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Foodscapes of Chinese America

The Transformation of Chinese Culinary Culture in the U.S. since 1965

Xiaohui Liu

This book explores the transformation of Chinese food in the U.S. after 1965 from a cultural perspective. The author asks how Chinese food reflects the racial relation between the Chinese community and the mainstream white society and investigates the symbolic meanings as well as the cultural functions of Chinese food in America. She argues that food is not only a symbol that mirrors social relations, but also an agent which causes social and cultural change. A particular geographic focus of this book is California.
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Anthropologist Sydney Mintz said, “Food is something we think about, talk about, conceptualize”548 and “its consumption is always conditioned by meaning. These meanings are symbolic and communicated symbolically.”549 Food is much more than sustenance. It is loaded with symbolic meanings as anthropologists have discussed for centuries. Anthropologists are the first group of people in academia who were concerned about the roles of food in the economic, social and cultural life of people in a given society. This is because food “cemented loyalties, reminded people who they were in relation to others, fortified them for their tasks, and linked them to their gods.”550 Among these roles, food is most often used as a marker of membership and employed to draw social boundaries between different groups of people. “To eat is to distinguish and discriminate, include and exclude. Food choices establish boundaries and borders”, said food historian Warren Belasco.551 Since the turn of the twentieth century, as people and goods moved at an unprecedented rate, the global food system has become more complex and the human relations more entangled. As a result, food bears more meanings and functions. Scholars found that food can be used as a tool to inquire into other issues – “class, gender, ethnicity, consumer culture, material culture, and environmental studies.”552

Mary Douglass said if food is seen as a code, it encodes the messages that express social relations.553 In a multiethnic society, ethnic food serves as one of the most important...

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