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Food, Eating Behavior, and Culture in Chinese Society Essay

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Updated: Jun 22nd, 2021

Lee’s book investigates the origins of Chinese restaurants and food delivery services as well as fortune cookies. Both are very common and are a part of the American lifestyle for many people in the modern day. However, as the author explains the origins of them are more complicated than might appear at first. The majority of the food and the cookies were not an actual part of the Chinese cuisine. The Chinese immigrants in the US came up with many recipes and made them familiar. The diffusion of Chinese culture through food is demonstrated as the number of places where one can try it outnumbers popular fast food chains.

The diffusion and transformation are illustrated by the example of General Tso’s Chicken. The concept of globalization through transculturation is demonstrated through presenting the story of Chinese immigrants that opened these restaurants, bringing part of their culture to the US. The issue of the origin of the fortune cookies demonstrates the global intersections. Thus, the book shows different globalization factors such as diffusion, transformation, transculturation, and global interconnections through which different cultures merge and change one another.

The cultural differences in the Asia and Pacific rim area that are based on distinct floodways are varied in nature. As Lee described in her book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese, when the Chinese immigrants came to America they have encountered opposition from the citizens. One of the examples is the China Exclusion Act (56). In the modern day, such laws are regarded as discrimination. However, at that time, the justification for the actions was described as “Chinamen love rats as Western people love poultry” (Lee 50). In addition, other differences in food habits were described. “Chinamen live on rice, and, sir, they eat it with sticks!”‘ (Lee 54). It is clear from these statements that the food habits of people in China differ significantly from those in America.

In the Asian and Pacific region, the importance of trade, social class, and cultural diffusion can be demonstrated through food. Guansheng stated that the Chinese have a special attitude to food (195). For example, they offer food to people when they are trying to make new friends or contacts. In addition, to represent the social status people in China eat expensive foods. Furthermore, the author states that when moving to other countries these people maintain their eating habits, which is an example of cultural diffusion (Guansheng 196). The trade is an essential aspect of the region. Due to the fact that food is valued, the purchasing process becomes complex as the freshness and quality of the ingredients are critical (Guansheng 196).

The concept of diffusion, in this case, refers to the spread of beliefs and activities between different groups of people. In addition, the transformation of culture is an aspect of the concept. In the book, the author shares how Chinese food was modified into being the most popular eating choice in America (Lee 56). Therefore, American and Chinese cultures have merged and changed each other in the case. According to Lee, “there are some forty thousand Chinese restaurants in the United States –more than the number of McDonalds’, Burger Kings, and KFCs combined” (9). It can be argued that the fact that there are large number of these restaurants across the country contributes to the diffusion of the culture. In addition, it does transform itself to suit the local tastes. For example, General Tso’s Chicken, although existed as a recipe in China, differs significantly from what is served under the name in the US. Lee traveled to Hunan Province – the birthplace of the General to find out the origins of the dish (56). The diffusion, in this case, is demonstrated as the Chinese restaurants have taken a part of their culture – the recipe and the name of General Tso and transformed it into one of the most popular dishes in America.

The diffusion and transformation are demonstrated by Lee through the example of General Tso’s Chicken and chop suey. The concept’s focus is the spread of a specific food within a culture and how it is transformed over time. As was previously mentioned, General Tso’s Chicken does exist in Chinese cuisine. However, it is not as standard, and the recipe differs significantly, it is more spicy and more fitting for the eating habits of the locals. Chop suey is another example of diffusion and transformation. Lee described the dish as “the biggest culinary prank that one culture has ever played on another.” (49). It is due to the fact that the Americans used to believe that chop suey was a national dish in China. In reality, the name translates from Cantonese as “odds and ends” (Lee 49). The dish was created to suit the tastes of Americans. To do so, no extra spices, unusual flavors or ingredients were used. The streets of New York, Washington, and other cities had a line of people waiting to taste the dish (Lee 58). The way the traditional Chinese cuisine was transformed and gained popularity in the US is an example of diffusion and transformation.

Globalization and transculturation refer to the merging of different cultures. In the book, the process is demonstrated by how Chinese immigrants used the notion of Chinese food to create the restaurants in America. In addition, they used the fortune cookies that originated in Japan as part of the menu. Similarly to diffusion, the example of globalization is General Tso’s Chicken. However, an essential aspect of the issue is the process through which the Chinese immigrants went through to make their cuisine widespread in the country. “Our benchmark for America is apple pie. But ask yourself: How often do you eat apple pie? How often do you eat Chinese food?” (Lee 26). The author’s idea is that the actual American food is the one that is more common; therefore, it is the Chinese. The merger of cultures and traditions examined in the book is an excellent illustration of globalization.

Global interconnections are illustrated through the issue of the origin of the famous fortune cookies. Although it is easy to believe that they were invented in China, as they are sold in Chinese restaurants, it is not the case. In fact, the cookies were created in Japan, but then gained popularity in America. In addition, there is an American company that specializes in writing texts for those cookies (Lee 90). However, the topic has been discussed by many, “the critical 1983 debate: Who invented the fortune cookie, and where?” (Lee 90). Therefore, this is an example of global interconnections.

Overall, the Chinese culture brought by the immigrants that opened restaurants have merged with the American, resulting in the now widely beloved Chinese food. Although many believe that the dishes are a part of traditional Chinese cuisine, many of them were created in order to suit the tastes of Americans. The provided examples are a representation of globalization through diffusion, transformation, transculturation, and global interconnections.

Work Cited

Lee, Jenifer. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. Twelve, 2009.

Ma, Guansheng. “Food, Eating Behavior, and Culture in Chinese Society.” Journal of Ethnic Foods, vol. 2, no. 4, 2015, pp. 195-199.

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"Food, Eating Behavior, and Culture in Chinese Society." IvyPanda, 22 June 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/food-eating-behavior-and-culture-in-chinese-society/.

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