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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Making to Taste: Culinary Experimentalism in Asian Pacific American Culture

  • Author(s): Chan, Stephanie H.
  • Advisor(s): Wilson, Rob
  • et al.

This project studies works by Asian Pacific American writers and artists that respond critically to the widespread enthusiasm for ethnic food and multiculturalism which arose in the United States during the late-twentieth century. This enthusiasm reflected popular hope that food culture's welcoming of ethnic cuisine was a sign of racism receding into the past. Yet consuming palatable ethnic food representations as a surrogate for racialized bodies encourages the disavowal of past inequities' pressure on the present, and disassociation from unsavory racist histories of exclusion, labor exploitation, and biopolitical regulation established in the decades preceding. Observing how celebratory discourses of liberal multiculturalism and world citizenship invoke appreciation of ethnic cuisine while obscuring structural inequities still embedded in food culture, this project demonstrates ways in which Asian food remains tethered to histories of inequity that have not been overcome.

To illuminate these inequities, this study considers how contemporary artists expose what becomes elided in multicultural consumptions of difference, namely, congealed labor, unequal exchange, and circuits of domination. Central to the study are the works' "culinary experimentalism" - literary tactics of representing food, designed to re-engage race by conjuring obscured histories of Asian exclusion, and by challenging Asian food's exemplarity as a deracialized signifier of multiculturalism and globalization. Using parody, mixed languages, and imaginative re-telling of neglected histories, these works refigure food representations to assert political linkages disappeared during the rise of culinary multiculturalism, and to suggest more race-conscious forms of consumption.

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