that has been acquired through experience. In our case, “previous learning” mostly meant the experience of eating, not cooking, particular chicken dishes, because we are all amateurs who hardly ever cook.

Moo-Goo-Gai-Pan400

Reflecting on this recreation project, I believe that our lack of cooking training indeed characterizes the essence of a post-modern society, where transmission of generational knowledge from elders to youngsters is disrupted and deficient. The development of the modern kitchen space brings a relatively uncomfortable relationship with traditional cooking, as nowadays there are so many machines and tools to simplify the food preparation and cleaning process. It would be interesting to refer again to Sutton’s article and his enticing observation that for some people the loss of cooking tradition, which is a loss of particular skills and memories, is an inherent part of becoming the modern, individualistic people that they aspired to be. Such a loss of tradition indeed epitomizes our collective experience in the age of supermodernity, when food practices no longer wholly cling to notions of history, identity, and relationships in anthropological places.

Food and Non-place: Retrieving Memory in the Age of Supermodernity

In the current world, food and its associated memory are not only subject to the traditional anthropological places but also to the emergence of spaces with no relational, local, or historical connection. These spaces are commonly known as non-lieux, or non-place, which is a spatial concept proposed in Marc Augé’s essay “Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity.” The hypothesis advanced here is that supermodernity produces non-places, which are defined by an excess of time, space, and egos. For instance, ambivalent sites of transience, such as airports, supermarkets and fast food chains, are all non-places, making up a purely functional, sanitized landscape.

Augé’s characterization of non-lieux inspired me to do my creative project with regard to the food served on the airplane – an outstanding example of a non-place where history and memory can hardly be recognized, preserved, or interpreted. I created a comic about the in-flight dining experience of an international food critic, who is traveling from airplane to airplane to evaluate their meal service, and a Vietnamese student, who returns home after two years of studying in the United States. The food critic is particularly bothered by his unappetizing lunchbox. To him, the food within the confinement of the simulated cabin is an edible substance that, rather than fostering in him gastronomic satisfaction, oddly disjoins his coherent self-identity as a foodie. His body and mind, trapped in a non-place of ceaseless movement, can barely find any sensory flavor in the current dining experience; the peculiar taste, smell and texture of airplane food only trigger memories of his favorable food events. Meanwhile, the college student, having a lunchbox almost identical to that of the food critic, eats with joy, as her inflight meal materializes the reality of her journey back home. The meal transports her back to memories of her family dining occasions, thus offering her warm feelings of belonging and self-assurance, as well as the anticipation of reuniting with her loved ones. Within the “non-place” setting of the airplane, two characters are lost in an attempt to retrieve memories of familiar anthropological places. It is ambiguous whether their inflight food experience will be internalized into their consciousness as a newly formed memory, or if it will forever remain a superfluous, fading experience that characterizes the essence of a supermodern space.

Comic Cover

In constructing characters with opposing emotional responses despite consuming the same foodstuffs, my creative project reflects the role of food in shaping supermodern memories. In the age of supermodernity, the blossoming of non-places affects how memories are inscribed upon the body, thus differentiating food preferences and choices based on individual experience. The transient, temporal quality of a non-place allows people to freely travel backward or forward in time, therefore cultivating an extremely perplexing sense of embodied memory about food.

Food Migration and Movement: Constructing False Memory

Despite the rapid dissemination of non-places in the supermodern world, anthropological places will never be totally obliterated. A place and a non-place always exist together, mutually penetrating or pervading each other, and food is thus never in a fixed space but subject to constant migration and movement. An investigation of food in different spaces elucidates how our sensory memory is a reconstruction, rather than a faithful presentation, of the past. As a reconstruction, memory is not always vigilant in detecting devices working against its accuracy. Human beings might unconsciously adopt misleading information and form an erroneous consciousness toward certain phenomena, ultimately constituting a “false memory.” False memory, a concept prominent in psychoanalysis research, arises as a consequence of exposure to distortions and omissions of details as well as a construction of events that never really occurred. This construction of an imagined past makes one believe that the phenomena actually happened.

It would be interesting to study how the formation of a false memory correlates with our perception toward the origin of certain food products. When doing the foodstuffs project, our group was intrigued by how many people, including us, had adopted a collective awareness of fortune cookies as having originated from China. However, our research on the history of fortune cookies clarified that they were officially invented by Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century America. While scholars have provided credible and substantial evidence claiming that fortune cookies are of Japanese origin, most ordinary people assume that the cookies were brought from China to the United States. As I reflected on this assignment, I found it necessary to interview some of my American and international friends to see whether they knew the real origin of fortune cookies. Not surprisingly, all of them associated the cookies with Chinese food in America. Their assumption naturally occurred: they explained how these products are mainly served in Chinese restaurants and takeout service, and are depicted in Hollywood movies as being accompanied alongside Chinese dishes. My interview experience allowed me to perceive how most of us have formed, more or less, a false memory of the origin of fortune cookies. Without a conscious desire to trace the origin of something, we can only construct a presumed memory by looking at the material quality of the visible items; in this case, what is visually perceived is the omnipresence of fortune cookies in Chinese-related spaces.

COOKIE

Although our memory, with respect to the origin of a foodstuff, can be fallacious, there is no conclusion for the national identity of products with such a complicated history as fortune cookies. As I examine the current distribution of fortune cookies, I see how the identity of these cookies is shifting according to the continual evolution of supermodern spaces. The presence of fortune cookies is no longer fixed to ethnic-specific places such as Chinese restaurants or bakeries as typically seen on the West Coast in the 20th century. Instead, the cookies are now widely sold in supermarkets, grocery stores, and are even served on airplanes. At the same time, the production of fortune cookies, similar to that of any other foodstuffs, has become increasingly automatized. In the age of supermodernity, food spends more and more of its time in transit between place and non-places. Inescapably, our memories associated with certain foodstuffs become more loosely bound by the intervention of excessive space and services.

Food and the Double Space: Building memories, Building Relations  

The age of supermoderntity produces an overabundance of non-lieux, non-places where memory and relations are ephemeral and ceaselessly rewritten. However, non-lieux should not be regarded as a fixed term but a relative concept existing in our intuitive perception. As we keep investing new meaning and significance into the space we occupy, the material quality of a non-place can still stir up new memories and relations within us.

I find it very intriguing to explore this aspect of the continuous investment of memory into spaces, especially when I conducted my mapping project in the Asia Supermarket in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. At first, this supermarket substantiated my understood notion of a non-place, as it exclusively functions as a transit space for people to come and buy food products. Because the supermarket is for communal reference and use, it is overcrowded with human presence, sustains the qualities of excessive individuality, and hardly evokes any feeling of attachment and relationship for the occupant bodies. However, after I paid a second visit to the supermarket to reflect on the assignment, my perception toward this space changed thanks to a new discovery. In the far-flung corner of the supermarket, there is a small restaurant called The Tasty Place that serves representative Asian dishes. This restaurant transforms the meaning of the Asia Supermarket in remarkable ways, as it provides a space for socialization, cultural exchange and identification. I saw families and friends sitting in the restaurant, chatting and laughing together while eagerly consuming their food. The Tasty Place brings an anthropological aspect to a non-place, where interpersonal communication is either absent or insignificant for most of the time.

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The Tasty Place in the Asia Supermarket even epitomizes a conscious reconstruction from a non-lieux to a lieux de mémoire, a concept defined by Pierre Nora as a “place of memory” where people deliberately discover and protect their memories. For its Asian customers, the food served in this restaurant particularly brings back memories of their home country, nurturing in them a distinct sense of identity and tradition within the “non-place” setting of the supermarket. Through the mapping project, I discovered how food and food services embody a transformative nature – they have the power to turn a trivial non-lieux into a unique entity filled with meaning and significance, double functioning as a place and a non-place and thus generating new memories and relationships.

Conclusion    

After an examination of the interaction between food, memory, and space, I develop a more nuanced understanding of the way food powerfully transports us back in time, catalyzes a collective act of remembrance, and triggers deep emotions relating to our identity.  Even in the age of supermodernity, when excessive spaces emerge with no definitive food culture, we can still create a way to trace and preserve our dining memories. In the end, food – just like lieux de mémoire – is used to help us identify with our cultural heritage and, in discovering those histories, we define ourselves.

_______________________                                                                                               Works Cited

Augé, Marc. Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995. Print.

Lin, Yutang. Chinatown Family: A Novel. New York, NY: J. Day, 1948. Print.

Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux De Mémoire.” Representations 26 (1989): 7-24. Web.

Sutton, David. “Cooking Skills, the Senses, and Memory,” in Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. 299-317. Print.

Final Portfolio: Myth of Food Consumption and Nostalgia

Interpreting the Myth of Food Consumption and Nostalgia

     Ever since human being has ceased living off wild berries, food consumption has obtained more than nutritive significance. As we have explored throughout the semester, food symbolizes identity, class, gender, memory and border crossing. Among all the class readings, Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption by Roland Barthes has provided me with an overarching approach in understanding the information constituted by food. In this article, Barthes employs semiotics to help contextualize the role and function of food. For what is food? “Food is…a system of communication, a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations, and behavior.” (Food and Culture, pp. 24) For instance, when a middle-class American housewife picks up a can of tuna fish in the Whole Foods Market, she is not only consuming the “minimally processed” fish but the idea of organic living, the notion of environmental-friendly production and the image of a good wife and mom who cares about her family’s health.
Fundamentally, food consumption is about physiological satisfaction. However, as Barthes precisely argues, what is de facto consumed is a highly constructed end product that reflects collective institution. Abstracting from the projects I have accomplished this semester, food as a signifier has decoded the myth of authenticity. In short, food signifies nostalgia. Thus, in this final portfolio, I argue that the pursuit of authenticity arises from nostalgia-a sentiment embodied as one’s desire to partake in history, or trace individual experiences from the past.


Foodstuff Project: Long life Chinese Herbs (←Click on the title to view full context)
If food is a coherent system of information, as established by Barthes, then preparation constitutes a crucial semantic unit. (Food and Culture, pp.25) In this case, the relationship between authenticity and nostalgia is signified through the presentation and preparation of herbs. During the fieldwork, the two Chinese health clinics Mamie and I visited contrasted each other immensely. Health clinic A is arranged more identical to a modernized doctor’s office. The stainless floor, smell of sanitizer and crushed herbs prescribed in pre-sealed pockets forcefully emphasize hygiene. Clinic B, on the other hand, is filled with cabinets of dried herbs and offers herb-decoction service. The doctor practices the four traditional Chinese methods (望聞問切) and the prescription of herbs involves more manual work such as cutting, weighing etc. Immediately, Clinic B has claimed authenticity over Clinic A. As argued by David Sutton, practical knowledge of food preparation is an embodiment of memories in a jar. Cooking skills passed down from female authorities in the family line share similarities with medical practice herbalists garnered through apprenticeship. In both scenarios food preparation evokes the image of “traditional”, some heritage from the past. In Clinic B, the display of natural herbs on the counter and decocting tools resembles with Huatuo’s treatment from the Eastern Han Dynasty, Li Shizhen’s recommendation in the Compendium of Materia Medica while Clinic A addresses hygiene and standardization associated with modernity.
In conclusion, during the exploration of herbs as medicine, two levels of nostalgia are involved when determining authenticity. On micro level, nostalgia for individual experience has shaped the image associated with “Chinese medicine”. Moreover, the praxis of history has bridged the word “traditional” with authenticity. As Tulasi Srinivas quotes in her article As Mother Made It, “culinary authenticity…is framed in the terms espoused by the viewer, or eater…(and they) tend to say it’s authentic if it is artisanal, pre-industrial, uses indigenous ingredients…” (Food and Culture, pp. 368) In other words, authenticity derives from nostalgia for the sunny days of yore.


Cooking Project: Lomo Saltado& Mapping Project: A Taste of Szechuan
Also yearning for the good old days were the Chinese- Peruvian immigrants. The prosperity of Chifa restaurants in Peru, on the one hand has resulted from socio-economic predicament the Chinese Peruvian ancestors came across upon first arrival, is also an attempt to retrieve the past self through consuming cuisine of their ethnic group, region and locale. Tracing back to the 16th century, hundred thousands of Chinese have rafted across the Pacific Ocean to reach the American continent and swallowed sweat and blood in the clashes of cultures, languages and loss of identity. Often engaged through pursuit of gastro authenticity, this sentiment evokes memories for “home cooking”, or cuisine from the cultural origin. As Srinivas states in As Mother Made It, when people are away from their “home culture”, the idea of “homeland” becomes an important nucleus for nostalgic sentiment. (Food and Culture, pp.365) Thus, the establishment of Chifa restaurants has originated as a physical embodiment of nostalgia- an idealized image of cultural heritage, a social space of solidarity for people sharing the same mother tongue and customs, a utopia on the exotic land. The most renowned Chifa restaurant in Lima, Chifa TiTi for example, preserves its Hakka identity by embodying Hakka style architecture and introducing a touch of Hakkaness in food presentation. Our exploration of Chifa suggests that authenticity resonates with perseverance of cultural identity along with retrieve of past self from the other end of the globe. For Chinese Peruvians, classic Chifa dishes such as Lomo Saltado and Kam Lu Wonton are authentic because these dishes signify the history of multicultural emergence as well as early generations’ endeavor for assimilation.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/723052f8ae99a5bc1285308f2a48b2c2/chifa/index.html

<iframe src=”http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/723052f8ae99a5bc1285308f2a48b2c2/chifa/index.html” frameborder=”0″ width=”100%” height=”800″></iframe>
If the research and recreation of Chifa contextualize authenticity in early migration, my mapping project in search for Szechuanese restaurants near Chinatown expands the dimension to globalization. Located in a multicultural cosmopolitan like Philadelphia, these Szechuanese restaurants conceptually inserted “local” into the “global” space. (Food and Culture, pp.357) Upon arriving at the gate of a Szechuanese restaurant, consumers seek for an authentic Szechuanese experience through steaming hotpot with bubbling sauces, burning sensations of spices on the taste buds, and more importantly- the cultural atmosphere that immediately teleports them to Szechuan to dine with the pandas. In this case, Szechuanese food signifies nostalgic sentiment for localization.
Retrospectively, both Lomo Saltado and Szechuanese cuisine around Chinatown have posed the question of authenticity in relation to nostalgia for cultural identity conceptually and spatially. In other words, consumption of these two cuisines exemplify desire to reclaim ethnic identity, recreate cultural solidarity and re-experience locality.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/723052f8ae99a5bc1285308f2a48b2c2/a-taste-of-szechuan/index.html

<iframe src=”http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/723052f8ae99a5bc1285308f2a48b2c2/a-taste-of-szechuan/index.html” frameborder=”0″ width=”100%” height=”800″></iframe>


Creative Project: Eat and Drink in Song Dynasty
Considering that so far my research has been circumscribed to a modern context, I started off this exercise as an experiment to place my argument on a historical dimension. In this project, Song cuisine not only signifies history but is itself part of history. Thus, recreation of the Song dietary culture is a pursuit of authenticity. In retrospect, this project reminds me of the “Little Song City” (小宋城)- a state-owned restaurant established on the reminiscence of the prosperous Bianliang City (汴梁城). Located among ruins from Song Dynasty, Little Song City aims at a complete restoration of Song’s food and culture. Primarily, both the architect and the interior design strictly imitate Song style. The restaurant staff wears Song costumes and speaks quasi-Song dialect. Even the management of the restaurant follows the landlord-individual food shop mode developed during that dynasty. The restaurant promotes itself as a place for authentic Song dining experience. Indeed it is a smart slogan. After an exhausting day of visiting Song remains around the area, tourists dine in Little Song City to strengthen their connection to the past. In this restaurant, consumers are no longer visitors, observers, outsiders of history but partakers of a simulacrum of the past. The restaurant, through equalizing its physical space with an opportunity to participate in history, constructs food with a cultural identity and a symbol of antiquity. The popularity of Little Song City best proves that this image is well sold. Food indeed, reflects a prevalent desire to partake in history.


Conclusion
Before taking this class I have always regarded food consumption as physiological necessity, as nutritive intake, and as sensual pleasure. Nonetheless, Barthes mythology empowered me to decode food as a system of communication. The saying has it that “There are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes.” So does authenticity. Essentially, defining authenticity cannot, shall not and will not be an objective experience. When one claims a particular food to be authentic, one turns to history for legitimacy. Through contextualization with secondary readings, each of the projects above presents food as nostalgia in a different perspective. In a brief summary, foodstuff project associates authenticity of herbal medicine with the concept of “traditional”. Cooking project and mapping project both emphasize authenticity in relation to retrieving identity culturally and spatially. Finally, the creative project adds a historical dimension and strengthens that food is a highly constructed product that signifies nostalgia.


Work Cited
1. Barthes, Roland. “Chapter 2 Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption.” 1961. Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. 23-29. Print.
2. Sutton, David. “Chapter 21 Cooking Skills, the Senses and Memory: The Fate of Practical Knowledge.” Food and Culture: A Reader. Ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. 299-319. Print.
3. Srinivas, Tulasi. “Chapter 25 “As Mother Made It”” Food and Culture: A Reader. By Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik. New York: Routledge, 2013. 355-371. Print.

Final Project: Dual self-Identities through Consumption of food

Introduction

Throughout the semester, our class has done total five projects and secondary/ primary readings to inspect the significance of food either in literatures or in people’s lives. One of the readings we have read, “As Mother Made it” by Tulasi Srinivas, inspired me the topic of my final project: self-identification through consumption. Therefore, my argument for this final project is that the self-identification through food can be divided into two sub categories: 1) identification with our awareness and 2) without awareness, which both explain how does food shapes people’s perception towards themselves and the their relationships with the environment. To support this argument, I will first write about the inspirations from the article “As Mother Made it” and then analyze the four projects I have done: Food Stuffs – Chinese Herbs in Chinatown, Cooking assignment—Lomo Saltado and Chifa tradition, Primary Source Analysis—Food and Confusions of identities in In the Mood for Love, and Creative Project—Naming of food brands in the market.


“As Mother Made it” 

First of all, Tulasi Srinivas’s article “As Mother Made it” gives me thoughts for the correlations between people’s identities and food. Sirnivas proposes a question in the beginning of the article: How are relations among people shaped by relations between people and things, which I think is the theme of our class—how does relations between food and us shape the relations between others and us? (Srinivas 2006). Food or our consumptions can be used as a “tool” to reflect our perceptions about ourselves and the environment that we living in. Moreover, she points out that “identity is no longer a taken for granted, but becomes an all absorbing project that is often enacted through consumption.” (Srinivas 2006) Through the process of consumption, people may develop their own identities which can be the same as or different from the “identities” they are given. Besides that, other identities those actually have also developed but people are not aware of can be discovered from the process of consumption as well.

Although Tulasi Srinivas’s argument is not consistent with the thesis of my final project, the two examples, which she provides in the article, can support for my project argument. Srinivas argues that “food provisioning is fuelled by ‘meta-narrative of loss’ engaging several narratives within it.” (Srinivas 2006) And she mentions that Indian immigrants in Boston emphasize the “nostalgia” towards the cultures in their origins and therefore try to eat “Indian food” every day. However, most of their Indian foods are packaged food, which is not “traditional” at all. On the one hand, pointing out their cultural origins through consumption can be an example of self-identification with awareness: they identified themselves with others share the same food which symbolizes the same culture. On the other hand, the packaged instant food also revealed another identity of them which they are not aware of: citizens living in this market economy-based society emphasizing on speed and globalization. Thus, people can usually find double-identities (aware of and not aware of) through food consumption. To better support my argument, I will provide the examples of my projects in the following post.


Primary Source Analysis: Confusions of Identities in In the Mood for Love 

In-the-Mood-for-Love-004

To begin with, my Primary Source Analysis Project suggest that food not only shows the social identities that two main characters are aware of, but also the characters’ identities of being each other’s companions which they are not aware of. There is a scene in the film that Mr. Zhou and Mrs. Chen having steak at a western restaurant. Both of them enact as each other’s spouses and try to eat the food of their spouses’ favorite. Mrs. Chen could not eat spicy food but she forces her to eat steak with spicy curry since Zhou’s wife (her rival) likes it. The scene definitely reveals the both of their social identities. Although Zhou and Mrs. Chen pretend to be another person, they are aware of who they are and who they want to pretend to be. They clearly understand that their social roles and they have to change something in order to become “others”. Through the action of pretending, they think that they express their sadness and angers of losing their spouses’ love. Also, the behavior of pretending proves that they are aware their marital status and the “identities” in front of neighbors. However, they do not perceive that they actually regard themselves as each other’s companions or spouses in that scene. As Mrs. Chen pretend to be Zhou’s wife, she in fact “becomes” Zhou’s “wife”. Vise versa. Since both of Zhou and Mrs. Chen eat the food which they do not like and share the sorrows of broken marriage, they naturally identify themselves as each other’s companions, or lovers later in the film. But neither of them notices the “sub-identity” of them which finally cause the separations. Therefore, this project through the food scene in the film reveals the double identities of the two characters: one is obvious and another is hidden. This is the only literature example of my final project, while others are all in real life.

Primary Source Project link:

http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/primary-source/primary-source-submit/food-and-confusion-of-identities-in-in-the-mood-for-love/


Creative Project: Naming of food brands in the Markets

phili Philadelphia Cheese

Furthermore, the Creative project shows the dual self-identities of customer while choosing food products in the market. I did the research for naming and brand history for four food products in the market: Philadelphia Cheese (American), Lao Beijing Yogurt (American), Nestle drinks (Swiss) and Mei Wei Xian soy sauce (Chinese). After research, I found out three principles for those businesses to naming their food brands: showing authority/ credibility (Philadelphia; Lao Beijing), Leading customers’ imaginations (Lao Beijing, Nestel, Sunmaid), and sending direct messages (Mei Wei Xian –literarily means delicious in English). When customers are choosing food products in the market, they regard themselves as “free buyers” since they believe they have total freedom to choose what ever food brands they want. This is the first kind of identity of customers, which is the one they are aware of. Yet, they are not aware of another identity of them: the “followers” of the three business principles mentioned above. Since all the name of food brands are especially designed for attracting customers and the sellers know the thoughts of customers, customers automatically loose their “freedoms” and become “followers”. For example, customers like Lao Beijing products produced in California may due to the “credibility” of “Lao Beijing” which reminds them of the traditional bottle yogurt in Beijing Hutongs. But they are not aware of their “submissions” to sellers’ “secret methods”. Thus, the identities as both “free buyers” and “followers” of customers are shown through this creative project.

Link of creative project:http://prezi.com/p-p6e0tmb9ks/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy<iframe id=”iframe_container” frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen=”” mozallowfullscreen=”” allowfullscreen=”” width=”550″ height=”400″ src=”https://prezi.com/embed/p-p6e0tmb9ks/?bgcolor=ffffff&amp;lock_to_path=0&amp;autoplay=0&amp;autohide_ctrls=0#”></iframe


Cooking Project:Lomo Saltado and Chifa Traditions & Food Stuffs Project: Long Life Chinese Herbs

DSC_0120-300x199     Lomo Saltado

download (3)    Chinese Herbal Decoction

Additionally, both of the Cooking Project Lomo Saltado and the Food Stuffs Project Chinese herbs show that our group members own two identities, either with consciousness or sub-consciousness. For the Food Stuffs project, Chutong and I visited two main Chinese herbal stores in Philadelphia China town: one was more popular among Chinese people (or Chinese Amricans) and another one got more favors of Americans (most white customers). We defined the former store as more “authentic” and the latter as “westernized”. For the Cooking project, we recreated a Peruvian Chifa dish—Lomo Saltado, which was a stir-fried beef dish with French fries on the top. Our “chifa group” did not intend to eat the dish first not only due to the sanitary conditions of the kitchen but also because of the reluctance to try “non-authentic Chinese dish”. We assumed that if the dish would not be tasted good if it was “not authentic”. However, we finished all the dish at the end since it actually was DELICIOUS. During the process of doing these two projects, our groups regard us as “examiners of authenticity” since we all either grew up in China or have visited China for many times. Although we have discussed in class that it was hard to determine “who can be the judge ” and “what are the standards” in terms of the authenticity of food, we all automatically identified us the “judges” based on our past personal experiences. This was the identity that we were aware of. Yet, we did not realize that we actually identified ourselves with the people in our imagined community—a group seems to “know Chinese culture well”. In the Chinese Herbs project, Chutong and I identified ourselves with the Chinese customers in the former store when we claimed that store was more “authentic”. Similarly, our “chifa group” distinguished ourselves from the Peruvian customers who order Lomo Saltado in chifa restaurants when we were not excited to taste the “exotic dish with French Fries”. Thus, we were not aware of that we were people “seeking for communities in our imaginations”.

Chinese Herbs Link:http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/uncategorized/long-life-chinese-herbs/

Lomo Saltado Link: http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/cooking-assignment-submit/stir-fry-around-the-globe-lomo-saltado-and-the-chifa-tradition/


Reflections of Each Project:

I did not make changes of the four projects mentioned above, but I understood the significances of each project in a new way when I put them together in this final portfolio. Therefore, this section is to explain the differences between my understanding towards the original projects and the new interpretations of the projects in this portfolio.

Primary Source Analysis: Confusions of Identities in In the Mood For Love

My original argument of this paper were that food in the film helps to display Zhou and Mrs. Chen’s confusion towards their own identities. There were three main supports for this argument: the confusion between social role and true selves, the person whom their spouses were interested in and their own identities and the ideal self they desired to become and themselves in real life. In this paper, I tried to make connections of the relationships between the characters and every scene with food. In fact, figuring out the “significances” of every food scene in the film was not necessary, and this was the reason that I only focused on the enacting scene in the restaurant in this portfolio. Also, my original three supports for the argument were repetitive. I later realized that the confusions of characters’ identities were not between “who they really are” and “who they want to be”; instead, the confusions are about “the identities which they realizes” and “identities they are not aware of”. Therefore, although I did not change the original argument of this paper, the new “supports” in this final portfolio present the argument in a clearer way.

Creative Project: Naming of Food Brands in the Market

This was the only project that I did not give new interpretations in this final portfolio. The argument of the project is that customers did not realize that they actually were “passive” while choosing foods in the market.

Food Stuffs Project: Long Life Chinese Herbal Medicine

In the original project, Chutong and I focused on the differences between “medicine” and “food” while writing the blog. However, I found out that we were more into the differences between the two medicine stores while presenting the field trip. Therefore, I think that out attentions during the field trip might be the “authenticity” of the medicine instead of the confusions between “food” and “medicine”. However, judging “authenticity” of Chinese Herbs was not the theme of this project. After the reflection, I realize that another unconscious thing: we actually identify ourselves with a specific group through food/ medicine consumption. In this project, we identified ourselves with the customer group in the more “traditional” Chinese medicine shop. This was the process how I came up with our dual identities through this project.

Cooking Project: Lomo Saltado and Chifa tradition

In this project, our group tried to find connections or disconnections between traditional Peruvian dish and Chinese dish. We concluded that Lomo Saltado has unquestionable authenticity on both sides of “ethnic cuisine”, not only as a Peruvian favorite but also as a dish with distinctly Chinese origins. Also, we thought that Lomo Saltado was a piece of evidence that how Chinese immigrants integrated in the Peruvian society throughout the time. However, another thing we did not realize was that we identified ourselves with a certain group—people with Chinese origins during the project. This new conclusion was similar to that of the Chinese Herbal Medicine Project and this was why I put the two projects together to support my final project argument.

All in all, these reflections were important to this final project since I could not come up the final argument only based on the original understanding of those projects. When I looked back and tried to find out “new interpretations” from those projects, I certainly gained more when I was doing the projects. Therefore, I put this section of reflection in this final portfolio. Without reflections, there would be no this final project.


Conclusion 

In summary, people usually think the identities reflected from food may be obevious and direct, such as nationality. However, below the surface of “conciseness”, people may dig out some thing new “about themselves” brought by food consumption. These four projects described above all present that people develop dual-self identities through food consumption, either with or without their awareness. As Srinivas points out, identities are developed through the process of food consumption, rather than receiving it for granted. (Srinivas 2006). Discovering our new identities through food consumption will be useful for us to explore either “the self” inside us or our relations with the environment.


 Works Cited:

Tulasi, Srinivas. “”As Mother Made It”: The Cosmopolitan Indian Family, “Authentic” Food, and the Construction of Cultural Utopia.” Food and Culture: A Reader. S.l.: Routledge, 2012. 356-73. Print.

The Consumption of Women: An Over-Sexualized Representation of Women as Food

After my semester in EALC 345 “Everything but the Table,” Food and Culture East Asian Literature and Film, I have come to view food as not just an object, but as a symbol of class, ethnicity, identity, gender, memory, space, and transnational connections. In particular, the various projects I have worked on this semester have revolved around the relationship between food and gender. This relationship has been nurtured since the dawn of man, when men were ascribed the job of hunting and women were relegated to gathering vegetation, fruit and other essentials. These gender expectations have developed and become ingrained in modern society. It affects our perception of not just how food is prepared and served, but also the commensality of food and the manner in which we consume it.

Throughout my semester’s work, as well as the influence of our secondary readings, the relationship between food and gender has emerged. With respect to women, this relationship, while many times positive, can also be viewed in a negative light. While preparing food and feeding one’s family is a naturally positive and fulfilling endeavor, my projects, as well as the secondary sources, have also shown that women are not only depicted in an over-sexualized way, but they are also presented as a consumable commodity. This can be observed through their inferior status in the production of food, as well as their “consumable” role of homemaker, which is designated by society. This theme of the consumption of women is most readily identified in my primary source analysis of The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. This novel delves into the allegorical cannibalism of a woman by society as she rejects food, metaphorically displaying her rejection of the patriarchal society in which she is stuck. This patriarchal society, that the protagonist in The Edible Woman confronts and overcomes, is presented in many of the projects that I have completed this semester.

The first project in which I noticed a gender distinction was the Foodstuffs Project. For this project, we visited a green grocer in Chinatown and researched the unusual and unique fruits that we discovered in the store. In addition to analyzing the fruits origin, history and usage, we also interviewed the store’s employees and customers. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, we noticed that a majority of the people in the grocer were women, sometimes accompanied by young children. This observation, while of course anecdotal, served to confirm that gender divisions in fact exist in the preparation and creation of food for the household. My creative project, which is titled A Cookbook of Life, also served to reinforce the existence of these gender divisions. In my cookbook, the protagonist’s life experiences and growth are explored through cooking. It demonstrates that female characters dominate cooking and the preparation of food in the household. These women pass on their traditional recipes from generation to generation, resulting in an interesting food lineage. The last project that will be included in this final portfolio is a refocus of my Cooking Assignment on Moo Goo Gai Pan. This project addresses the gender issue from a different perspective. It delves into the diffusion of Chinese food as a result of Chinese men taking on so-called feminized work, such as laundering and restaurant work, and, thus, causing American men to stereotype the Chinese as feminine. This discrimination illustrates the strictness with which people observe gender boundaries and further demonstrates the inferior, and the figurative consumable, status of women in society. Without this testing of gender role boundaries, and despite the risk of ridicule, the Chinese immigrant’s entrepreneurial efforts would not have created such an interesting and unusual cultural fusion.

In sum, this portfolio will opines that the consumption of women is not beneficial to society. In order for society to fully thrive and embrace its fullest potential, it must break down these segmented gender roles and allow for masculinity and femininity to mutually co-exist in all spheres of life.

Consumption of Women in Society

Throughout the semester, several secondary sources that we discussed and analyzed in class affirm the themes of cannibalism in society, as well as gender roles prevailing in food production. The themes of cannibalism have mainly been discussed in the novel Republic of Wine by Mo Yan and the short story “Diary of a Madman” by Lu Xun. Cannibalism, which is portrayed through both literal and figurative means, creates confusion between what one considers food and what is ascertained to be inedible. In these texts in particular, the confusion is interwoven in order to address consumption. The act of consumption of one entity by another, or by an individual in a society, is criticized by both Mo Yan and Lu Xun. In the Republic of Wine, Mo Yan didactically uses the cannibalism of young boys in order to critique the ills of the Chinese communist world, in particular the Cultural Revolution. In addition, Lu Xun, in “Diary of a Madman,” uses cannibalism as a means to criticize China’s traditional culture of Confucianism and feudalism. Cannibalism can also be seen as a critique and criticism of the patriarchal society. In particular, The Edible Woman’s usage of cannibalism is to critique the disparity of female power in society. In Marian’s journey in particular we observe her rediscovery, if not discovery, of herself as she battles to overcome a debased, male-dominated society.

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Consumption of Women in the Household

Women are not just identified as consumable by society, but they are also viewed as consumable by their household as reflected in their less than celebrated role as the producer of food. For example in “Japanese Mother and Obentos” by Anne Alison, Japanese mothers’ lives are spent preparing food and other necessities for the benefit of their children. Although this is not necessarily looked down upon, questions should be raised about the societally ingrained nature of the motherhood role. The food the Japanese mother prepares for her children is not only palatable for children, but it also an aesthetic and artistic endeavor. The author states that the overarching message of obento boxes is “that it is women, not men, who are not only sustaining a child through food but carrying the ideological support of the culture that this food embeds.” (168) As a result, women have become the embodiment of the household and are continually producing for the consumption of their children and husband. This can most easily be seen in my Foodstuffs project, where the women were not just in the majority, but were almost the exclusive gender in the Asian supermarkets that we visited in the Philadelphia area. Although our Food Stuffs Project focused on investigating the authenticity of fruit that was labeled as Chinese and sold in Chinatown markets, the endeavor also exposed the societal enforced gender roles. Gender roles can be analyzed through the interviews that we had with customers. Many of the women we interviewed would take the time to travel from different areas to shop at the specialty grocers in Chinatown. It seemed that many of the customers at the green grocers we visited were either mothers shopping for their families, with children tagging along, groups of girlfriends or retired women. Irrespective of their age, they were all women. The disproportionate number of women dominating the production of foodstuffs demonstrates the consumption of women, regarding both their time and effort, in society.

Interview Supermarket

Consumption of Women due to Gender Roles

 In addition, gender inequalities, in terms of the production of food for sustenance versus leisure, is discussed in “The Overcooked and Underdone” by T. J. M. Holden. Holden analyzes Japanese cooking to show that the masculine identity thrives in a normally feminine-domain. This is due to the changed role of the televised production of food becoming a form of entertainment and expertise. Holden states that men have been identified as the gender that provides, or the family “breadwinner.” The author has dubbed this alpha-male role in the household as “over-cooked.” This mentality has formed the basis for male food television shows that have morphed into competitive sport, in terms of context and visuals. As a result of this competitive nature, Japanese cooking presents overwhelmingly male contestants, chefs, or a male host. In this way, men exhibit expert knowledge in order to show their dominance in production and society. “The recognition of a chef as an ‘expert’ occurs in numerous ways in food shows.” (125) In the field of cooking production and television shows, men are seen as executives and reign over women with their leadership. “All activity flows through them, or else their commanding gaze. In food shows, masculine guidance can take the form of two guises: host and chef.” (124) Even if women are competing in the show, it must be under the watchful, and more expert, eye of a male judge or host. These gender inequalities ultimately show that cooking, when it performed by men, is considered not just entertainment, but an area of great expertise. On the other hand, when a woman cooks, it is not considered an art form and instead deemed a mundane task not warranting much thought and certainly no accolades. Holden, through his analysis of Japanese cooking shows, illustrates the critical part that gender plays in how food is perceived and consumed.

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The examination of food as an artistic endeavor versus a form of sustenance is further elaborated by the gender roles described in A Cookbook of Life. In this story, the widespread culture of cooking for the family’s wellbeing is sustained and maintained by the women of the household. The story starts with a young woman graduating from college and, finally, being accepted into the family culture by learning how to cook a traditional family recipe. This recipe was safeguarded by the women of the family and passed down from generation to generation. As the young girl explains in her inner monologue throughout the story, “every Christmas the women of our family prepare a wonderful feast that consists of our family’s traditional foods.” (3) Cooking, in the protagonist’s household, is dominated by women and considered a sacred bonding experience. On the other hand, the men were far removed from the culture of the kitchen and instead spent their time watching sporting events on television. This clearly shows the divide in gender roles; women are classified as the homemakers and creators of the food, while the men occupy the role as a consumer. However, in the story, this division is not denoted negatively. The women of the household, particularly the protagonist, revel in their role as the homemaker and identify food as not just a source of nourishment, but also representative of growth and life. The fact that the recipes begin to include figurative ingredients such as “2 fully brimming cups of love” (6) and “1 cup of a broken heart” (8) illustrates that the creation of food, for women, is integral to their own identities, feelings and even being. The fact that the men in the story blindly consume the food, despite realizing the true representation of the food, demonstrates the accepted, if not encouraged, consumption of women in society.

1900_lrg_fullsize Consumption of Feminine Work versus Masculine Work

The consumption of women in society, along with food placing a specific connotation on gender roles, was also investigated in both “Domestic Divo? Televised Treatments of Masculinity, Femininity and Food” by Rebecca Swenson and my Moo Goo Gai Pan project. In “Domestic Divo,” Rebecca Swenson investigates, as she puts it, “the easy mix of masculine ‘battles’ and feminine ‘spa days’ on the Food Network.” She states that this “reflects important assumptions about audiences and beliefs about gender, food and the rewards of labor.” Specifically, this notion relates to the development of “Chinatowns” and the fact that many Chinese men took up work in the kitchen, such as establishing restaurants. Although the Moo Goo Gai Pan project was primarily focused on the adaptation of Americanized Chinese cuisine, and concludes that the authentic heritage of most cuisine is difficult to define or even trace, gender roles, as well as discrimination due to gender roles, prevails in the history of the Americanization of Chinese food. Due to the large number of men residing in California as a result of the Gold Rush, there was an open market for laundry and restaurant services. The Chinese targeted these undeveloped markets, which had been historically and culturally considered feminine. This willingness to take on “lady’s work” allowed for the Chinese immigrants to be ethnically discriminated against. In effect, women’s work, or household work, has been and is currently perceived by society as inferior and of less societal importance than a “man’s work.”

Despite the historical hierarchy of society that deems men’s work as superior to women’s work, the media is changing the way we view these gender roles and assumptions. Swenson describes the catalyst for men shifting to the kitchen and the concomitant shift in our cultural ideas about “women’s work,” as instigated by television’s new role in the public sphere. Similarly, from an historical perspective, the rapid affinity for Chinese food became the catalyst for the acceptance of Chinese people. Chinese entrepreneurs found that Americans took a liking to Chinese food. These entrepreneurs adapted and modified their homeland dishes to suit American tastes. As a result, Chinese food became widely popular in America. Chinese immigrants, despite risking ridicule, tested the boundaries of gender roles and, in their entrepreneurial activities, created such an interesting and unusual cultural fusion.

Conclusion

 As discussed in this final portfolio, my projects represent the over-arching gender roles that have prevailed in our society. These gender roles, demonstrated in my projects and in the secondary sources analyzed, have portrayed women as over-sexualized and have represented them as consumable entities. Through the production of food, women have been isolated in the kitchen and subjected to being “consumed” by the family, due to their societal role as the homemakers. On the other hand, the production of food for entertainment purposes has been propagated by male chefs, hosts and experts. The kitchen, which was formerly a female domain, has been penetrated by men and tailored to masculine tastes. This can be observed in the increasing sport-like competitiveness that has become popular in food oriented television shows. Yet, as shown through the development of “Chinatowns” and the uptake of restaurant business by Chinese immigrant men, breaking down society’s gender barriers can cause positive outcomes. In order for society to fully thrive and embrace its fullest potential, it must break down these gender roles. Not just in food production, but also in the world, society would benefit from men and women being socially allowed to engage in any activity that they choose to do. With these changes in historical roles and the societal view of those roles, the consumption of women, by the family and society, might be avoided and ultimately eradicated.

 

Works Cited

Allison, Anne. “Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus” (1991). In C. Counihan & P.V. Esterik (Eds), Food and Culture: A Reader (3 editions, pp 154-172). (New York: Routledge).

Atwood, Margaret. The Edible Woman. (New York: Anchor Books, 1998).

Holden, T.J.M. “The Overcooked and Underdone: Masculinities in Japanese Food Programing” (2005). In C. Counihan & P.V. Esterik (Eds), Food and Culture: A Reader (3 editions, pp 119-136). (New York: Routledge).

Lu, Xun, and William A. Lyell. “Diary of a Madman.” (University of Hawaii Press: 1990).

Mo, Yan, and Howard Goldblatt. The Republic of Wine: A Novel. (New York: Arcade Pub.: 2000).

Swenson, Rebecca. “Domestic Divo? Televised Treatments of Masculinity, Femininity, and Food” (2009). In C. Counihan & P.V. Esterik (Eds), Food and Culture: A Reader (3 editions, pp 138-151). (New York: Routledge).

 

 

 

 

 

Final Portfolio: Adaptation

Throughout this semester, we talked various topics related to food from identity to space. Corresponded to our class materials and topics, we did several different projects. When I looked back at my projects throughout the semester, I found them are all tied to one specific topic: food and adaptation. In the article “Of Hamburger and Social Space: Consuming McDonald’s in Beijing”, the author argues that when McDonald’s and KFC first entered China, they changed their strategies to transfer the fast food restaurant to a social space for Chinese customers. In order to adjust to a new cultural environment, adaptation is important. Also from the same article, I realized that such adaptation is needed not only for flavor, but also for other aspects related to food. I chose four of my projects during the semester to illustrate my argument that when food is introduced to a new place, adaptation is indispensable.

My first project is my creative project. My inspiration came from my life long obsession with Hot Pot, specifically ChungKing/Szechuan Style Hot Pot, which is super spicy. However, I didn’t give up any chance tasting different styles of Hot Pot. My other favorites are Mongolian style and Japanese style Sukiyaki. Therefore, I aimed to compare different styles of Hot Pot across East Asia. I created a collage with laying out all the different ingredients from ChungKing style, Mongolian style, and Japanese style hotpot. It is super obvious visually that although these are called Hot Pot, they are different. It is certain that hot pot was originated in China and was brought to different places. People who live in those places recreated it in order to meet their taste as well as living environment. For example, by looking at the ingredients on my collage, the Mongolian style has various traditional Chinese herbs such as dried tangerine peel and ginseng, and it also contains a variety of culinary herbs and spices. Because nomadic Mongolian people living on grasslands and moving back and forth require much more energy and a healthy body, they need such nutrition and cure. In addition, their main dish for hot hop is lamp, which also make sense because of their needs of energy. Same as hot pot adapted to people live in Mongolia, when hot pot spread into Japan, it also adjusted to what Japanese people think is best for their body. My creative project shows that when food is introduced to different region, it will develop and embrace the culture to be able to be adapted well.

My second project is our cooking project. Our group decided to recreate a Peruvian chifa dish – Lomo Saltado. Chifa is the name of Peruvian-Chinese cuisine, and Lomo Saltado is one of the representative dishes. When we were doing research and cooking, we noticed that it’s hard to categorize Lomo Saltado as either pure Chinese food or Peruvian food. It’s a combination. What intrigued me was that during the cooking process, I noticed that I cook Chinese food in the same way. That is to say, when Chinese food was introduced into Peru, they keep these techniques. At the same time, they made adaptations to meet the requirement by local people. For example, in this dish, people add fries on the top of rice with stirred beef. Just like the name of Peruvian-Chinese food, chifa, the dish looks like half Chinese half not, but keeps the traits of both Chinese and Peruvian cuisines at the same time.

My third project is my mapping project. I went to Trader Joe’s in Ardmore and found out food Trader Joe’s sells with East Asian origins. To my surprise, there were a great amount of East Asian food selling at Trader Joe’s. Some of them are Chinese/Japanese/Korean food: I found really good Cha Siu Bao and Japanese Sukiyaki there; some of them are American Chinese/Japanese/Korean food, such as Beef with Broccoli; the rest are something in between: it’s a combination of East Asian flavor and American form. I found a Korean Style BBQ Sausage, which you definitely can’t find one in Korea.The combination of exotic flavor and something that Americans are familiar with, sausage, is a good example of how do people introduce something new to people who are unfamiliar with. From the foods at Trader Joe’s, we found two ways of adaptations. One is American – East Asian food, adaptations are made once the food is introduced to the new place. The other is like Korean BBQ sausage, which keeps the original exotic flavor and make a new product as a way to help the exotic flavor to be quickly accepted by the American customers.

My last project is food stuffs project. Our group took a short trip to visit the Lucky Cookie Factory in Chinatown to explore the way the a fortune cookie is made. Before we go, we also did some research on fortune cookie, and surprisingly found that fortune cookie, which is served at any Chinese restaurants in America, is actually not invented by Chinese. We interviewed workers at the factory, and they all were not sure about the origin of fortune cookie. The only thing they know for sure is that now, fortune cookies is made by Chinese, and served at Chinese restaurants. I came to think that how did the role of fortune cookie change over time. Back to the beginning when Chinese started to open restaurants to start their business in a foreign country, they not only change the recipe a bit to try to adjust to what American would like. As we found out during our research, fortune cookie was actually invented by Japanese. However, during the process of adaptation to the American society, Chinese restaurant owners brought it and made it Chinese by inserting fortunes in it in order to look like something that is Chinese. Now, fortune cookie is considered as the completion of a meal at Chinese restaurants. When we look back, we now understand the importance of adaptation the people made to make it from Japanese to Chinese.

In the end, I also realized that my topic is also closely related to the idea of authenticity. As Tina wrote in her post, there is no authentic food. As food adapted to a new environment, it is not authentic anymore for people who live from the latest origin. However, it might be authentic to people who adopt it though.

Works Cited

Yunxiang, Yuan. “Of Hamburger and Social Space: Consuming McDonald’s in Beijing” In Food and Culture: A Reader Third Edition, 449-467. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Food and Ethnic Identity – You are What You Eat

Introduction

Based on various topics we explored this semester through literature and projects, I chose food and identity, specifically ethnic identity, as the overarching theme to summarize my engagement in food and culture. It is because food not only is the physical constitution of our body, but also conceptually forms our perspectives. As we are cautious about what we and others are eating, food becomes part of our identity. It is such identity that elucidates the connections or boundaries we have in regard to other people, and food functions as markers for us to passively accept our identity as well as actively articulating our connections and differences with others.

In this essay, I will use four projects from this course – cooking project, foodstuff project, primary source analysis, and creative project – as examples of how food represents ethnic identity, and how people have been intentionally making associations between food-related manners and their identities. The projects will make solid statement for my argument with their distinctive perspectives. Further, the discussion will be based on evidences from literature, which throughout the essay gradually set up the theoretical parameter of my theme of interest.

Food as Collective Identity

Before digging into the association between food and identity, first I want to explain why food can represent something other than itself. The notion of food as a form of representation has been widely discussed in literature. In the article Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption, Roland Barthes considers food as “a system of communication, a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations, and behavior;” he specifically examines into the idea of food being the “functional unit of a system of communication” and argues that the accumulation of information carried along with food leads to the expression of a situation, or, in his words, “[food] signifies” (Barthes, 2012, p. 24). Thus, each system of signification has its own grammar for food in dividing between significant and insignificant, which is mainly based on the preparation and use of food (Barthes, 2012, p. 25). He summarizes this point by saying that:

…a coherent set of food traits and habits can constitute a complex but homogeneous dominant feature useful for defining a general system of tastes and habits. This “spirit” brings together different units (such as flavor or substance), forming a composite unit with a single signification, somewhat analogous to the suprasegmental prosodic units of language. (Barthes, 2012, p. 25)

 

His opinion makes a general statement of the role of food in representing a situation or a group. In this sense, how food signifies a collective ethnic identity can almost be seen as a concrete example for his argument. In the case of identity, the dichotomous division of “significance” and “insignificance” transforms into a division between ingroup and outgroup, and different tastes, preparation processes, methods of cooking, eating habits, etc. convert into the measurement of qualification. An extreme example of how clear and absolute such division could be is discussed by Mary Douglas in her essay The Abominations of Leviticus. The elaborate definition for holy food is to establish a system of signification – a daily ritual habit and a gesture of worship, while defining what food is not pure draws the line between ingroup and outgroup. There is an arguable parallel between food and language, and a collective identity shaped by either food or language has a wide yet in most case explicit definition and boundary determined by social and cultural conventions.

Our Cooking Project among all demonstrates the idea of food as collective ethnic identity the best. The project was based on Lin Yutang’s novel Chinatown Family taking place in 1930s and 1940s, and our task was to find a dish from New York Public Library’s menu archive that the Fongs in the novel most likely had eaten and to reproduce the dish. When reading the novel, I noticed that food choice is discussed as a shared value among the family members or even in the ethnic group: there are certain restaurants people would go to and certain dishes they would order for celebrating memorable events; there are particular types of food a female should eat during her pregnancy and nursing period. In the novel, very specific dishes constitute an icon for the Fongs and every Chinese family in the US during that time while individual tastes were not articulatd. Such generalization and iconic presentation correspond with the novel’s attempt to use one family as example and portray the culture shock and adaptation for these families from a macro view. The generalization also applies to our research into the menu archive: Moo Goo Gai Pan, among several dishes, appears in almost every menu as representative Chinese cuisine. These dishes together formed the system of significance to represent a specific ethnic group. Interestingly, though, according to our research, Moo Goo Gai Pan does not really have a Chinese origin.

Authenticity

This paradox leads to the argument over authenticity – a difficult yet almost unavoidable topic for the discussion of food as ethnic identity. I think that authenticity, instead of in the ideal status referring to something true, real or pure, in our imperfect world, is actually a particular set of knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. For example, I have my own opinion on what authentic Chinese food is; it is based on experience and interpretation and might be different from what other Chinese people think. On the other hand, as a foreigner I can also have my understanding of authentic Italian food based on empirical evidence. It shows that authenticity is an abstract and personal standard, and can evolve over time; when we discuss the authenticity of a cuisine, we are actually talking about how well it matches our perception using food as the measurement. That is why a dish called Moo Goo Gai Pan could be regarded as authentic Chinese dish by restaurants in the US, and could appear in a novel written in English by a Chinese writer.

Another group project, Foodstuff Project, led me to really think about the concept of authenticity. Our task was to visit bakery shops in Chinatown for egg tarts. Beforehand Tina and I studied the history and realized egg tarts, while having a controversial origin from Britain or Portugal, have actually adapted and integrated into the family dishes in Hong Kong, Macao and Guangdong. When we interviewed the shop owners, they said they came from the above three areas and claimed their egg tarts to be authentic. “They are all very good but are SO different” was our reaction. When Tina and I tried to evaluate them, we noticed that between us two the understanding of “authentic egg tarts” was already very different – she grew up eating the Hong Kong ones which were bigger in size and more concrete in texture, while I thought egg tarts should actually be the Portuguese tarts with milk as ingredient. Yet it is not fully correct to say either of our perception is not authentic; authenticity is such an arbitrary and developing concept that is hardly helpful in evaluating a cuisine, but very precisely reflects how food represents our understanding in our own or other’s identities at both collective and personal levels.

Food as Individual Identity

However this is not the complete story for the relationship of food and identity. I argue that when it comes to individual recognition of identity, the definition becomes narrower and relative. Further, an individual’s view of ethnic identity does not necessarily match the collectively recognized definition (or sometimes stereotype). Here identity is a relative term, and individuals, while having a general idea of the ethnic group s/he belongs to, often seeks for a more elaborate position by comparing with people from both ingroup and outgroup. It is the case when we the Chinese people who are always proud of our “Chinese cuisine” sometimes feel astonishing when realizing a certain dish or food kind is named or cooked in different ways across provinces, and occasionally people argue or vote online for the “right way” to deal with the food.

Our experience from the Foodstuff Project also demonstrates similar phenomenon. Because we could speak Mandarin or Cantonese and have Asian faces, the bakery shop owners used terms like 国内 “domestic” to refer to China, and 老外 or 外国人 “foreigners” for non-Chinese people. In a broader scale, we were included in their group because we share the same ethnicity, language and food preference; still as the conversation went deeper, we noticed that the shop owners were from prefectures with distinctive cultural and political background (Hong Kong, Macao and Guangdong), just like how different each of their “homemade” and “authentic” egg tarts were.

Thus, different from the definition of food for collective identity which is relatively more general and clearer, food as individual identity (i.e. how individuals subjectively identify themselves) involves more personal variation and needs reference from the others, and this is exactly when the discussion of authenticity takes place. Under the umbrella of collective identity – a shared broad set of dietary habits –the distinctive individual habits validate the point that for individuals, identity a relative term with food as a marker of the boundary.

Therefore, I think Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney explains such relationship the best in her book Rice as Self, when she presents food as a “metaphor of self” and argues that a people’s cuisine marks the boundary between the collective self and the other, and that people often have a strong attachment to their own cuisine and table manners and an aversion to those of the others (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1995, p. 3). That is to say when we comment on a cuisine, often we are elaborating on positioning ourselves in regard to the others, and such division happens in various scales from individuals to cultural groups.

Food as Ethnic Identity

Bearing the relationship among collective identity, individual identity and authenticity in mind, my Primary Source Analysis was about an adapted film, The Joy Luck Club, which concerns all three topics with scenes showing how food represents the characters’ preserved memories and changing identities. The film focuses on various levels of conflicts – those between Chinese and American cultures (and maybe also Chinese American culture), between the conventional perspective of what obedient Chinese females should be and their rebel against it, and between generations with same collective ethnic identity (Chinese origin) but different individual identities due to their immigrant experiences. The food subjects in the film have clear imprint of Chinese customs or the characters’ personal experience to support the variation in their identities.

One example from the film is the use of cannibalism, to have a female character sliced her flesh for her mother’s medicine to show how females were expected to be obedient. For me it is an extreme demonstration of collective ethnic identity. In Chinese traditions, children slicing their flesh for parents is the ultimate form of filial piety. While widely accepted as a shared value in conventional Chinese culture, it is such an exceptional case that what is normally not considered food becomes edible, and a bold line is drawn between the ingroup and outgroup for whether this cannibalistic behavior is recognizable or sympathetic. Correspondingly, an example that shows individual ethnic identity might be when an American Chinese girl brought her American boyfriend to the family’s feast, and his inappropriate table manners mark the difference between him and the family. Before this scene the girl identifies herself as sharing more common values with her American boyfriend and has huge barriers with her immigrant mother, but this is a moment for her to reconstruct her individual knowledge of her ethnic identity. There are many more carefully designed moments elaborating such ethnic connection and struggle in self-identification in the film, and I would love to invite you to my analysis for a more in-depth discussion.

How Food Becomes Ethnic Identity?

As mentioned above, when Barthes establishes his theory of food being a system of signification, he particularly mentions that it is the preparation and use of food (rather than the cost) that mark the boundary of significance for each system (Barthes, 2012, p. 25). This is how I see my Creative Project about kitchen design fit well into the theme – not only food itself but also its creation source and preparation process together represent the varieties in ethnic identity. Inspired by Banana Yoshimoto’s novel Kitchen, I regard kitchen as having two layers of representation for the theme of identity.

Firstly, a kitchen is where raw materials and ingredients become food, and as a functional unit everything designed for the kitchen serves the purpose of food making and dining. A way to see such correspondence is that, assuming Claude Lévi-Strauss is correct about the culinary structure and their cultural implication in his essay The Culinary Triangle, then every pillar of the triangle and each side of the pair within it – row versus roasted, smoked versus cooked, boiled versus rotted – can find its corresponding origin and the cooks it needs from the kitchen. The general layout of a kitchen for a collective ethnic identity thus reflect its specific characteristics by possessing all the necessary tools to materialize such characteristics in food creation process. This is the point I tried to convey with the first two kitchens, Frankford Kitchen in 1920-Germany and Communal Kitchen in 1960-China.

A second layer of representation is that, kitchen is sometimes a place of particular meanings to individuals. With the last two examples in the project, the kitchen of Mikage Sakurai from Yoshimoto’s novel and the one of my own (especially the former one), kitchen records the way people create and share memories and interact with other people through food and cooking process. While it might not be particularly about individual’s ethnic identity, the variations in design are still based on the general layout of kitchen for the culture group, and the way people use kitchen and food to convey feelings still depends on their ethnic and cultural background.

Conclusion

All of the four projects discussed above concern with ethnic identity, and three of them (the cooking project, the food stuff project, and the primary source analysis) involves immigrants’ experience. It is why I choose to demonstrate this particular aspect of food’s representing function. Yet based the literature, it is arguable that similar statement also holds true for other types of identity – religion, class, gender, etc., and the discussions on some of them are presented by my fellow classmates in this class. The general concept is that on one hand, while a relatively definite collective image (system) can be constituted by a set of dietary and culinary habits, within the inclusive boundary of ingroup, there is still a variety of self-identification based on variation in such habits; on the other hand, people actively employ food as a measurement of relationship with others, and the evaluation, sometimes referred to as “authenticity,” is in fact an arbitrary judgement depending on knowledge, experience, and time.


Works Cited:

Barthes, R. (2012). Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption. In C. Counihan & P. V. Esterik (Eds.), Food and Culture: A Reader (3 edition, pp. 23–30). New York: Routledge.
Douglas, M. (2012). The Abominations of Leviticus. In C. Counihan & P. V. Esterik (Eds.), Food and Culture: A Reader (3 edition, pp. 48–58). New York: Routledge.
Lévi-Strauss, C. (2012). The Culinary Triangle. In C. Counihan & P. V. Esterik (Eds.), Food and Culture: A Reader (3 edition, pp. 40–47). New York: Routledge.
Lin, Y. (2007). Chinatown family. Rutgers University Press,.
Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1995). Rice as self: Japanese identities through time (3. print., 1. paperback print). Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
Wayne, W. (2002). The Joy Luck Club. Buena Vista Home Video.
Yoshimoto, B. (1993). Kitchen. Washington Square Press,.


Click here to view my mapping project (not used in the final portfolio).

 

Interviews: Sarah Becan and Shing Khor

saw-002bsarah

Sarah Becan Interview

  1. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Well, I have been in Chicago for a majority of my adult life, but I was born in Orange, Texas which is right outside of the border of Louisiana. However, I also lived in Wilmington, Delaware until 3rd grade when I moved to Dallas, Texas, St. Louis and also Wisconsin.

  1. How did your childhood or family life influence your career?

Interestingly, I was a picky child growing up and my mom was not a very adventurous cook, so I am not really sure how I became such a “foodie.” But, at the same time, due to my upbringing and not growing up in one city with one culinary tradition, has allowed me to discover new things in different areas and value them, I believe, more than people who grew up in the area.

  1. What do you mean by “new things” that people who grew up in the area did not value as much as you did?

Well, for example, when I lived in Wisconsin I would go to the common cafeteria and there would be stalls of food. But, one stall of food would always have a giant block of cheese. You can come by anytime and shave a little of the cheese off for your meal. The Wisconsin-grown cheese was replaced about 2-3 times per month. Also, when I lived in St. Louis, other than the pronunciation of St. Louis which I say very differently than most people, many people did not take the city’s deep fried raviolis as seriously as I did.

  1. What do you believe is an authentic food?

Food is very different in every different place. That is one important thing I learned from moving around so much. Another is that there is no such thing as authentic. Food is every-changing and ever evolving. For example, Chinese-American food can be deemed authentic, but it is authentically American and it is adapted and illustrated differently in different regions in America. For example, spam, which we do not even think of as a food anymore, has become an authentic part of Hawaiian dishes.

  1. I really enjoyed your comic-novel, Shut Eye. I was very interested on how you interplayed between the literal and figurative because I am aiming to do the same in my cookbook that I am creating.

Let’s see. There are a few cookbooks that you should look at, such as the Philosopher’s Cookbook or Jean Paul Star Trek Cookbook. I remember one scene asked what a philosopher eats for breakfast and had a picture of a philosopher with a cigarette and a cup of black coffee. I really had a great time creating Shut Eye. The best way to interweave the story is by loosely connecting the literal and figurative with a narrative. The narrative can either be illustrated or verbally articulated. This connection allows for more room to explore the nuances in each story and keep the reader engaged.

  1. What are your tips for students, artists or writers?

 My first tip is do not cook while you’re angry. I wrote a Saucesome article about cooking a Christmas goose and the entire story was about locating the rack to cook the Christmas goose on. Also, when you are writing or reading or creating something, be sure to just go with it. Just accept the rules that are placed in front of you and just roll with what you have. Your intuition is always correct.

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Shing Khor Interview

 

  1. Where were you born?

Malacca, Malaysia.

 

  1. Where did you grow up?

Malacca, Malaysia, and Cebu, Philippines, and a couple years in Milpitas, California.

 

  1. Did your family or a mentor influence your decision to pursue your passion in art and comics?

Not while I was growing up – but I certainly wasn’t discouraged from it. I was a pretty early adopter of the internet, and I spent a lot of time in internet fan communities when I was 13-18…being surrounded by lots of artist peers, even though I lived in a completely different country was really quite wonderful and inspiring.

My parents both became artists after I’d entered college, and now they are pretty excited and encouraging about my work.

  1. How did your career develop?

Slowly. Basically I kept on working, and progress felt slow, and if felt like I was getting nowhere, until suddenly all the little pieces I’d begun putting in place years ago started to all work together with all the pieces I was playing with now, and formed something vaguely resembling a career.

  1. What does your schedule look like on a day-to-day basis?

More or less this – http://sawdustbear.tumblr.com/post/108714027431/thank-you-to-everyone-who-followed-along-with-my

The work itself varies between comics and sculpting.

  1. How do you become inspired to create your artwork? Do you ever collaborate with others?

I collaborate frequently with others – especially as editor of Sawdust Press. Most of my job that does not involve publishing my own comics, is all about curating and finding cartoonists I love and who do work that I want to promote. We work together on producing a book that is well edited, and that makes their work shine as much as possible. As a sculptor, my primary collaborator is Leslie Levings – we’ve mounted several pretty successful art shows together.

  1. How did you become interested in creating zines? What do you think is special or unique about zines that separates it from other types of artwork? 

I’ve always been a fan of producing work quickly and easily on paper, and at some point I realized there was a whole community around it. I love zones because they are such an efficient way of distributing a viewpoint(specifically more viewpoints from marginalized groups that are rarely represented in more mainstream media). Right now, I’m a bit obsessed over the idea of creating really beautiful small edition art zines…doing lots of handmade stuff that you could never reproduce in mass.

  1. What ethnicity are you? How does your heritage influence your artwork?

I’m Chinese by ethnicity, Malaysian by nationality, and also a naturalized citizen of the United States. When I write autobiography, it influences all of my artwork, but the identity I associate with is probably more “immigrant” than either Chinese or Malaysian.

  1. Your comics circulate around the themes of corrupt institutions and women of color. How did you become interested in these themes? And, do you think it is important for artwork, both yours and in general, to promote a social message? 

Well, my dayjob was working for large corporations for a long time. And I am a woman of colour. I don’t think that it’s necessary for art to promote a social message, but if you feel passionately about anything at all, it’s gonna leak out into your work, and you should let it.

  1. What is a critical piece of advice you would give to aspiring artists?

Finishing your work is always better than perfecting your work. You’ll get better.

Two more interviews (professional ones) with Shing:

http://shortboxed.com/2014/10/07/shing-yin-khor-on-comic-creation-industry-barriers-and-writing-from-experience/

 

http://comicsalliance.com/hire-this-woman-cartoonist-editor-self-publisher-shing-yin-khor/

 

 

Final Portfolio and Final Thoughts: Chasing Authenticity

Throughout this semester, I explored and tried to find the answer to what is real Chinese food. In the beginning, I was hopeful we would collectively find an answer. However, as the semester continued, I realized we were actually getting farther and farther away from the answer. And by the end of the semester, I realized that there is no answer.

A sad but true realization, these past couple of months of learning, reading, and watching movies have helped me understand that authenticity does not exist with food. But before we jump into the conclusion, let us go through my past projects so you can come along the ride with me to understanding that authenticity is a blurred term.

The first of my seeking authenticity adventure is my egg tart project. With my partner, Xue, we picked four bakeries that apparently serve some of the best egg tarts (according to Yelp reviewers). Xue and I are huge fans of egg tarts so being able to eat many egg tarts, was a dream come true. We both have eaten egg tarts from China and I have eaten egg tarts from Macau and Hong Kong, which are considered the originals of Chinese egg tarts.

Every time I took a bite of a new egg tart, Xue would eagerly ask, “What do you think? Does it taste like a real egg tart?” Almost with every egg tart, I excitedly said “yes!”. But, I was soon realizing that I was not sure why I keep nodding my head. Every egg tart was clearly a bit different, some were with more of an egg taste and others were sweeter. However, there were no specific categories or tastes I was searching for in order for the “authentic” egg tart.

To be honest, as Xue and I tried to find the most perfect egg tart, we were a bit confused ourselves. We tried looking online for recipes and did not realize that every single recipe was a little different. We could not even find an original story of how egg tarts came to be in Hong Kong. At the time, I did not realize that this egg tart project was the beginning of my realization that authenticity in cuisine does not exist.

http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/uncategorized/egg-tart-%E8%9B%8B%E6%8C%9E/

My next project was the geography project in which I mapped the most popular Chinese eateries in the Bi-Co area. Travelling through restaurants on Lancaster and even through our own college dining halls (Bryn Mawr’s Haffner and Haverford’s Dining Center), I continued my search for authentic Chinese food. What I learned, though, is that Chinese American food has become a cuisine itself that is barely related to “real” Chinese food. Almost all but one (Sang Kee) of the eateries in the Bi-Co area serve Chinese food that Chinese people would consider somewhat like what they would eat in China.

This project proved to me that Chinese American cuisine is more popular than Chinese food and that it is a cuisine itself. There is not one authentic Chinese dish in the Chinese American foods and in fact, there is not one authentic Chinese American food. Every dish was cooked different. With a menu that overlaps with many different dishes – sesame chicken, general tso’s, beef with broccoli, lo mein, hot and sour soup, etc – each tasted and looked differently. Diners in the area are loyal to a specific Chinese American restaurant or delivery place claiming one is better than another. However, which Chinese American place was the most authentic Chinese American place? I guess, we will leave the Mainline and Bi-Co students to continue to fight each other for that answer.

http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/mapping-project-submit/bi-co-map-of-chinese-foodways/

My third project was the group cooking project. For that, we decided to cook a dish from New York Public Library’s archive of Chinese restaurants menus. We read Yutang’s Chinatown Family and chose a dish that we thought the family in the novel would eat during the Chinese Exclusion act period (1882 – 1943). We ended up choosing Moo Goo Gai Fan as a group after noticing that it is repeated on many Chinese menus in New York’s Chinatown. It was also at a reasonable price that we thought the Fong family could afford.

By the end of this cooking project, we returned to the question – what makes something authentic? We were having trouble on finding the original Moo Goo Gai Fan recipe and figuring out the history of it. All we knew is that it was from the Canton region and it means mushroom chicken rice in Chinese. Other than that, this popular dish seemed to have pop out of nowhere and become family’s favorites. There were and also still are different interpretations with different meats, different vegetables, and soup versions of it. However, it all somewhat shares the same taste.

We accepted with the answer that the history of Moo Goo Gai Fan is too complicated and we will never be able to find the authentic version. This adaptable and easy to cook yet rich and thick Chinese dish has landed its way into Chinese American menus and earned its way into a classic Chinese American favorite. It seems as if though the flexibility and variations of this dish is what makes it a classic on every Chinese American menu.

http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/cooking-assignment-submit/moo-goo-gai-fan-a-historical-adaptation-into-american-culture/

My very last project was the creative project. My inspiration came from the popular journal among artists, “Wreck This Journal”. It is an illustrated book with a collection of different prompts. It asks readers to draw various things, write whatever they think of, and essentially, experiment with their creativity. It takes years to finish usually and the only goal of the book is to finish it. The book is carried along with the artists at all times until done. It is a way for people who do not usually have a creative outlet to let them experiment with their thoughts. With fun prompts like, put your book on a leash and walk it around and dribble your morning caffeine on this page, it is the perfect way for non-creative people to let loose and fully engage in a thoughtful yet easy and creative process. That being said, this is why I decided to follow a similar concept for my creative project.

“Feed This Journal” is my version of it. I had the intention of carrying it around with me for two weeks and fill it in with prompts about East Asian food that I made up. Then, I also wanted to ask my friends so I can continue to explore if there is a possibility of an authentic dish.

I started with making the journal itself. I bound some pages together and made a mini journal. I decorated the exterior of it before touching the inside. Then, I quickly gave myself 30 minutes to write down prompts and questions for my journal. When I had a list of about twenty, I chose my favorites and started jotting them down leaving the first few pages blank for mini biographies and explanations and the last few pages blanks for finishing thoughts.

Like “Wreck This Journal”, I put in instructions in the book to make it clear for my friends on what to do. I never told my friends what to do; I just told them to read the instructions and to have fun. The next page, I gave a little blurb on who I am and my food identity (naming some of my favorite food categories). Then, it was my friends’ turns to write mini biographies and their favorite food categories. I had thought my friends would choose different categories, but I guess I did not make it explicitly clear and after one person wrote “favorite flavor” as his favorite food category, others did as well.

I kind of failed with my first creative prompt. Using the page as a napkin with Chinese food or Chinese American food only turned out to be disgusting. So, I immediately stopped and filled in the other pages with my answers before asking my friends to fill it in with theirs. It took me over a course of a week to fill it in and so; I started handing out my journal to my friends over the course of the second week. Some friends had it overnight while some had it for just 20 minutes. The average time spent on it with my friends was about 40 minutes as they diligently colored each one.

I learned that I have such creative and good friends for helping me out with this creative experiment, but I also learned more about authenticity! This final project was the last project I needed to help me finally understand and accept that there is no authentic dish or food cuisine. Every friend had something different. The only answers that were the same were my sister’s and mine! We had many of the same answers that were related to our mom’s cooking.

http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/creative-project-submit/feed-this-journal-a-visual-experiment-on-food-and-identity/

http://ealc345.blogs.brynmawr.edu/files/2015/04/Feed-this-journal.pdf

I concluded and learned that food identity is not based on your race or ethnicity; it is based on your upbringing. This also further helped me understand that just like every identity is different, every food and dish is different.

In readings like Rice as Self and The Rice Economies, we learn about food and identity. How food becomes the core of our identity and also is used as a bond to glue our communities. Nationality exists in Japan because of their rice and rice-based foods, like ramen. In Let’s Cook Thai, Of Hamburger and Social Space, and Who’s Irish, we learn about the fusion of different cultures and cuisines to make up and create a new identity. With Kamome Diner and Chungking Express, we continue to see how food plays into our identities and the concept of a foreign identity and cuisine entering a familiar one. In both movies, we see how these foreign identities play out and become part of a new identity.

And last but not least, The Search for General Tso’s was the final source I needed to confidently conclude that there is no such thing as an authentic dish or cuisine. Like in the documentary stated, I believe that we have a desire to find the original whether it be a product or a dish. Some adopted children want to find out who their birth parents are to see where they “really” come from.   Many people want to figure out their families’ pasts and find out their ancestors’ stories because they think it will give them a better understanding of their identity.

I believe that we make authenticity a bigger deal than it is. We like the idea of authenticity because it is mysterious and suspenseful. However, authenticity will never exist because of the constant change that exists in societies. Every generation is different leading to a different person every generation. Not only people change, but also foods will change too as people’s taste buds and interests change as the time changes.

Originality may be definitive, however, authenticity is not since it is constantly changing.   And as time continues to tick, we become farther and farther away from the supposedly “original and authentic” dish. Like a simple math equation, as times and people change, so do our identities. And because food is an integral part of our identities, our foods will change as well, which explains why there will never be and never was an authentic dish.

Final Portfolio: Border Crossings

Links to:
Geography & Mapping Project
Food Stuffs Project
Cooking Assignment
Creative Project

In this semester, we have talked about food from different perspectives by linking it with concepts like identity, class, and gender and used critical readings to shape our understandings. Looking through every project I have accomplished, I find that my Geography & Mapping Project, Food Stuffs Project, Cooking Assignment, and Creative Project in particular deal with the idea of “food and space: border crossings” and thus can be united in the form of a narrative under such theme. By using these projects as primary sources and applying related weekly articles in my narrative, I argue that when Chinese cuisine crosses border and becomes exotic, it adopts the local culture as a way to integrate into the society.

The first assignment I did for the class, Geography & Mapping Project, is a good point to start my retrospective. For this project, I compared the dim-sum shop Yummy Yummy at Chinatown with the American bakery store The Bakery House at Bryn Mawr. By mapping the interior section layouts of the two shops, I clearly saw the product differences. For The Bakery House, it has four main sections among which the two product show stands were selling Valentine’s Day cookies on the day I visited. And the other two sections had various types of cakes, bars, cupcakes, and muffins on display. For Yummy Yummy although it also has four main sections, what it was selling at each sector was mainly buns, dumplings, rice cakes, and even hot fried rice noodle. What make the comparison between two shops in my project valuable is not the diverse types they offer (it is obvious that Chinese food is different from American food) but the distinct functions of those pastries: products at The Bakery House can be all grouped into one category as dessert while those at Yummy Yummy are for the purpose of filling the empty stomach and none of them can be called as a dessert. Even though sugar waters, for instance tofu jelly and coconut taro tapioca, were sold by Yummy Yummy, they “act like snacks or small late-night meals” (180) instead of desserts according to Dan Jurafsky’s concept. It thus seems like there is no such a thing in Chinese cuisine that qualifies the notion of dessert.

Correlated to what I conclude from Geography & Mapping Project is Food Stuffs Project, for which our group took a trip to the Lucky Chinese Cookie Factory on the 9th street of Chinatown. Before visiting, we searched for fortune cookie’s history and found that its origin is ambiguous because it is not clear whether Chinese or Japanese was the inventor. And after we got to the factory, we interviewed the workers and observed the making procedures of fortune cookies. Now when I review the project, one quote we included in the blog post from the film The Killing of a Chinese Cookie that “the Japanese invented the fortune cookie, the Chinese advertised it, and the American tasted it” raises a new question for me. Why Chinese are willing to propagate fortune cookie and regard it as such an essential food that they allow the Philadelphia fortune cookie factory open in Chinatown? The chapter “Why the Chinese don’t have dessert” from The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky gives the answer. Jurafsky traces the history of dessert and demonstrates that just like languages have certain grammatical structures, a cuisine also “has an implicit structure, a set of rules about which foods go together, what constitutes a ‘grammatical’ dish or meal in that cuisine”(178). He further states that the “constraint of American and European cuisine is ‘dessert comes at the end’” and thus the standard grammar of an American meal has the following structure: (salad or appetizer) + main/ entrée+ (dessert) (178). The Chinese cuisine, in contrast, has a totally different grammatical formula from the American one. Its structure is simpler and is made up of two parts: starch and nonstartch or starch and sung by using the Cantonese word (Jurafsky, 180). Analyzing from the linguistic aspect, it is apparent that Chinese cuisine lacks the crucial dessert part and this phenomenon matches my conclusion from Geography & Mapping Project. Bridging these two projects together, I think the necessity of fortune cookie lays in the fact that by having fortune cookie as dessert at the end of meals, Chinese cuisine is able to adopt the grammatical formation of American cuisine. And Jurafsky’s claim that “Chinese cuisine traditionally had no dessert course, and fortune cookies filled a kind of evolutionary niche for the final sweet cravings of American diners” (180) provides support. In this way, Chinese cuisine becomes close to the local one and can merge into the American society when it crosses national border.

Besides adopting the local cuisine’s grammar, Chinese cuisine embraces local ingredients to integrate into the society as well. Our group’s Cooking Project reflects this observation. For the project, we did a research on the history of Asian immigration to Latin America and especially focused on the group of Chinese Peruvians. It then led us to consider about chifa (the term that Peruvians refer to Chinese cuisine) in Lima, Peru and the representative dish Lomo Saltado was chosen for recreation. What I notice about Lomo Saltado is that on one hand it is a really Chinese dish since it requires the traditional Chinese cooking techniques such as stir fry beef and vegetables and steam rice, while on the other hand it is more Peruvian and western because it adopts the local ingredients aji amarillo and has French fries. During our research, we found another chifa dish called Kam Lu Wantan, which is fried wonton covered in sweet and sour vegetable mix. Again, this dish combines the Chinese food wonton with westerners’ favored sweet and sour sauce. These chifa dishes including Lomo Saltado are much more of a hybrid of Peruvian-Chinese cuisine than a typical Chinese one. But it is by blending and adopting local ingredients and western culture that chifa, with most of its dishes rooted in Cantonese cuisine, has been accepted by Peruvians and successfully ingrained in Peruvian food culture. Before cooking, our group tried to find Lomo Saltado’s recipe in late 19th century cookbooks so that we could recreate the dish with maximum authenticity. However, it turned out that such recipe was not available online. Lisa Heldke in the article “Let’s Cook Thai: Recipes for Colonialism” talks about her concerns on recipes’ ownership. She mentions that for Middle Eastern women, one of the reasons why they do not publish their recipes in cookbooks is because “the recipes from which they cook are often as common to them as the omelet is to a French cook” (403). Heldke’s words ascertain that the unavailability of the 19th century Lomo Saltado’s recipe can due to the fact that it has become a normal Peruvian dish and a part of Peruvian social culture.

For my Creative Project, I drew a comic based on Noelie Vialles’ Animal to Edible. The comic tells the story about an American girl Mary who used to love eating chicken and fish dishes but becomes a vegetarian after seeing how chicken and fish were killed in the market during her time in China. In my retrospective, I treat the elements of this project in a metaphorical way. In Claude Levi-Strauss’s “The Culinary Triangle,” he assigns the raw, the cooked, and the rotted to the three points of the culinary triangle. By using Strauss’s triangle, the chicken and fish Mary sees in China in my comic are in their original form and thus can be categorized as the raw, and the chicken and fish dishes that Mary had in America are modified and cooked. The two states of chicken and fish represent the states of a cuisine before and after it crosses border. From the previous analysis, it is known that the original Chinese cuisine has two components starch and nonstarch. When it crosses border to America, Chinese cuisine modifies its grammatical formation and adopts the concept of dessert. And for Lomo Saltado, the Chinese dish embraces the local ingredients when it comes to Peru. According to what Strauss illustrates in the article that “the cooked is a cultural transformation of the raw” (41), Chinese cuisine undergoes the change from “the raw” to “the cooked” by adopting new cultures when it crosses border and thus becomes an integrated part of the local society.

Works Cited

Heldke, Lisa. “Let’s Cook Thai: Recipes for Colonialism.” In Food and Culture: A Reader Third Edition, 394-408. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Jurafsky, Dan. “Why the Chinese Don’t Have Dessert.” In The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, 171-85. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Strauss, Claude Levi. “The Culinary Triangle.” In Food and Culture: A Reader Third Edition, 40-47. New York: Routledge, 2013.