Category Archives: Asia

Review: Food Anxiety in Globalising Vietnam

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Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam. Judith Ehlert and Nora Katharina Faltmann eds. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 330pp. ISBN 978-981-13-0743-0

.Shao-Yun Chang (Tulane University)

In 2018, Vietnam battled outbreaks of African swine fever, a highly contagious disease that prompted concerns over poultry products especially from China. A Vietnamese coffee manufacturer reportedly used batteries and dust in its production. Food anxieties are rampant in Vietnam, reflecting concerns over national security and expressing worries in more intimate realms around health and consumption. Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam addresses these issues by contextualizing rapidly changing politico-economic dynamic around food in the socialist state.

Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam is divided into three parts: Bodily Transgressions, Food Safety, and the Politics of Food Security. The authors come from multiple perspectives, ranging across development studies, sociology, economy, history, and anthropology. This multi-disciplinary approach provides a comprehensive outlook on food anxiety, addressing both state-level policies and developmental projects, but they are also attentive to everyday practices and discourse. The three parts also follow a scaler approach, moving from micro-processes to the macro, from private realms to public sphere, and from Vietnam towards larger regional interactions with China and Southeast Asian countries.

In their introduction, co-editors Judith Ehlert and Nora Faltmann position food anxiety as processes of incorporating food into the physical body. These processes involve boundaries – boundaries between inside and outside and between the self and the world, emphasizing how anxiety reflects “questions of integrity in terms of material ‘realities’ but also regarding the transgression of discursive structures” (15). Food transgresses not just in the visceral sense as people ingest what they eat; it also transgresses boundaries of class, gender, and capitalist relations, especially in Vietnam where economic reforms or Đổi Mới have exacerbated people’s concerns with food because of the country’s rapid and compressed modernization. In this volume, the individual authors trace historical trajectories from the precolonial era to the contemporary period. They focus on recent state-level projects intended to ensure food security by integrating food production into the global capitalist system and welcoming neoliberal agricultural practices.

The first part, “Bodily Transgression,” situates class, gender, and familial dynamics in socio-political implications of food consumption across different historical periods. Erica Peters shows how in both precolonial and colonial periods, people with power and command were most prone to anxiety when their power seemed most vulnerable. For instance, Minh Mạng, the second ruler (1820-1840) of Nguyễn dynasty, established culinary methods to institutionalize wet rice cultivation, which alienated non-Việt practices. Anthropologist Nir Avieli depicts ambivalence of consuming jungle meats and goat meats in present day Hội An, showing how ritualized public killings are tied to asserting cultural intimacy. Judith Ehlert focuses on a gendered phenomenon – mothers’ food network and emerging public debate around child obesity. By focusing on discussions of food anxiety and motherhood, Ehlert argues food anxiety arise through women’s ambivalence with being caring mothers and feeding practices.

The second part of the volume, “Food Safety,” addresses the emerging and evolving power players of food production in Vietnam, including state, private sector, and the consumer. Muriel Figuié et al. lay the groundwork for understanding shifting food systems in relation to modernization processes in which consumers are now distanced from food production, generating anxieties around delocalized food and “unidentifiable edible object[s].” (145) Nora Faltmann dives deeper into the issue of distanciation by showing how the niche market of organic foods in Vietnam is still largely controlled by foreign corporations and governed by neoliberal logics. But citizens’ quest for organic and safe food is not limited to the niche market as Sandra Kurfürst shows in her chapter on urban gardening and rural-urban supply chains of food. She plays on the longstanding dichotomy between urban versus rural. Food anxiety disrupts the usual dichotomy of urban and rural, putting more trust in food from countryside as opposed to prevalence of polluted and alienated food in the city.

The final part, “The Politics of Food Security,” shifts towards national and transnational level of politics involved in food security. At the state level, Timothy Gorman examines Resolution 63, a legislative mandate targeted at food security and increasing rice production. Gorman shows the emphasis of food security is on food production instead of access to food. The fixation on the supply side intensifies agrarian transition, favoring large-scale mechanized production over smallholder farmers. In the last chapter, Hongzhou Zhang examines the dialectical relationship between Vietnam and China, a recurring theme in food anxieties discussed throughout the volume. In recent years, food security strategy in China has promoted imported foods and expanded overseas agricultural investment, giving rise to exponential increase in trade between the two countries. However, consumers are mistrustful of low-quality food from China, suspecting illegal chemical additives or containing gutter oil.[1] Interregional exchange further complicates issues of trust in food and edibility. Jean-Pierre Poulain closes the volume by foregrounding the idea of “compressed modernity” proposed by Kyung-Sup Chang, which describes evolving socio-economic dynamics happening in condensed time and space and pertinent to fast modernization of Asian countries such as Vietnam (303). The intensity of modernity threads together discussions throughout the volume, underscoring the evolving relationships in households, private and public sectors, and neoliberal logics in a socialist state through the consumption and production of food.

The volume provides multi-dimensional approaches for understanding food anxieties in contemporary Vietnam. Anxiety around food production, consumption, and exchange is neither a localized phenomenon nor situated outside of socio-cultural histories. Authors discern nuances at the individual level (should one consume goat meat which is rumored to provide aphrodisiac effects), the household level (what feeding practices make a good mother), the state level, and lastly, international projects of food security and organic production. The volume powerfully penetrates the surface of food-related outbreaks, which have dominated the news. Authors contemplate the multiplicity of relations involved in production and consumption, scrutinizing the implications of neoliberal governance and global capitalist structures specifically within food anxieties. However, several authors point towards food anxieties derived from the relationship between Vietnam and China. It would be interesting to see how food anxieties speaks to political tensions between two countries. Do issues of national security exacerbate food anxiety, particularly discourse around interregional exchange?

The volume will appeal to range of academic audiences. Authors speak to social scientists who are interested in understanding growing food anxieties in Asian countries that have experienced rapid modernization. The edited volume is also a great resource for classrooms to provide students insights into how neoliberal projects shape conceptions of food and how food is politicized in daily practices. Each chapter approaches food anxiety from a specific angle, presenting qualitative findings and interpretations on food anxiety in Vietnam.

[1] Gutter oil refers to sourcing oil from restaurant waste, sewages, and grease traps. Recycled oil is processed and sold as cooking oil.

 

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Review: Re-Orienting Cuisine

Re-orienting Cuisine: East Asian Foodways in the Twenty-First Century

Kwang Ok Kim , ed. Re-orienting Cuisine: East Asian Foodways in the Twenty-First Century. Berghahn. New York, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-78920-067-6

Richard Zimmer
Sonoma State University

Kwang Ok   Kim has assembled a wonderful collection of studies about what had happened and what is happening in East Asian food.  These studies fall into three main categories: how national and local cuisines define what is traditional in a particular country’s food consumption; how food practices from elsewhere transcend national and cultural boundaries; and, lastly, how people see their own and the cuisine of others addressing well-being, health, and danger.  Moreover, Kim’s introduction and each of the studies situate their discussions in larger academic and global studies about modernism, authenticity, traditionalism, nostalgia, globalism, and food safety.  The studies are particularly germane to students of food, culture, tourism, and politics.

Section I, about national food changes, contains four essays.  The first, by Opkyo Moon, demonstrates how Koreans have created/re-created a royal cuisine from the period before the Japanese colonial control.  This cuisine, coupled with other period practices, is a way that Koreans have established a significant connection to a more illustrious past.  The second, by Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Khay-Thiong Lim, contrasts Malaysian cuisine(s) and Taiwanese cuisine.  They suggest that Malaysia has decided to try to create a national cuisine, bringing together its different ethnic and culinary traditions.  The British, they argue, did not accept any significant foods as part of their occupation.  Taiwan, on the other hand, has “returned” to its pre-Nationalist Chinese occupation past by focusing on dishes from that earlier era.

Jean de Bernanrdi  outlines how tea culture was introduced in Wudang Province in China.  This introduction created a sense of tradition, authenticity, health consciousness, tourism, and international connections to vendors overseas.  Kwang Ok Kim shows how Koreans focused on and “re-invented” rice as central to their identity and their sense of health and well-being.  These practices have extended to Korean restaurants overseas.  In sum, these essays portray cuisine as a something real–something to be consumed and enjoyed, and as symbols of national identity.   Moreover, they also show societies using their cuisines to create and imagine pasts, futures, to portray “authenticity” and to offer food as commodities  to promote  health and tourism .

Section II, about food practices across nations and cultural boundaries, contains six essays.  The first, by Kyung-Hoo Han, traces the recent history of ramen in its many forms, from China to Japan and Korea.  Japanese ramen is much more of a “…fatty and nutritious” dish than earlier domestic soups (p.92) and is served in restaurants.  Korean ramyeon, on the other hand, tends to be an instant quick, fast food version of noodle soup, previously much saltier, and not eaten in restaurants for the most part. David Y. H. Wu follows the path of Japanese cuisine in Taiwan.  Taiwanese see eating Japanese food as a return to the time when the Japanese occupied Taiwan.  Japanese food is considered both comforting, and given Japan’s emergence as a modernizing power, a connection to the larger world of sophistication.,  Moreover, Japanese food has diversified in terms of incorporating Western elements, such as Japanese French pastry, so Taiwanese people can partake of global food trends.

The third essay, by Melissa L. Caldwell, portrays a Russia which has “domesticated” Korean food as part of the larger domestic cuisine. Russia has few Chinese restaurants, values them as particularly special, and also considers the relatively new Japanese food as special.  Moreover, she notes that Chinese restaurants, to compete, have started to offer selected Japanese foods.  The fourth essay, by Yuson Jung, portrays a Bulgaria which, following the collapse of Communism and its associated deprivations, wants to be modern and part of world culture.  To do so, it has integrated Chinese food, often standard dishes with occasional domestic offers such as bread, into its restaurant offerings.  The fifth essay, by Sangmee Bak, offers a picture of a South Korea which wants to eat “globally”.  That means diverse cuisines.  The one featured most is Indian cuisine, which, for the most part appeals to students and take-out clientele.  Following the themes in this volume, Bak notes that their Korean cuisine is being pre-empted by the Japanese, who offer “…Korean food to Westerners…thereby compromising the food’s Korean identity” (p.182.)

One personal note here: in a “reversal,” two of the Japanese restaurants where I live are owned and managed by Koreans. Furthermore, a local Thai restaurant shows the cross-cultural fertilization outside of Asia:  “traditional Thai noodles, curries, and soups are interspersed with surprises such as the Laotian Pork Sausage appetizer and British-inspired curry puffs (spiced potatoes and carrots wrapped in dough that is then fried” Voight (2018: 14 .)  As many of the essays have noted, overseas Asian communities experiment with many kinds of fusion dishes and mixing cuisines.  Often, overseas Asian influences work their way back into national cuisines, as noted above in the ways “Western Japanese” food is an alternative food in Taiwan.

The sixth essay in this section, by Michael Herzfeld, argues that Thai cuisine mirrors themes inside the culture:  It is complex, ambiguous, and often contradictory.  For example, higher and lower class people like very spicy/hot foods, and the ability to eat these foods is seen as a sign of masculinity (p.192 et seq.)

Section III, about well-being and safety, contains four essays.  In the first essay, Young-Kyun Yang portrays a South Korea increasingly concerned with well-being and taking care of one’s body.  Consequently, Chinese food, once favored, is seen as unhealthy because it is considered too greasy and contains too much MSG.  In the second essay, Sidney C.H. Cheung traces the evolution and dispersal of American crayfish in Asia, where each country and cuisine treat it differently, as for example, in China, where some producers make it into “lobster.”  In the third essay, Jakob A. Klein draws a picture of a Chinese population increasingly concerned with the cleanliness and purity of its food.  He notes that as elsewhere in the world, foods often seen as cleaner foods are more expensive and out of the reach of poorer people who both value it and cannot afford it (p.246.)    In the fourth essay, Yunxiang Yan traces food safety concerns in contemporary China.  Originally, people were concerned with food being poisoned, in part because chicken, for one example, was dumped into lower class food stalls and restaurants.  At the time of Mao and even in the present government enforcement has not prevented poisonous additives and materials from entering food.

Taken separately and together, these essays show the interconnections and continuing changes between national identity, politics, culture, the search for well-being, and the concern with food safety, in East Asia.  These changes and concerns also mirror developments around the world.  Jonathan Kauffman shows similar concerns, for example in the origins of “Hippie Food” in the US, including many of its past and continuing connections to developments in Asia (2018).  Jean-Pierre Poulain sees the same trends in the Kim volume occurring in the United States and France and places food studies as central to understanding cultural, economic, political, and medical changes in any country (2017.) Kim’s collection serves as an assessment of current developments on most of these themes and as a marker for future changes as each country defines its identity and concerns in terms of food movements around the world.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2018

Jonathan Kauffman.  Hippie Food: How Back to the Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. New York: William Morrow.

2017

Jean-Pierre Poulain.  Translated by Augusta Dior. The Sociology of Food: Eating the Place of Food in Society.  London: Bloomsbury Academic.

2018

Joan Voight. Made Local Magazine. v.6, number 1. pp.12-19.

 

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Conference Report: 6th annual Asian Food Study Conference, Kusatsu, Japan

While there are many conferences of potential interest to food anthropologists, last weekend (December 3-4, 2016), I attended a conference that I found particularly useful and inspiring: the 6th annual Asian Food Studies Conference.

This is a conference that attracts historians, nutritionists, anthropologists, and researchers from fields like hospitality and tourism. The diverse presentation topics included these titles: “Chinese Ancient Food Culture Implied in Oracle-bone inscriptions” (Cheng Xuerong), “The Comprehensive Discourse on Edible Flowers in Pre-modern China” (Liu Jun Li), “Plagiarism and Originality: Focused on the Study of Modern Printed Cookbooks in Early 20th Century Korea” (Ra Yeon-jae), “Nutrition Education Affects the Use of an Escalator and Elevator to Reach a Women’s College on a Hilltop” (Ishihara Kengo and Takaishi Tetsuo), and “Beyond the ‘Super Shark’ Myth: Promoting Sustainable Shark Foodways in Japan and Asia” (Akamine Jun).

What really impressed me, however, was the true sense of internationalism evident at the conference. The conference’s venue changes every year. Last year the conference was held in Shangdong, China, this year in Kusatsu, Japan (hosted by Ritsumeikan University), and next year the conference venue will be in Korea. There are presentations in multiple languages (this year: Chinese, Japanese, and English). The first day’s keynote speeches, one in each language, were translated into the other two. But beyond this, the conference theme—Exchange and Dynamism of Food Culture in Asia—encouraged presentations of research that was itself transdisciplinary and transnational, with a mission toward forging connections and sharing knowledge.

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Takagi Hitoshi explaining how the Miskito categorize and use different parts of the sea turtles they hunt.

Let me give some examples. One of the panels on the first day included presenters from Malaysia, the Philippines, the US, Bulgaria, and Korea. All of the research on this panel had an obvious transnational component. A key example of such a project would be Korean scholar Ja Young Choe’s (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) research on the relative popularity of various Asian cuisines (Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian—in that order) in Hong Kong. On the second day Francoise Sabban’s research on the culinary perceptions of French and Chinese diplomats and envoys in the 19th century, Takagi Hitoshi’s observations from fieldwork conducted among the sea turtle hunting Miskito of the Caribbean, and Osawa Yoshimi’s probing of the simultaneous global appeal of umami and distrust of MSG are other examples.

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SAFN member Shingo Hamada describing traditional foodways–fishy and fermented–in Fukui prefecture, Japan.

Representing SAFN at the conference, Shingo Hamada presented new research on obstacles to commoditizing traditional fermented foods in Japan’s contemporary Fukui prefecture and I explained how Kyoto cuisine has benefited from international support (collaborators, promoters, funders) and resources (ingredients, ideas, technology) from far outside of Japan.

Next year, the conference will be hosted in South Korea. I heartily recommend attending to anyone interested in the topics of transnationalism, food, and Asia.

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Roundtable Report: “Globalization of Asian Cuisines”

To celebrate the publication of “Globalization of Asian Cuisines: Transnational Networks and Culinary Contact Zones,” three of the edited volume’s authors—Stephanie Assmann, James Farrer, and David Wank—gathered for a roundtable discussion on June 2 at Sophia University, Tokyo. While the book contains chapters that examine different Asian cuisines in different contexts—Sidney Cheung writes about crayfish in China, Krishnendu Ray about “Indian ocean cuisine,” and Keiichi Kawaguchi about Japanese food in Italy, for example—for this roundtable Wank, Farrer, and Assmann chose to talk about globalization and Japanese cuisine, offering insights based on their research in China, the US, and Japan. They observed that the globalization of Japanese cuisine is being led primarily by non-Japanese actors, with the Japanese state trying to shape the process of diffusion.

IMG_5312.jpgChuanfei Wang, who conducts research on Chinese and Japanese wine cultures, introduces the roundtable participants. From left to right: discussant Christian Hess, chair Chuanfei Wang, James Farrer, David Wank, Stephanie Assmann.

James Farrer discussed the globalization of the Japanese culinary field via a case study of Japanese food in Shanghai, where the number of Japanese restaurants surpasses the number of French and Italian restaurants. Interestingly, in Shanghai, the authenticity of Japanese cuisine is important and it is bloggers and Chinese individuals who have tremendous influence in determining what is deemed authentic Japanese cuisine. Shanghai’s chefs and entrepreneurs show great creativity in localizing Japanese cuisine. Farrer gave the memorable example of Anthologia (地球美食劇場 chikyu bishoku gekijo in Japanese), a restaurant-theater in which the entire menu is in Chinese and the dramatically costumed and made-up chef performs not just cuisine but also ikebana (flower arrangement), music, dance, and swordplay in front of eaters. This restaurant has been such a success that a second such restaurant is planned to open in Nagasaki to accommodate demand from Chinese tourists there! In response to a question from discussant Christian Hess about periodization and change in contact zones, Farrer explained that in the late 19th century quite a few Japanese restaurants existed in California and in China but they didn’t last and didn’t create a Japanese food boom. While it might seem odd that Japanese food would enjoy such popularity in China given the political enmity between the two countries, the Chinese divorce politics from cuisine to a great extent. Even though Japanese restaurants were destroyed in protests, for example, the Japanese food scene in China recovered very quickly afterward.

IMG_5316An example of Shanghai’s booming Japanese restaurant culture from Farrer’s presentation.

David Wank’s presentation focused on the role Fujianese chefs and restaurateurs have played in popularizing Japanese cuisine along the East coast of the United States, a phenomenon he refers to as an “ethnic entrepreneurial niche.” He noted the presence of elements of deterritorialization and localization, with sushi now a regular feature of people’s foodscapes even in rural areas without a sizable Japanese or Asian population, and the development of the California roll, inside-outside roll, New York roll (with pastrami), Philly roll (cream cheese), and in Indonesia the gado gado roll. When asked to elaborate upon Fujian innovation in Japanese cuisine as related to localization, Wank gave the example of sauces; there are 5 basic sauces chefs use in Fujian-run Japanese restaurants, but he talked to one chef whose culinary arsenal includes 50 different sauces. This process of innovation within the current Japanese food boom continues—with ramen and izakaya (Japanese gastropubs) among the latest trends.

In her talk, Stephanie Assmann switched the focus to government actors in Japan, analyzing efforts to promote a specific concept of Japanese cuisine domestically and abroad. Through the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, a revived shokuiku (food education) campaign in schools, and projects encouraging Japanese consumers to purchase Japanese agricultural and food products for health reasons as well as to boost the national self-sufficiency rate for food. She noted a rhetoric of crisis operating in this discourse and perceives it to be a feature of the contemporary neoliberal state confronting globalization in line with national interests.

The roundtable touched upon key themes from the book—the role states play in determining what counts as national cuisines, debates around authenticity, processes of diffusion and change—and concepts such as “culinary fields,” “culinary contact zones,” “culinary infrastructure,” and “culinary capital.” The presentations and the enthused question and answer session that followed makes the edited volume seem well worth checking out.

 

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