Home / General / Book Review: Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin F. Manalansan, and Anita Mannur, eds., Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader

Book Review: Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin F. Manalansan, and Anita Mannur, eds., Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader

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The twenty essays that make up Eating Asian America demonstrate both the multiple approaches to food studies in an era where that field has exploded and how food is a wonderful window into the complexities of race and immigration over the history of the United States. Asian immigrants have transformed American foodways, have had their own foodways transformed by American imperialism and social norms when they immigrate, and often find themselves torn between their own cultural traditions and the social norms of the new world in which they find themselves. I recently ran across this Ruth Tam essay in the Washington Post about how she was embarrassed by the Chinese food she grew up with in the United States because her friends made fun of how her house smelled, but now white people are embracing this same food. In some ways, she says this is good, but she also feels it cheapens the experiences of her and other Asian immigrants:

But while some eateries get it right, the United States’s take on “ethnic” food often leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Recently, I discovered I can order bone broth, like my grandmother used to make, in New York City — the same way I would order a cold-pressed juice.

“2015 is the year of bone broth!” the “Today” show declared in January. “These days, the hottest food trend is a steaming cup of soup.” The morning show touted bone broth as a newly discovered wonder food of “Paleo dieters and wellness enthusiasts,” making no mention of its grounding in Chinese culture.

In the United States, immigrant food is often treated like discount tourism — a cheap means for foodies to feel worldly without leaving the comfort of their neighborhood — or high-minded fusion — a stylish way for American chefs to use other cultures’ cuisines to reap profit. The dishes of America’s recent immigrants have become check marks on a cultural scavenger hunt for society’s elite. One conspicuous example is an upcoming eatery in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood that packages discount tourism and high-minded fusion into one menu. The as-yet-unnamed restaurant seeks to re-create Southeast Asia’s “expat experience” — not for Asian residents in D.C. but for D.C. residents who crave the feeling of visiting Asia with other foreigners.

“When you travel in Southeast Asia, you have two experiences: the cultural experiences with the temples, food, and people, and then a phenomenal traveler’s culture, too,” chef Alex McCoy told Washingtonian. “That’s the inspiration for this place. We want to introduce people to Thai cuisine, but frame it in the eye of a traveler.”

This is a good entry point into Eating Asian America. To quote the introduction, “this volume is the first book-length collection of scholarly essays to consider how Asian-American immigrant histories are inscribed in the production and dissemination of ideas about Asian-American foodways” (5). The essays use a wide variety of scholarly approaches to understand the intersection of food with class, race, gender, ethnicity, and/or sexuality to build a broader comprehension of the centrality of these issues to American history and the present. Ranging from how Cambodians took over the donut industry in Los Angeles and how Hawaiian chefs started to incorporate local ingredients and dishes in the islands’ highest-end restaurants to the development of Filipino food in the United States before World War II and how Hawaiian artists are incorporating food into their works, Eating Asian American takes a usefully broad approach to these questions.

A few words about some of the strongest essays. Heather Lee’s essay telling of the life of a Chinese immigrant restaurant worker in New York’s Chinatown from the 1920s through the 1940s opens up a fascinating world of family connections spanning continents, the extremely hard work laboring in these kitchens, and how American unions trying to organize the restaurants had no place for Chinese workers. Heidi Kathleen Kim explores how the Japanese concentration camps of World War II tore apart Japanese-American family eating arrangements through the poorly organized mess hall kitchens, but also shows how white Americans sometimes protested against these conditions at the time and how Japanese-Americans have embraced the mess hall kitchen declension narrative in their memories of the camps. Robert Ji-Song Ku discusses the history of Kikkoman soy sauce, asking why, since it had been part of the American food scene since 1868, does the company choose to forget this and instead celebrate 1957 as its entry into the U.S. market, when it opened its San Francisco office? The answer is twofold, that it’s a marketing attempt to attack other soy sauce brands as tainted and inauthentic and that by doing so, it is assuming that the Asian immigrants eating Kikkoman before 1957 were not real Americans either. Martin Manalansan enters into the complicated politics of authenticity, comparing a Christmas meal he attended at a Filipino-American family’s house in Queens that devolved into a debate about what was really authentic Filipino food (should it include hot dogs, which were introduced by U.S. troops and which have become common in many Asian food traditions where the U.S. has stationed its military) and the Anthony Bourdain No Reservations Philippines episode which focused on a Filipino-American who is brought to his family in the Philippines and leads to great ambivalence. There are several other excellent essays as well.

As one finds in edited volumes, the quality of essays vary widely, as does the interest of the reader in them. A few of the essays are so obvious as to wonder about their inclusion. Did you know that food trucks in Austin that combine Asian and Mexican ingredients succeed because they are mobile and use the internet to create a buzz around their food? That’s the insight of one essay. I’m not commenting too much on the last part of the book, which revolves primarily about representations of food in novels by Asian-Americans, largely because I just don’t have anything to offer, although those with backgrounds in literary criticism may well find them quite useful.

This book does not shy away from the types of theoretical approaches that might interfere with the enjoyment of the general reader. The first footnote is after all a listing of Michel Foucault’s major works. But barring that, a lot of readers will find this book quite useful and at least some of the essays really fascinating. One of the great things about food is that because it is one of the common experiences all humans share, it can ground jargon in a reality that educated readers can relate to, even if they lack training in the given academic field. And in the end, most readers will get something positive out of Eating Asian America, if not from every essay.

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  • Honoré De Ballsack

    Eating Asian America was a pretty good book–but an hour after I finished reading it, I was hungry again.

    (OK, I’m going straight to hell for making that comment. I couldn’t help myself.)

  • Lee Rudolph

    One of the great things about food is that because it is one of the common experiences all humans share, it can ground jargon in a reality that educated readers can relate to, even if they lack training in the given academic field.

    Your conclusion—that food “can ground jargon in a reality that educated readers can relate to”—may well be true, but it surely can’t follow from only that food is “one of the common experiences all humans share”. Apparent counterexample: sex.

    • SIS1

      Sexual abstinence is possible – its not fatal. Food abstinence isn’t.

      An actual counterexample would be another essential bodily function, like excretion.

      • I was a pioneer of sexual abstinence.

        Sadly it wasn’t by choice.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    “In the United States, immigrant food is often treated like discount tourism — a cheap means for foodies to feel worldly without leaving the comfort of their neighborhood”

    This reminded me of going to Ethiopian restaurants in Los Angeles, and seeing the Ethiopian customers on one side in button-downs and loafers, while on the other side the American customers were so often in shorts and hiking boots, sometimes with backpacks in tow, like they were reliving the Peace Corps…

    As for the “Thailand traveler culture,” I didn’t find it to be much more than basically “[Thailand] + [the head shop district in any major city eg Venice Beach]” Close your eyes on Khao San Road and you’d swear you were in Tijuana.

    • Chuchundra

      This reminded me of going to Ethiopian restaurants in Los Angeles, and seeing the Ethiopian customers on one side in button-downs and loafers, while on the other side the American customers were so often in shorts and hiking boots, sometimes with backpacks in tow, like they were reliving the Peace Corps…

      Or maybe this is how those people normally dress, so this was how they dressed at the restaurant?

      • alex284

        white americans wearing shorts and carrying backpacks? I’ve never seen that before, so it must be something that only occurs at ethiopian restaurants in LA!

        • Chuchundra

          Madness!

          • alex284

            Surely these white people were at home saying, “Daaaahling, let’s go to an Ethiopian restaurant and dress like we’re in the Peace Corps. That would be simply drole! Stuff the backpacks with diamond tiaras, Jeeves! Now to find the appropriate footwear for a hike in Africa.”

            The idea that they just wear shorts because LA is hot and use backpacks to carry stuff is simply madness.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Well I’d love to give the benefit of the doubt, this was a nice, sitdown restaurant: menus, table linens, full bar. Most of the clientele, Ethiopian and American, figured that out – just this one subpopulation of clueless white people never picked up on it. In 15 years of living in LA I never saw anyone else that dressed-down at a restaurant that nice, except for the Ethiopian places. It was A Thing.

        • StellaB

          You have, perhaps, never visited San Diego? We wear whatever wherever. I’ve seen jeans at the opera on Saturday night. The last time I went to the symphony, I saw an elderly man wearing a tie which surprised me. I assumed that he was visiting from out of town.

          • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

            Sure (my dad was in the Navy, so my family spent a lot of time there) but I think everyone would agree San Diego =/= LA? Also, that wasn’t the vibe I was picking up: it was really more “terminally confused West LA resident.”

            Somewhat OT, but this bit from Kyle Mooney (who’s from SD IIRC) is an amazingly funny riff on San Diego bro culture:
            http://youtu.be/BluTtvG32Iw

    • Vance Maverick

      I also wondered what “getting it right” could possibly mean. I guess I’ll have to buy the book to find out, and enjoy my chop suey in the meantime.

      • alex284

        No clue either, but I’d hate for it to be something along the lines of Marine Le Pen’s distaste for sushi because white people didn’t invent it.

        The quoted and linked article makes some good points, but the solutions (more learning, more reading, more critiquing… while basically doing and eating the same things) stink of that same liberal classism that most cultural appropriation arguments draw from. If you don’t have the time to learn the authentic way to do something, if you don’t have the means to learn the entire history of a practice, then you should stick to your own culture’s activities (“your own culture” defined by background and pedigree, like dogs).

        All of which raises important questions about what we consider our own cultures and why, as well as why we don’t ask people to know or respect anything if they stay confined to their own culture’s practices.

        • Vance Maverick

          My culture is (white) American. In other words, it’s founded on appropriation, hybridity, self-redefinition and amnesia.

          • StellaB

            Unlike every other culture?

            • Vance Maverick

              Well, there’s something especially rooted in our rootlessness, we make a principle of it.

              • ThrottleJockey

                Is “white American” less rooted than “black American” or “Asian American” or “Hispanic American”?

                I think not.

                The problem is in how you define it. “White American” is continually being re-invented as new cultures join “White American”. Fifty years ago Ted Cruz was not “White American”.

                If you want something more rooted, look at English culture, or German culture, or Chinese culture, etc, etc. If you look at a Melting Pot then you have to expect it to change over time. If you look at the ingredients within the Melting Pot you’ll find more stability.

                • The Melting Pot metaphor does a very poor job describing the United States and scholars have largely rejected it in recent decades.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Yeah, I’m aware of the issues and, depending how the argument is framed, may or may not agree with the arguments. And, yet bone soup appears multiple times in this thread, so I think “Melting Pot”, whatever its pros and cons, is uniquely apt!

                  I did have one professor in undergrad who quipped that “Salad Bowl” is a better descriptor. So, if you prefer, have a Salad Bowl dear sir.

                • Jhoosier

                  I heard it described as a chunky-style stew.

              • alex284

                I would have agreed before I spent a decade living abroad.

                White American culture is particular and it has a strong pull for those who grow up with it. You can look at history and say that parts of it came from other cultures, but a lot of stuff (like, say, country music or drinking coffee with a meal at a diner) wasn’t entirely lifted from others.

                And then if you go back far enough in other cultures, you’ll see a lot of stuff taken from others and forgotten about. Like, the French didn’t invent puff pastry (most likely an Arab invention), but what’s French pastry without it?

                I agree that some white Americans make a point of having no roots. But they’re wrong.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Since you bring up country music (more on that later), I’ll use this example: “White American Culture” = Top 40 Music chart. Which is to say, its more a market category than a genre with its own unique tokens, artifacts, and history. White American Culture, like the Top 40, is really just an amalgamation of all the different subcultures in America, with certain subcultures more heavily weighted than others.

                  You point out country music rather usefully. In fact, country music owes more to Blues music than to anything else.

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  Not all country music is white. Aside from Charley Pride there are these guys from Swaziland.Plus all kinds of country music is incredibly popular here in Ghana.

                  http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2014/01/african-country-music.html

  • Merkwürdigliebe

    The morning show touted bone broth as a newly discovered wonder food of “Paleo dieters and wellness enthusiasts,” making no mention of its grounding in Chinese culture.

    Umm… Not to detract too much from the overall correct point about food tourism and cultural exploitation, but basically every culture with farm animals has independently developed bone broth. In times when meat was a rare treat, the usual approach was to utilize every cubic inch of the animal. So you ate what was edible, ground up what was grindable and boiled everything that wasn’t for flavor – and everyone, all around the world, has pretty much always done that. The French cuisine certainly utilizes bone broth, as do many others.

    • alex284

      and this is part of the problem with arguments around cultural appropriation: who’s to say who owns a cultural element? it gets complicated if something was developed independently by multiple cultures, or if multiple people within the culture of origin disagree on whether or not to export something, or if some people can stake a claim to multiple cultures and therefore not be “authentically” X, etc.

      Cultural appropriation arguments often make comparisons to copyright law (a sure sign that they’re going down the wrong path), but at least with copyright law the owner of the copyright can be known. Bone broth, though? Like you said, it’s just boiling bones and drinking the liquid, something that I’m sure lots of people did because it’s the obvious thing to do with bones that can’t otherwise be eaten.

      But then these arguments don’t have much practical application and are easily ignored, so who cares. I don’t drink bone broth anyway.

      • In my experience, people who complain about cultural appropriation usually have very tangible grievances. They complain that their cuisine was considered weird or even icky until white chefs introduced it to white audiences, and suddenly everyone wanted it (and wanted to buy the white chef’s cookbook). They complain that when a white author writes a book about culture X, they get a contract, but authors from within that culture struggle or are even told that books about non-white protagonists won’t sell. They complain that the fashion industry will take imagery and styles from non-Western cultures, while putting up roadblocks in the path of designers from those cultures, and telling women from those cultures that they’re ugly because they don’t conform to a Western beauty standard.

        The cultural appropriation conversation isn’t about who is “allowed” to make Chinese food or wear a sari. It’s about white people making money and gaining social capital from things they took from people of color, without sharing the credit or doing anything to change the fact that non-white culture is considered lesser and foreign when it tries to promote itself.

        • Murc

          This.

          The example I usually use when people start complaining about this, assuming good faith, is “Nobody is saying its bad for you to learn to stir-fry; they’re saying it is bad for you to learn to stir-fry and still crack jokes about eating dogs when you pass a Chinese restaurant.”

          I also like using “If you own every Beastie Boys album, you’ve got no business calling black rappers thugs.”

          • ThrottleJockey

            Your examples are offensive, but they’re offensive regardless of appropriation, no?

            I generally *hate* the typical left-wing argument about appropriation because it suggests that non-natives can’t share in the culture.

            The way I look at it is this. Black people don’t complain about Elvis. They complain about the fact that Little Richard didn’t get paid.* That’s not an ‘appropriation’ argument. That’s an argument that non-whites are discriminated against, plain and simple. Appropriation has nothing to do with it.

            *One of the reasons Eminem was embraced by the black community is because he very explicitly recognizes this: “No I’m not the first king of controversy /
            I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley / To do black music so selfishly / And used it to get myself wealthy
            .” It doesn’t hurt his case that he got quite a few black people wealthy alongside of him.

            • alex284

              Basically this, although I don’t know the particulars of the examples you bring up.

              Plus the implication is that these folks are all discreet groups that can be separated and labeled. I was thinking about this earlier, that, assuming for the sake of argument that bone broth is only Chinese in origin, then wouldn’t saying that Americans enjoying it is a form of cultural appropriation only work if we also assume that Chinese Americans, some of whom have families that have been in this country for centuries, aren’t really American?

              Another example: someone at the queer hippie camp I go to this past summer wanted to have a belly dancing night. Someone was all like “that’s cultural appropriation,” but the original dude was like “I’m arab!” And we found in the ensuing discussion that he was 1/2 arabic jew, born and raised in israel. Is that Arab enough? (thank god no one wanted to discuss that, but the original cultural appropriation accuser [a good friend btw] made it about us mostly white people learning belly dancing.)

              The entire idea of cultural ownership of certain ideas requires cultures to remain static and separate. It just cannot work without that assumption. And then when you add people into the mix, you have to assume that each person can be identified with a culture (through genetics or pedigree), and that they cannot escape it. People of complex backgrounds, people who are adopted, people who are raised in other cultures, etc., can all go jump of a bridge because they break these arguments.

              That sort of thinking was more common in the 50’s, I guess, but it just doesn’t seem all that appropriate today.

              • ThrottleJockey

                Exactly this. We should be encouraging cultural exchange, aka appropriation. Through appropriation people, in fits and starts, learn to appreciate the underlying culture and the people who created it. Its not some magical device but I certainly think that all those white kids in the ’60s and ’70s who started listening to Motown did a lot to improve racial relations even if not every single one of them improved their racial outlook because of it.

                Besides, if it wasn’t for white people’s appropriation of Philly Soul we wouldn’t have Disco Music, and who doesn’t like Disco Music? Hell, without Disco we wouldn’t even have the ’70s. I wouldn’t have been born!

                • Dude, cultural exchange and appropriation are not the same thing.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  The problem with “appropriation” is that its like “terrorism”. One man’s terrorism is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s appropriation is another man’s cultural exchange. Whether or not its appropriation depends on whether or not you like how the artifact in question is being used.

                  Is it appropriation if I dress up like the Pope to attend a Saints football game if I’m a black protestant? What about if I dress up in an Indian headdress to attend a Chiefs game? What if, like many black people, I have significant Native American ancestry?

                  In the 1st case most people would say its not appropriation for me to do that. They might say, “There are lots of black people who are Catholic“, while glossing over the fact that I’m not Catholic. In the 2nd case many people, certainly most liberals, would say, that’s appropriation. In the 3rd case, even among liberals you’d see lots of debate. So, I struggle with a bright line difference between appropriation and cultural exchange. Even when it comes to Al Jolson and blackface, there’s a good debate to be had about whether its appropriation or exchange: ‘Film historian Charles Musser notes that “African Americans’ embrace of Jolson was not a spontaneous reaction to his appearance in talking pictures. In an era when African Americans did not have to go looking for enemies, Jolson was perceived a friend.”

            • Jackov

              All mentions of Elvis should include the following:

              Elvis was a hero to most
              But he never meant shit to me you see
              Straight up racist that sucker was
              Simple and plain
              Mother fuck him and John Wayne

          • alex284

            Personally, I think that it is bad for people to crack jokes about eating dogs when they pass a Chinese restaurant whether or not they cook stir-fry at home.

            I also think that no one should call black rappers (generally) thugs, no matter their musical tastes.

            But I guess I’m just a crazy leftist.

            • alex284

              Ha, while I’m thinking about it, I imagine this conversation would go something like this:

              A: look, there’s a chinese restaurant. *insert racist joke about eating dogs here*

              B: Dude, if you make stir fry at home, that’s cultural appropriation! you shouldn’t say things like that!

              A: Naw, I don’t eat stir fry. I only eat food from superior white cultures.

              B: Oh, ok. Sorry about accusing you of cultural appropriation!

              A: No problemo!

              • ThrottleJockey

                Did you say once that you were an actor, Alex?

                I’m looking at your sketch and thinking its awfully good off the cuff for someone with no experience.

          • Merkwürdigliebe

            I fully understand what you mean with the dog bit and this is a super touchy subject, so I’m approaching this more as an intellectual exercise… But in certain cultures in China and Vietnam, eating dog meat is acceptable and does happen, occasionally even in expat communities in western countries where this is strongly frowned upon.

            So what if there is a genuine difference in cultural opinions on a subject without a clear ethical boundary? (I really don’t feel there is any good rational argument for eating pigs if you refuse to eat dogs and vice versa.) How do the cultures sort it out? Which position should prevail? Should there be exceptions for e.g. the kosher-style slaying of animals, but no exceptions for raising dogs for meat?

            • Jhoosier

              One of my Korean students was telling me about eating dog meat. He said it was different because it wasn’t the same species as a pet dog. It was also dumber (which I assume meant it was ok to eat).

        • alex284

          Except the problem doesn’t seem to be the cultural appropriation.

          To use the example from the article, it’s the person who said her house smelled like “chinese grossness” who’s an asshole, not the people who enjoy bone broth decades later.

          All the examples you picked were “White people were assholes in some way to a non-white group, then they made money by using things they learned from those non-white people.” Does the charge of cultural appropriation hold if the story is “White people were generally cool with a non-white minority, and some of those white people learned stuff from them that they used in their work”? Because if it doesn’t, then it seems the bigger problem is being an asshole in the first place. If it does, then we definitely are talking about who is allowed to make Chinese food or wear a sari.

          Or: cultural appropriation, as you present it, is at most adding insult to injury.

          But that’s not how I’ve always seen it deployed, like with that Canadian university that canceled yoga classes claiming it was cultural appropriation, with no mention of how Indian yoga instructors had previously been blocked from entering the country or anything specific to yoga. The entire discussion was if white people are allowed to teach other white people yoga.

          http://m.ottawasun.com/2015/11/20/free-ottawa-yoga-class-scrapped-over-cultural-issues

          • Murc

            Does the charge of cultural appropriation hold if the story is “White people were generally cool with a non-white minority, and some of those white people learned stuff from them that they used in their work”?

            It doesn’t, no, but you’re describing a scenario that’s almost never held here in the states.

            Because if it doesn’t, then it seems the bigger problem is being an asshole in the first place.

            There are many problems of various sizes, yes.

            Or: cultural appropriation, as you present it, is at most adding insult to injury.

            No, the ability of people to pick and choose what they want to appropriate from other cultures while shutting out the actual members of those cultures is something that causes real, actual harm. It’s an actual act of malice and harms people, especially in the context of a capitalist society where you need to produce something in order to get paid; white people saying “we can produce this thing you guys invented and get paid for it, but you guys can’t” is a thing that causes real injury.

          • Does the charge of cultural appropriation hold if the story is “White people were generally cool with a non-white minority, and some of those white people learned stuff from them that they used in their work”?

            Why don’t we make that happen first, and then see?

            The examples I gave aren’t just stuff that happened in the past. They’re stuff that’s happening right now. White culture is still appropriating foreign and minority culture for its own financial and social benefit while keeping the people from whom these artifacts originated out of the party. It still treats foreign cultures like a costume while treating people from those cultures as lesser. So yes, I totally understand why people get mad about cultural appropriation, because even if it is just adding insult to injury, both the insult and the injury are real, and ongoing.

            Oh, and that story about the yoga class was basically made up by a reporter looking for examples of Political Correctness Gone Mad, which is something that I found out here the last time the subject was raised:

            http://murkygreenwaters.com/2015/11/24/the-yoga-controversy-a-disabled-persons-response/

            • xq

              The Asian restaurants and grocery stores around here are almost all owned by (and employ) people coming from the same culture as the food (many of them foreign born or first generation). I don’t think Asians have been shut out of the party.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Your argument treats “White Culture” as if its a sentient being, a person, who go outs and steal minority culture for its personal enrichment.

              In fact what’s happening is that some person, say Eminem, or Macklemore, sees something from a different culture they like. They mimic it. Sometimes they mimic it well, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes their mimicry catches on with other whites.

              Unless the person doing the mimicry is actually racist then its neither insult nor injury. Its like with Eminem. He acknowledges the fact that he’s getting paid because he’s a white rapper, but no one black holds him guilty for that because we recognize that he didn’t create the system. He’s only held responsible for his own sins; and mimicking something you like for money is no sin.

              • Joseph Slater

                Yeah. Although I’m still proud of being an Oberlin grad (a loooong time ago), that whole thing wasn’t my old school’s finest moment, or close to it.

        • heckblazer

          Speaking of tangible grievances, I’d say food-related cultural appropriation is exactly what the EU food appellation laws are designed to prevent, even if that isn’t the language the drafters would have used. If you want to call your cheese mozzarella you damn well better be making by hand in Southern Italy using buffalo milk…

    • lizzie

      Yeah, I’ve been wondering about this too, whenever I’ve seen anyone enthusing about “bone broth.” Setting aside vegetarian broth, isn’t that just…broth?

      • StellaB

        It is broth cooked with a splash of vinegar which somehow imparts magic effects.

        • Merkwürdigliebe

          The acidity helps break down the tissues and leach marginally more umami taste into the final product. The French use tomato puree in their recipe for the same purpose, but really anything acidic will do.

          • The Dark God of Time

            Yes, even the weak acidity of lemon juice or another citrus fruit will work quite as well.

        • Patick Spens

          Doesn’t everybody do this?

      • I thought, by definition, bone broth was called “stock”.

        If it doesn’t use bones, it’s “broth”.

        • alex284

          It’s a paleo diet thing. So they put words like “bone” everywhere because they imagine we all came from the Flintstones.

          • lizzie

            That explains a lot.

          • Jackov

            One of the popularizers of bone broth would be Michelle Tam
            who has a popular paleo blog, a best selling cookbook
            and a Chinese grandmother.

  • Todd

    OT, but a while back I saw a tweet from you about “The Magna Carta Manifesto”. Was it recommendable? Would it be a good place to learn about the Charter of the Forest, about which I know next to nothing? Or is it just a well-done political take on those matters that might not be a good place to start?

    • Yes, actually it is a good place to learn about the Charter of the Forest. He goes into quite a bit of detail about it. It was a pretty good book overall about a topic I don’t know much about.

      • Todd

        Thanks

  • bernard

    Robert Ji-Song Ku discusses the history of Kikkoman soy sauce, asking why, since it had been part of the American food scene since 1868, does the company choose to forget this and instead celebrate 1957 as its entry into the U.S. market, when it opened its San Francisco office? The answer is twofold, that it’s a marketing attempt to attack other soy sauce brands as tainted and inauthentic and that by doing so, it is assuming that the Asian immigrants eating Kikkoman before 1957 were not real Americans either.

    I’m curious as to the source of this twofold answer.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      Yes, especially since Wikipedia (taking it with a tablespoon of soy sauce) says the company was founded in 1917.

    • I guess the source is the Ku essay. Read it.

      • bernard

        You mean Ku cites an actual source, or he made the whole thing up?

        • I mean this is Ku’s analysis of the history of Kikkoman based upon his primary sources.

          • bernard

            OK.

            Thanks.

  • It’s not that hard to see something like belly dancing, or karate taught by white ex-Marines, as appropriative at the point where it was done. After a few generations of mixing, I’m less sure. I feel wrong condemning some white middle-aged woman who likes to style herself Madame Ishtar and teach belly-dancing and drape scarves around her apartment and play-act at flea-market Sufism.

    Similarly, maybe the way cafeteria directors are taught to create “ethnic” dishes needs to be updated–I remember a chili con carne over rice that had basically no spices in it–but making the authenticity of immigrant cuisine an issue in this particular way is, historically (and this may have changed), itself a pretty elite concern.

    • I would suggest that the concept of an “authentic” version of a particular dish is itself pretty rocky terrain and rooted in a belief that a particular “foreign” culture can be reduced to a collection of precisely defined artifacts. The concept of a particular dish of this name being made from exactly these ingredients using just these processes is a recent one, related to the development of an international concept of haute cuisine (which is itself a product of imperialism).

      • Sure, but there’s inauthentic, and then there’s just not trying. At a highway rest stop I just saw a tuna niçoise sandwich that was basically tuna salad with capers. The idea that a good way to run a cafeteria is to make up new sandwiches that are old sandwiches with one extra ingredient, and call them a different, already existing sandwich, is probably also fairly recent (and the results are often poor). I’m not going to sweat it if I make a salad niçoise without eggs because nobody except me likes them, when only my family is going to eat it. I’d be irritated if I were served it in a restaurant.

        I see what you’re saying, I think, though I’m not convinced that cultures didn’t have any concept like authenticity until they encountered imperialism, or that that’s the issue in these current cases. (Like many commenters here, probably, I’m older than the people involved, and fairly distant from them in terms of geography and class, so it’s hard for me to guess what context they’re in.)

        • Oh, I agree. But cafeterias serving tweaked versions of the same old cheap crap isn’t primarily driven by cultural appropriation. The reason that they call a crappy pork sandwich a “banh mi” now is the same reason that they called gloopy chicken pasta “chicken tetrazzini” in the past — because it sounds like something you might want to eat.

          I’m not convinced that cultures didn’t have any concept like authenticity until they encountered imperialism

          I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I have trouble seeing how the modern concept of “authenticity” as applied to food is relevant unless you’re having people from culture A make a local variation on a food originating in culture B while using a name imported from culture B (“banh mi” vs. “pork sandwich”), and that would be an extremely rare scenario in the absence of imperialism.

          • heckblazer

            One of the oldest recipes known is one for “meat Assyrian style” written on an ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablet. Ethnic food therefore seems to have been around for at least 3,700 years. (I tried making it once, was rather bitter for my taste)

            • The Dark God of Time

              In my Anglo-Chinese family, we have a dish we called Portuguese mince, which is hamburger meat cooked with soy sauce, white wine, along with garlic, lots of onion, and some ginger.

              As for cultural appropriation, my grandfather used to complain bitterly about Chinese dishes which included carrots, as they never were used in traditional Chinese cuisine when he was growing up.

            • Assyria was an imperial dominion of Babylonia (and vice versa, over the years). Even setting that aside, I would argue that closely adjacent cultures would be excepted from my general statement above under the same rules as “Chicago-style pizza”.

              • heckblazer

                Won’t deny the ancient imperialism, especially as the tablets were almost certainly intended for use at court.

                As for pizza, some people get pretty defensive over what counts as proper, e.g. pizza Napoletana has a specific detailed regulatory definition in the EU.

                (Hmmm. “Illegal Pizza” may be my next band name)

                • bernard

                  Of course, people get pretty excited over what constitutes “real” barbecue and chili as well. Regional differences abound, and I was once told that Kansas City is divided into not-quite warring camps over barbecue.

                  So arguing over what is the authentic version of a dish seems pointless.

    • ajp

      This is a good point, about generations. Take hip hop for example. It’s now one of the most popular, if not *the* most popular, musical genres in the country. And world! So white hip-hop artists doesn’t strike me as problematic in 2015. It’s just part of the popular culture these days-a big part. That shit doesn’t exist in discrete categories-genres bleed, and mix, and influence each other, and evolve. To deny that is foolish. Once something becomes super popular and ubiquitous, I don’t think you can rightly say it “belongs” to a culture anymore. Profiting off of something more obscure would probably be problematic though.

  • heckblazer

    I once was reading about film and TV location scouting in NYC, and the scouts said the great thing about New York is that you can find just about anything there. Once of the few exceptions is an authentic Chinese restaurant that looks like the one in the picture up top. They flat out don’t exist, as contemporary Chinese people just don’t eat in places that look like that. This apparently was a very that was instantly met with response that you’d have to build a set.e to build a set or settle for a tourist trap in Jersey.

  • Jhoosier

    This is interesting to me, because having lived most of my adult life in Japan, most of what people call ‘cultural appropriation’ makes any sense to me. While I understand how a suburban white dude wearing a headdress to a Redskins game would be offensive, I don’t know where the line is, literally.

    My university students do all sorts of stuff that, according to what some commenters here say, would be appropriation: we have a flamenco club, belly dance club, and hula club, all of whom get dressed up for dance performances. Are they appropriating culture? It seems like something that they enjoy doing, and hopefully they are learning about the home culture as well, but is that the line that delineates cultural appropriation and exchange?

    Many of my Japanese friends were genuinely confused about the protests at that Boston art museum, about people being able to try on the kimono. That is literally the last thing they would think. They love the fact that foreigners here get dressed up in their clothes and participate in religious festivals. How does one draw the line with that? Is it like pornography — I know it when I see it.

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