Experiencing Multiplicity: food and identity

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Transcript Experiencing Multiplicity: food and identity

Experiencing Multiplicity:
food and identity
Minjoo Oh
“Tell me what you eat, I will tell you
who you are.”
• Can you tell who I am if I tell you
what I eat?
• French wine and Turkish coffee
houses represent suitable cultural
metaphors for learning how to do
business with those countries.
• Drinking Guinness is a strong
connotation of Irishness.
• Rice as the staple of Japanese diet
has a special centrality in national
identity formation [Rice as Self
(1993) by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney]
• What items constitute the Japanese
• What is archetypal American food?
• American
a)homogeneous, processed, massproduced food
b)The multi-ethnic mixtures of
particular regions
Jennifer Lee hunts for
General Tao
• http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jennifer_8_lee_looks_f
• The longer we ponder questions like
these, the more difficult they
become to answer.
• National cuisines are in a process of
constant reinvention, absorbing new
influences and letting some traditions
die out.
• Nevertheless, a nation’s diet can have
a key role to play in nationalistic
sentiments, with threatened invasions
of “filthy foreign food” being seen as
dangerous to the whole fabric of
national identity.
• At the same time, national cuisines
are often celebrated for their exotic
• Sometimes a nation’s identity is
captured by a single food item.
• For instance, curry is synonymous
with India. In other cases, it is the
manner of cooking as much as the
ingredients and final dishes with
define a national cuisine.
• Food and the nation are so
commingled in popular discourses that
it is often difficult not to think one
through the other.
• “To imagine a Japan without ramen
almost borders on heresy.”
• “Ramen is so Japanese.”
from Barak Kushner’s interview
How to eat ramen
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WrkdTrrwew
• Like a language, food articulates
notion of inclusion and exclusion, of
national pride and xenophobia, on our
tables and in our lunchboxes.
• The history of any nation’s diet is the
history of the nation itself, with food
fashions, fads and fancies mapping
episodes of colonialism and migration,
trade and exploration, cultural
exchange and boundary-making.
• And yet here begins one of the
fundamental contradictions of the
food-nationalism equation: there is no
essential national food.
• The food which we think of as
characterizing a particular place
always tells stories of movement and
• What appear to be indigenous
foodways may actually be cultural
imports, like the café, whose French
cultural identity is relatively recent,
having been imported in the
seventeenth century.
• Ramen entered the Japanese market
as an inexpensive, accessible, lowclass food for itinerant peddlers and
poor students in the early twentieth
• The number of chinese students living
in Japan was significant, one of the
largest foreign groups by far.
• From 1896 to just before 1938,
approximately fifty thousand Chinese
students in some form or other
studied in Japan, greatly influencing
lower and middle class restaurant
offerings in most urban areas.
• Chinese emigrated to Japan to work.
However, after losing to Japan in the
Sino-Japanese War in 1895, they
came in increasing numbers to study
how Japan modernized so quickly and
surpassed China.
• Students as well as laborers flocked
to the new communities in Yokohama,
parts of Tokyo, Kyushu, Kobe, and
Sapporo in the north.
• Ramen tells an historical story
different from our stereotyped
assumptions of Japanese cuisine and
its interaction with foreign
• The Japanese of the early Taisho era
(1912-26) considered Chinese cuisine
backward. Not until after World War
Two did Chinese cuisine gain
recognition as something worthy.
Instant ramen
• Instant ramen were created in 1958
by Japan’s Nissin Foods.
• Momofuki Ando, who died in Ikeda,
near Osaka at 96, was looking for
cheap, decent food for the working
class when he invented ramen noodles
in 1958. His product – fried, dried
and sold in little plastic wrapped
bricks or foam cups – turned the
company he founded, Nissin Foods,
into a global giant.
• Ironically, Japan’s food industry
initially rejected the product as a
novelty with no future.
• Instant ramen representing “Made in
Japan,” are now not only a national
food but a global food.
• Now sells more than 65 billion bowls
every year (as of 2008)
• “more people around the world eat
ramen in some form on a daily basis
than any other foodstuff.”
• In 2000, the Fuji Research Institute
had survey of what the Japanese see
as their best exports and their best
invention of the 20th century.
1) Instant ramen
5)Compact discs
6)Compact cameras
7)Akira Kurosawa
• Okuyama Tadamasa claims that the
proliferation of ramen franchises in
Japan and its spread from the Far
East into the rest of the world
demonstrate the end of western
dominance over national cuisines.
• Taiwan, according to statistics from
the International Ramen
Manufacturers Association, is the
world’s 12th largest instant noodle
market, worth an annual US$300
million. This translates into an annual
total of 900 million packs, or 40 per
person. (2007)
• South Koreans consume the greatest
amount of instant noodles, 69 per
capita per year.
Economic indicator
• In Thailand, the dominant Mama
noodles brad has spawned the “Mama
Noodles index,” which accurately
forecast a weakening of the economy
in 2005.
• The 2 million inmates in U.S. prisons
would be responsible for about 10%
of the nation’s 4.2 billion instantnoodles sales (November 4th 2008,
• What inmates once priced in
cigarettes they now trade for
• College students
Popularity of ramen
• The end of Western dominance?
• “Clash of civilization” ?
• or, constant symbiotic synthesis?
• Okuyama’s thesis posits a happy and
peaceful co-existence of cultures
leading to tasty treats in the next
century in contrast to the more
pessimistic view of Huntington.
Claude Levi-Strauss
Food is not only good to eat, but also
good to think with.
Mary Douglas
If food is treated as a code, the
messages it encodes will be found in
the pattern of social relations being
expressed. The message is about
different degrees of hierarchy,
inclusion and exclusion, boundaries
and transactions across the
Metamorphoses of ramen
Immigrant food
Urban laborer
An antidote for postwar starvation
New taste of convenience and speed
Elite dish (not-instant, traditional
kind has become hip)
A term that was invented in order to
emphasize that the globalization of a
product is more likely to succeed
when the product or service is
adapted specifically to each locality
or culture it is marketed in. The term
combines the word globalization with
Fast Food
Thai street food
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the
All-American Meal
Pull open the glass door, feel the rush of cool air, walk
in, get on line, study the backlit color photographs
above the counter, place your order, hand over a few
dollars, watch teenagers in uniforms pushing various
buttons, and moments later take hold of a plastic tray
full of food wrapped in colored paper and cardboard.
The whole experience of buying fast food has become
so routine, so thoroughly unexceptional and mundane,
that it is now taken for granted, like brushing your
teeth or stopping for a red light. It has become a
social custom as American as a small, rectangular,
hand-held, frozen, and reheated apple pie. (Eric
Schlosser, 2001: 4)
Savor Slowly: ‘Ekiben’
The Fast Food of High Speed Japan
Ekiben: railroad station box-lunches
These lunches consists of small boxes
containing a variety of food items, all
part of traditional Japanese cuisine,
sold in railroad stations and trains all
over the country.
• Yumcha as a form of food
consumption can best be understood
in contrast to a meal. A meal is
considered to be proper, official,
elaborate; it involves a fixed schedule
with dishes served according to an
established program, and it always
includes a staple such as rice.
• Yumcha is considered to be casual and
unofficial, and staples are not
necessarily involved. Whereas meals
are served by someone such as a
waiter, yumcha involves more ‘selfhelp’ behavior.
Not From Scratch:
Thai Food Systems and Public Eating
Women can be seen stopping at a food shop
in the evenings on their way home from
work to pick up dinner for the family, main
courses are placed in small plastic bags
with rice being prepared easily at home in a
rice cooker... For typically middle-class
Bangkokians – particularly women who tend
to be impeccably dressed – frequently cool,
comfortable establishments is the most
desirable option. The urban masses are, for
the most part, of humble economic means
and purchase food on the streets and from
vendors both mobile and stationary, and
small food-shops specializing in noodles,
curried dishes or other fare.
If our identities became homeless,
exile, migrant, nomadic, displaced, and
permanent stranger-like, how can we
talk about the connection between
what we eat and who we are?
We conceive of our age as existing beyond
the normal frames of time and space.
Time flies, and yet each instant is
crammed with things to do. Time-saving
devices create more time but also require
us to save more of it. Vast distances are
crossed in no time at all, and yet we seem
to spend all of our time either going from
place to place or watching the world go by.
There is no time to do nothing and no place
to do it because doing nothing seems too
much like doing something else. (Siebers,
1994: 1)