AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 308

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Session 308: Politics and Identity of food in Asia

“Japanese Food” for the Global Market: Gender, Biopolitics, and Nationalism
Aya Kimura, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

In 2009, the Japanese government started “Washoku: Try Japan’s Good Food” campaign across the world. Prominently placed as a part of the government’s Brand Japan scheme which is seen as the cornerstone of Japan’s new economic strategy, Japanese food is now promoted as the new “cool Japan” to be consumed by the global consumers along with the pop culture icons from Hello Kitty to J-pop. This paper examines the government’s complex motivations in marketing “good” Japanese food. While analyses of Japan’s “soft power” strategy have focused on its diplomatic efficacy and responses from other countries, I argue that the government promotion of Japanese food also needs to be situated in domestic politics. Indeed, outward promotion to sell Japanese food is coupled with inward recommendations of Japanese food on various levels. It is promoted as nutritionally desirable and its replacement with the “Western diet” is condemned as a cause for the growing epidemic of “metabolic syndrome.” Japanese food is also linked with the nostalgic construction of “ikka danran” (family eating together) and proper motherhood. Constructed as scientifically and socially desirable, the recent celebration of “Japanese food” begs the question as to its implication for gender and biopolitics. This paper situates the construction and promotion of Japanese food in the dialectic processes of gendered nationalism and economic globalization.

Taipei Beef Noodle Festival – Analyzing the Festivalization of the Colonial Food in Taiwan
Hui-tun Chuang, New School, USA

In 2005, Taipei Beef Noodle Festival was initiated to promote an image of Taipei city as the beef noodle headquarter of the world. The tremendous economic profits are received that makes the activities annually continuing in the successive four years. “This gourmet is now a common memory and experience shared by many seasoned local Taipei citizens and even Taiwanese people.” This propaganda reflects that the innovation of city’s cultures depends on the reconstruction of collective memories. Yet, this festival is invented and could not be made possible without the new urban cultural policy—the festivalization. To fashion the culinary hegemony of beef noodle, the authority reinterprets the gastronomic history. It is the culturally appropriation and gastronomic indigenization of the beef-eating. Most people start forgetting that the beef-eating in Taiwan involves the colonial experience with Japanese and Western colonization rather than just the food consumption. As the beef-eating is associated with the symbolic meaning and the taste represents specific social identity, it reflects the layers of social stratification between colonizer and colonized, between powerful and powerless. Through scrutinizing how the festivalization of foods becomes a modern and prevailing phenomenon, I attempt to illuminate not only the relation between food and social identity but also the transformation of identity in the colonial and post-colonial contexts. The impact of Taipei Beef Noodles Festival is examined by the historical comparison analysis in the trajectory of how the beef-eating itself is transformed from a social taboo to a significant culture.

Becoming Nuoc Mam:Insight into Vietnamese History Through Fish Sauce
Mei Feng Mok, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Fish sauce is a condiment that is historically common to various Southeast Asian cultures. The fish sauce in Vietnam is one instance. Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam) is increasingly regarded as an “international marker” of Vietnamese cuisine by visitors to Vietnam and some writers have taken this a step further, characterising the quintessential Vietnamese meal as consisting of “rice and nuoc mam”. The above claim of the uniqueness of the nuoc mam, and its importance to Vietnamese culture and identity resonates with many Vietnamese. The above association of nuoc mam with Vietnamese culture and identity would suggest that the idea that nuoc mam has a special status in Vietnam has a long history. However, through an examination of fish sauce in Vietnam from its origins to present, I argue that the intensive scrutiny of nuoc mam’s special characteristics is a post-1975 phenomenon that is the consequence of historical and contingent factors involving both international and domestic agents. One of the challenges of the historical discipline is the tendency to focus on certain histories, like political history, and cultural history, without considering their interaction. By tracing the process of how nuoc mam became a Vietnamese symbol, it demonstrates how social, cultural, political, and intellectual history of Vietnam interacted with each other. In doing so, my paper on fish sauce in Vietnam is also a useful lens to two historical epochs – Vietnam pre-1975 and Vietnam post-1975.

Ji-Biiru and Japanese Cultural Identity
Mark F. Meli, Independent Scholar, Japan

Discussions of food and drink form a large part of the discourse of cultural identity in many regions. In Japan, the unique and healthy character of Japanese food is abundantly discussed in popular media and in academic nihonjin-ron discourse. Discourse upon drink within Europe is also quite old, with debates comparing wine and beer dating back to ancient Greece. Within the beer-drinking cultures of the North, styles of beer are even today closely linked to national and cultural identity. English like bitter served at cellar temperature from the cask. Czechs and Germans prefer lagers, but only those brewed in their own region. We could go on and on. In Japan today, as in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere, locally-brewed craft beer is becoming more and more popular, and like in the U.S., people are thinking about what makes Japanese beer Japanese. In this paper, I will discuss how craft beer is being linked to cultural identity in Japan, focusing primarily on two issues. First is the notion of “the Japanese palate,” and the idea that beer can be brewed specifically to satisfy that palate. Second is the search to invent an original Japanese style of beer, one that uses Japanese ingredients and that people in other beer-drinking lands do not yet know. These two trends lead to interesting developments in brewing, and also in the discourse of nihonjin-ron. If possible, I will bring several of the most “Japanese” of craft beers for the audience to sample.