Food and Asia

Foi separado as partes mais relevantes da Introdução feita por Nicole Tarulevicz. O Artigo original pode ser encontrado aqui.

IJAPS, Vol. 8, No. 2 (july 2012)

Never Just Food: Themed issue on Food and Asia

[…] “what don’t we know about the food of the past.” These are curiously relevant and timely questions for this themes issue on Food and Asia. We are in a moment of intense scholarly interest in how food is produced, consumed and understood. For many, there is an added urgency to the study of food as agribusiness and scientific developments change the very molecular composition of the foods we eat, and push some foods and foodways into de category of permanently vanishing. In the context of the globalization of food, the ongoing fears of a worldwide food crisis and the continuing inequalities of food production and consumption fuel this urgency. For those with an interest in the Asia Pacific region, these are particularly relevant issues.

[…] Gastro-tourism and globalization bring Asia to the West, the West to Asia but also, Asia to Asia. As Asian- constructed food sweeps the world, food consumers experience both Asian food and food influenced by Asia. […] creating a relentless pursuit of “authentic Asian food” and an acceptance of fusion food in all its varied permutations. The worst of these incoherent trend-chasing mashups, to borrow from Observer reviewer Jay Rayner, is metaphorically embodied in “sharing-plate menus of Scandinavian-Mongol fusion kebab wraps.” Or to put it in other words, not all fusion is culinary successful, even if it symbolizes the exotic or the risible. But food – and the food penumbra – has become well established as entertainment for the many.

[…] Yet as food studies pioneer Warren Belasco noted, while food production has a long tradition of study by economists, historians and agricultural scientists, scholars have been more reluctant to study the consumption of food. […] that food is so ubiquitous, that, paradoxically, it disappears from our attention entirely.

[…] “what don’t we know about the food of the past” […] Several of the articles in this issue deal with historical themes, making this a particularly relevant question. […]

I am reminded of a recently published article by Allen S. Weiss on the conundrum of food and authenticity, in which he suggested that we ask the wrong question; rather than asking is something authentic, Weiss commends us to ask the alternative question: “How is it authentic.” For Weiss this becomes the question, “What does it mean for such a version of a dish to appear at this time and place.” Inspired by Weiss, we can ask, instead, what does what we do know tell us about the past, about the values and structures of scholarship, and about food.

Food is much more than what we eat. The study of food is also the study of culture and social life. The relationship between identities and food features prominently in the discipline. National and ethnic identities jostle alongside religious, gendered and regional identities. The imposed binary of cuisine and identity is in fact very complex. Some of this complexity is expressed on the plate but it also expressed in the areas around food, its production, purchase, marketing and in its social meanings – the way it is reflected in culture and the way it is refracted by culture.

With the aforementioned complexities in mind, the study of Asian food can be a lens, “giving focus to the broad sweep of history and the complex patterns of contemporary Asian societies.” […] Asia, here is reflected only as China, Japan and Singapore – hardly a comprehensive or even representative sweep. […]

[…] Within this context, the food of Asia is often studied as the food of immigrants, as evidence of globalization and changes in American cities. Important work is being done on the food of Asia in Asia but it has a, excuse the pun, notably different flavor to it. […]

What does this study of food in Asia tell us about Asia? In a way, very little. Drawing on only a few Asian nations in our themed edition, it is not our intention to be definitive or extrapolative. Reading about fake food in China may tell you about the growing trend of fake food and the challenges it poses, it may tell you about the challenges in contemporary China but it cannot tell us about, say, Korea. The paradox of globalization – that at the very time borders are becoming more fluid and people, goods and financial systems become more integrated, people are becoming acutely away of their local identities – is instructive here. The foods of Asia are increasingly embedded in the global economy – contributing and receiving goods – yet food is experienced on the local and national level and is increasingly connected with these defining characteristics. Anxiety about consuming the food of China is as acute in Singapore as it is Manhattan, Vietnamese coffee producers are as keen to having their organic coffee beans identified as Vietnamese as Tasmanian cheese producers are to having their products identified as Tasmanian.

Food then in these articles is about a great variety of things. Food is an expression of national identity, a source of anxiety and a potential threat to the esteem of the nation state, a space where nationalism can be imbued, a space in which its trade was both a threat and site of national accomplishment and it is also a site where cultural is marshaled to reinforce nation. In a sense then, these five articles coalesce around a very broad theme of food and nation. The connection between food and identity – I eat/cook/like this dish therefore I am X – is a well trade path and these articles are not so much connecting food and identity in these ways as reading food as a space in which nation is performed and contested in varied ways. Methodologically the articles in this edition reflect the interdisciplinary approach of Food Studies. Beyond that, they all read food as text, whatever the media form. Further, they use food as a lens to tease out broader issues around the theme of nation.

Japan’s iconographic instant ramen noodle is the focus of George Solt’s article, “Shifting Perceptions of Instant Ramen in Japan during the High-Growth Era, 1958–1973.” Ramen is a product rich with multiple meanings about modernity, post-war Japanese innovation and emergency food, as well as to students the world over. Solt takes as his focus the marketing of Ramen in Japan and the responses of consumers to these advertisements to evaluate the social meaning of instant ramen. […]

Fears about the safety of food are not, as Bee Wilson reminded us in her history of food fraud, a thing of the past. From anxiety about the safety of the commercial production of instant ramen we move to the rise of fake food in China. Kaz Ross in her article, “Faking It: Food Quality in China,” considers a series of food scandals in recent and contemporary China, focusing on key industries such as milk, to argue that food is a fruitful site for illustrating how the concept of “quality” (suzhi) can be understood and demonstrating that understanding this term is central to understanding the continued failure to safe-guard food in China. […]

[…] Drawing together the themes from the previous two articles of advertising and milk, Nicole Tarulevicz in her article “Let Lifeguard Milk Raise Your Child: Gender, Food and Nation in Singapore’s past,” takes as her point of departure an advertising slogan for Lifeguard Milk in Singapore. The slogan encouraged parents and specifically mothers, to “Let Lifeguard Milk Raise Your Child,” and Tarulevicz’s article works to make sense of this slogan, which is displayed on a teacup in the Singapore History Museum.

Examining discursive sites that were particularly subject to government efforts to sculpt femininity – school textbooks and cookbooks in particular-allows Tarulevicz to shows that the state took a keen interest in domestic gender roles and the organization of domestic space. […]

From teacups and the milk that might be added to them, we move back to the tea itself in Kristin Bayer’s article “Contagious Consumption: Commodity Debates over the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century China Trade.” Bayer argues that the trades in tea and opium were inextricably linked at this historical moment and both were seen as possible sources of contagion, a vector for the spread of cultural and economic pathologies. That is, in this trade exchange commodities carry more that their respective use and value, they have a social and cultural meaning. […]

The power of food to contaminate and pollute is as powerful in contemporary Japanese cinema as was the case of nineteenth century debates about tea. Barbara Hartley, in her article “Food and Pollution in Two Films from Contemporary Japan,” uses Departures (2008) and Gemini (1999) to examine ways in which food conveys messages about ritual pollution and the categories of the ritually unclean. Specific food items have symbolic values and the process of eating in turn has symbolic value. In Departures, food becomes a symbol of life-affirmation for the main character who is working in the socially unacceptable role of mortician. A devotion to food, to the pleasure of food, is a devotion to the forces of life. Food too in these films functions as a narrative device for transformation. […]

In all of these articles food is many things – it is symbolically laden, it threatening, it is anxious-making, it is instructive, it is a site of power and it is unruly. It is this multiplication of potential meanings across varied historical and cultural contexts, which make food such a rich and rewarding area of study. […]

We buy food that is ready to eat, ready to cook or in need of significant preparatory work. We buy food that is familiar and we buy food that is exotic. We buy good food, we buy bad food, we buy healthy food and we buy frightening food. We eat because we need to, we eat because we want to, we eat out of social obligation, we eat to show our identity, we eat to show hospitality, to celebrate, to commemorate, to mark religious and personal events. Food then is the very fabric of the lived experience; it is can be what makes you part of a community, of a nation. Food is inclusive precisely because it is universal; it is much more inclusive than the nation- state but at an ideological level, it does the important work of creating a space for personal experience within the national narrative.