The definition and importance
of history and the subjectivity of our
knowledge / why we should study food and
Understanding the subjectivity
of your professor: Three reasons I study food.
A purpose of these discussions: reveal my
subjectivity and limitation; explain my topic
Understanding the Nature and
State of Food Studies: Jacques Pépin, the
Food Network, Top Chef, and other topics.
What is history? And why history is important?
History as “what has been said and done” in the real world; and history as
a field of intellectual inquiry.
Carl Becker: “Everyman His Own Historian” (1931)
In remembering and looking into the past, everyone is
performing the tasks of a historian; in other words, history is
intimately connected to each of us.
the subjectivity of our historical knowledge:
Individuals’ limitations in their ability to know. History is
often defined as “things said and done.” Yet the history that is accessible
to each of us is only the parts of the past that the historian is - and can be
- aware of.
In writing about history, people have to be selective.
What constitutes historical facts? – the selective nature of such
Edward Carr: What Is History?
“Crossing the Rubicon” as a historical fact.
Historians try to be objective and more inclusive in their
The shift of historical research from “stories of great men” to
The subjectivity of our historical knowledge also helps us
understand that all of us are part of history, especially the history that
Studying these two topics helps us understand the connection
between history as a field of academic research and history as
what is said, done, and experienced by people of different
socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
Of all the historical topics, few are more closely associated with
the self than food: which sustains out body physically, and
connects our selfhood to other individuals, different cultures,
and the natural surroundings.
Immigration – essential to the experiences of Americans, the US
as a nation, and our changing world. Many of us are directly or
directly connected to immigrants; and our lives are also
impacted by immigration. Yet, we are only a part of the waves of
global immigration that changed America; and our knowledge
of the experiences of their experiences, including their food, is
Personal: Longtime foodie:
Mother as an incredible foodie: understands food’s importance and
worked so hard to feed us.
A – no refrigerator;
B – a busy job. Her experience was not isolated: it resembled that of women throughout
Chinese history as well as that of modern professional women in many parts of the
world == “Second Shift” - Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild.
C – food Scarcity;
FOOD SCARCITY: FOOD RATION STAMPS IN
FOOD RATION IN US DURING WWII
D- Political ideology: good eating was considered bourgeois indulgence
Food = “I love you” and resistance to oppressive and puritanical
Food as an anchor of identity – Discovering the adjective “Chinese” as a
signifier for the food of China in America;
“Chinese stomach” (the materiality of identity) - food as a compass for me
to navigate the New World;
Search for ‘authentic” Chinese food => discovery of America
Intellectual: The intellectual nature of mundane situations in everyday life
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
The Morning Read: Dipping into melting pot
UCI professor chows down with an eye on the future of ethnic food and culture in America.
By MARLA JO FISHER
The Orange County Register
Yong Chen leans over his chopsticks, which are dripping with stewed squid, and reflects on his
obsession with food.
He isn't exactly sure when it began or when it started taking over his life. Maybe it was in the
Chinese re-education camp where he was sent with his parents as a child.
Maybe it was later, when he studied history at Cornell University, before he became a popular
associate professor of history and Asian- American studies at UC Irvine.
Now, when he's not teaching, he's writing a book about the cultural significance of ethnic food in
America. And, when he's not writing, he's eating. When he's not eating, he's collecting old
cookbooks, restaurant menus, diaries and poring over vintage business directories, all in a quest to
link food and culture, food and memory.
"Taste is always acquired, and we acquire our tastes very early on," Chen says. "You don't need to
read philosophy to understand a culture. Sometimes, it's much more mundane, like the food."
Chen's research not only seeks to trace the phenomenal rise of ethnic foods in this country but to
describe how food is important to culture and a society.
Chen, 44, recalls a Republican TV ad he saw before the election that negatively depicted
presidential candidate Howard Dean as a sophisticate eating sushi and drinking lattes.
"Republicans don't eat sushi," Chen jokes.
But, as his book will show, over the past 10 years, ethnic food has become not only a cultural but
also a commercial phenomenon in America.
"Food has always had two major highways: It travels with people, as in immigration," Chen says. "It
also travels with the movement of capital."
As an immigrant, he is a living example of the former. When he lectures on globalization in one of
the classes he teaches at UCI, he could be talking about his own life.
Chen remembers that his father was a government agriculture official in China's Hubei Province
before the Cultural Revolution took hold of the country in the late 1960s. He remembers the Red
Guard searching his family's house, and his family's relocation into a Communist re-education
camp, where his parents were forced to work in rice paddies by day and study the sayings of
Chairman Mao at night.
Later, after the movement subsided, Chen says, his father became president of a small university,
and Chen went to study at Peking University in 1978. There he met Bruce Stave and Sondra Astor
Stave, an American couple teaching at the university who encouraged him to apply to graduate
school in the United States.
He arrived in the United States in 1985 after being accepted for graduate studies at Cornell
University. Sondra Stave met him in New York and took him out for pizza, a ritual of American life.
"What's more American than pizza?" she said.
Chen remembers well his baptism into the American taste palate, though he admits he didn't find it
tasty at the time. "They said, 'Now, you're in America. We want to Americanize you.' "
Meanwhile, certain ethnic groups have settled into Southern California life into certain food-service
industries but not necessarily their own.
"Cambodians have almost monopolized the doughnut business," Chen says. "And Greeks are into
candy making. You see more Mexicans opening Chinese restaurants."
For the future, Chen sees more "fusion food" melding different cultures, as well as a trend toward
"California has been the national food trend-setter, and I expect that to continue," he says. Standing
in the 99 Ranch Market, a Chinese supermarket in Irvine that also sells Japanese soft drinks and
Korean barbecue, Chen leans over the fish tank, with its live Maine lobster and silver carp.
Asked what he and his wife have at that very moment in the home refrigerator, Chen recalls some
foie gras, duck livers special-ordered from Gelson's, enoki mushrooms, bean sprouts, bamboo
shoots. Oh, and Cajun leftovers.
"My wife likes Emeril," he says with a grin.
Orange County Register article on Yong Chen
Nixon’s visit to China in 1972
MARKETPLACE STORY EXPLORING THE ISSUE OF AUTHENTICITY IN CHINESE
Eating and talking with
Mark Bittman (famous
food writer and former
columnist of the New
qid=1484028071&sr=81) in Irvine – Class 302
– A HUMBLE EXAMPLE OF CONNECTING ACADEMIC
RESEARCH AND THE PUBLIC:
ON THE POSSIBILITIES OF FOOD WRITING AS A BRIDGE
BETWEEN THE POPULAR AND THE POLITICAL
Featured in LA Times column: Chat &
Selfie: “Bad fortune cookies, critics
from Mars and crab Rangoon”
(Jonathan Gold - 99 things to eat in
L.A. before you die) (Anthony
Bourdain; Joël Robuchon)
“How did Chinese become America's
favorite ethnic cuisine?” Orange
interview with Larry Mantle of KPCC
CHOW in the Museum of Food and
Long-time failure to Fully appreciate the importance of food
Four reasons for the society’s failure to fully recognize the
importance of food
State of the “field”: interest in food and food studies
• Food historians often have to
explain and defend their subject
matter, which reveals the lack of
adequate understanding of the
importance of food as a subject
of vigorous academic inquiry.
• Examples: Jacques Pepin; Hasia
Food is sensual;
It is seen as feminine;
There was a strong
resentment against indulgence in
food in the Puritan tradition:
The Bible: “But don’t be so
concerned about perishable
things like food. Spend your
energy seeking the eternal life
that the Son of Man can give you.
” (John 6:27).
The home economics movement
and Ellen Richards – they were
influenced by this tradition and
by a rising scientific approach to
“We take no warning from other animals and
from plants, all of which fail of their best end
when overfed. Nature does not make an
exception in favor of man . . . . In all the
discussions of the infertility of the higher
branches of the human race, how little
attention is paid to the weakening effect of
the pampered appetite.”
In America in 2009, the average store of the
35,612 large-size supermarkets carried more
than 48,750 food and food related items.
We spend less and less of our income on
food: The percentage of the income that the
average American has to spend on food
came down from more than 42% in 1901 to
about 13% in 2003.
State of the “field”: interest in food and food studies
Public interest in food is surging: Increasingly popular are food programs on
food TV and other channels.
Food Network – the beginning
The Providence Journal’s cable TV arm; Colony. It started the (TV) Food Network in
Starting from scratch (From Scratch is also the title of a book on the history of the
food network): founders had no experience with the food industry and no idea
about cooking or cooking shows; other cable TV-channel ideas failed; tried
Successful mission found: A TV channel for foodies.
Impact of Food Network:
Transformation of the food and restaurant industries, and of the status of
chefs - Mario Batali; Emeril Lagasse.
It made the American palate better.
The Food Network turned people into foodies – but not home cooks: the
number of Americans who said they loved cooking declined by about 30% in the
20 years before 2017. Food becomes entertainment. (it is interesting to note that
54% of Americans say they are cooking during the pandemic than they did
most popular cooking shows.
Other media platforms. For example, Food Network is on TikTok and Snapshot.
YouTube food channels; transcending language and national boundaries: 李子柒 Li
Melissa King: UCI Alumna and Top Chef – alternative careers.
Another reason for the surging public interest in food: More and more books on
food: The list of popular books on food is getting longer and longer – (books on
food at Amazon.com).
books on individual foods =>
Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (New York: Walker and Co.,
Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: the History of Coffee and
How It Transformed Our World, 1st ed. (New York NY: Basic Books,
Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern
History (New York N.Y.: Viking, 1985);
Dan Koeppel, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World
(New York: Hudson Street Press, 2008);
Lydia Gautier, Tea: Aromas and Flavors Around the World (San
Francisco Calif.: Chronicle Books, 2006);
Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: Tthe Dark Side of the all-American
Meal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001);
George Ritzer, The Mcdonaldization of Society, New Century ed.
(Thousand Oaks Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2000).
Scholars are catching up
Increasing interest in food among other scholars – Growing number of food
studies programs in universities (examples: UC Berkeley; NYU; UC Davis), offering
new career paths and ways to make a difference.
Increasing publications; and the multidisciplinary nature of the topic,
James Watson and Melissa L. Caldwell, eds., The Cultural Politics of
Food and Eating: A Reader (Malden MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005);
Marion Nestle, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition
and Health (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002);
Jeffrey Pilcher, Que Vivan Los Tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican
Identity (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998);
Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time
(Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993);
Fran Hawthorne, Inside the FDA: The Business and Politics Behind the
Drugs We Take and the Food We Eat (Hoboken N.J.: J. Wiley, 2005);
Carole Counihan, Food and Culture: A Reader (New York: Routledge,
1997); Solomon Katz, Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (New York:
Nina V. Fedoroff and Nancy Marie Brown, Mendel in the Kitchen: A
Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food (varied needs of
gourmands and starving people) (Joseph Henry Press, 2008);
Bruno McGrath, Genetically Modified Foods vs. Sustainability
(CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)
Books on “Food, Race and Ethnicity”) (by Yong Chen).
Waverley Root’s Eating in America: A History (New York: Morrow, 1976) is one of the
earliest comprehensive history of American food and has interesting anecdotes;
Food in colonial America is covered in Trudy Eden's The Early American Table: Food and
Society in the New World (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008) and James
McWilliams' A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2005).
Other works include Kathryn Grover, Dining in America, 1850-1900 (Amherst; Rochester
N.Y.: University of Massachusetts Press; Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, 1987).
As a nation known for its drinking habits, there are also works devoted to the topic: Mark
Lender, Drinking in America: A History (New York; London: Free Press; Macmillan, 1982);
Kathryn Grover, Dining in America, 1850-1900 (Amherst; Rochester, N.Y.: University of
Massachusetts Press; Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, 1987); and W Rorabaugh, The
Alcoholic Republic, an American Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).
Adopting a different approach, Andrew Smith uses important food events, such as the
appearance of popular foods and the creation of popular restaurants, as a way to comprehend
the development of American foodways in his Eating History: 30 Turning Points in the
Making of American Cuisine (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).
Harvey A. Levenstein, Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) and Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of
Eating in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Sherrie Inness, Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table, 1st ed.
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
African American food and chefs: “Black Americans have
contributed so much to this country’s food and culture without proper
acknowledgement – a pattern of erasure that continues today.”
(Marcus Samuelsson, The Rise)
Not a coherent field of study yet.
We have not yet recognized the overall importance of food.
These are also why food is an exciting and promising topic.
The Multifaceted Significance of Food
and Interdisciplinary Nature of Food Studies
What to Eat?
Definition of “food” in our class
1. “Foodways”: a multilayered process involving how to obtain,
prepare, store, distribute, transport, prepare, and eat food.
2. It is about how we organize our society.
3. Foodways also includes the tools and materials we use to
produce, store, transport, cook, and consume our food.
4. Manners, reflecting social customs and relationships.
5. Foodways entails post-eating conditions/consequences of our
socioeconomic and ecological consequences:
6. Our food patterns also reflect our beliefs and ideologies.
• “What to Eat” is a fundamental
question that human beings and
human societies have always faced.
Thesis of the
• It is about the choices that are
available to us and that we make on a
• The concerns that prompt the
question have changed over time; and
these changes correlate closely with
the transformation of society.
1. For early human being or their ancestors, it conveyed an
anxiety about the availability of anything edible.
2. For religiously minded people, it is about their faith.
3. For many, this question reveals their consciousness and
concerns about health.
4. For others, this is a highly political question.
5. Increasingly, it is also an ethics question.
6. The question is about the role of the government in
shaping our foodways.
7. It reminds us of how class relations and gender roles
impact what we eat.
1. For early human beings or their
ancestors, food was primarily the
sustenance to sustain the body. Their
choice was very limited.
limited; the first
food choices and
mastery of fire.
(To learn more about this, read Richard
Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us
making food easier to digest;
shrinking the stomach size and teeth; so
that we can redirect the energy to the
development of our brain.
making food safer to consume and easier to
enhancing the stability of food supply;
expanding the range of foods;
shortening the time needed to obtain a
freeing up time for other activities.
Others had recognized the importance of the use of fire
• Claude Lévi-Strauss, famous French anthropologist,
noted in 1970 that the use of fire for cooking marked
the clear and profound distinction between nature and
• Carleton Coon (American physical anthropologist and
archaeologist): cooking was “the decisive factor in
leading man from a primarily animal existence into one
that was more fully human” (1954).
• Friedrich Engels (in Anti-Duhring, 1878): The greatest
liberation from natural necessity of humankind on
record is "the generation of fire from friction,“ rather
than the steam engine.
• Greek Mythology: “If they only had fire,” said
Prometheus to himself, “they could at least warm
themselves and cook their food; and after a while they
could learn to make tools and build themselves houses.
Without fire, they are w...
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