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Food and Globalization!

2012 June 4
by kikomr

Have you ever stopped to think about the evolution of fried rice in America? Well, I think I might have thought of something similar last night when I was using two wooden sticks to eat the last bits of rice I had on my plate.  Call me crazy, but I can actually distinguish between Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and other Asian foods because I am such an Asian food lover.  Although you might not be able to distinguish the differences, or may not even enjoy the taste of oriental food, perhaps learning about the critically acclaimed food will do you some good.

The evolution of Chinese food along the years in America has been perplexing to say the least.  Cheng’s (2011) article discusses the history of the globalization Chinese food in America from a cross-cultural/intercultural perspective.  The reason for this particular perspective is because Cheng is actually an immigrant to the United States.  He grew up in Taiwan in the early 1970s and moved here in 1996 to study.  He describes himself as an “outsider within” the United States because he has been observing our culture while at the same time studying and learning how to communicate with the English language.  Simultaneously, he describes himself as an “insider without” because he  looks “Chinese,” however he is actually from Taiwan.

 

Globalization plays a huge role in the assimilation of Chinese food within the American culture.  Cheng’s literature review pans over some of the current theories of globalization.  To many globalization theorists, “globalization is often viewed as an ominous homogenization of the world–where sameness is ubiquitously imposed, and the difference is steadily suppressed or eliminated.” (2011 198). If you are wondering what globalization means, or simply haven’t read Cheng’s article, Inglis & Gimlin (2010 9) provide a good definition of it.  In terms of food communication, globalization is, “the multiple modes of interaction of the economic, political, social and cultural dimensions of globalization as the affect food-related matters, and as the latter in turn come to affect the former, in a series of ongoing dialectical relations characterized by the constant generation forms of complexity.”

In 1848, the discovery of gold in California prompted the first wave of Chinese immigration to the United States.  This event was followed by Chinese restaurants being built to feed the growing numbers of people on the West Coast. Twenty years later there would be similar “Chinatowns” to spring up along the East Coast as well.  Eventually there hostility grew among Americans and the Chinese were looked down upon; food establishment service was not up to par and Chinatowns were generally unclean.  The United States even passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 to decrease the numbers of Chinese immigrants.  After those years, Chinese restaurants and Chinatowns were eventually cleaned up their act and faced Americans were faced with a new wave of immigration in the 1960s.

“In addition to the more than 41,000 independent Chinese restaurants that currently exist in the United States, there has also been an increase in number of Chinese chain restaurants, such as P.F. Chang’s and Panda Express” (Cheng 203).  Interestingly, the total number of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. has now surpassed the combined number of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King franchises.  Obviously Chinese food has made its way to the sphere of the American eating experience.

As Cheng delves into What people eat at American restaurants, he finds that much of the Chinese restaurants in America are not serving authentic “Chinese” food. Due to the anti-Chinese sentiments that the oriental immigrants had to go through over the years, Cheng explains that the Chinese food industry had to assimilate in order to survive.  The four dimensions of the acculturation model are key here. They are integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization.  Integration refers to the majority of Chinese immigrants creating a “familiar-yet-exotic” cuisine for the American eaters.  The other three aspects are important, but Cheng does not touch on them as fully as he does with integration.

 

Spanning from how Chinese meat is prepared in the U.S. to the composition of their ingredients to their removal of certain body parts in dishes, Chinese integration in the U.S. culture is very prominent.  In China, it is common to see the whole parts of the food you are eating, such as the whole fish, or the whole duck.  In America however, this is much less popular as we can see from Chinese restaurants here.  When was the last time you went to a Peking Duck and got to chop its head off like the end of A Christmas Story?

While we may have seen an increase in Chinese restaurants in the U.S., our own restaurants have done the same across the globe.  According to Inglis and Gimlin, “the important thing about McDonalds is how it has been coded – especially by radical critics and activists – as the great symbol of American-lef globalization of culture, going together with other products of American ‘cultural imperialism’, such as Hollywood films and television, and Nike sportswear” (2010 24).  Ever since the start of the drive-in assembly line-type chain in the 1930s, McDonald’s has become a global icon.  The arch symbol can be recognized in hundreds of countries and has created an interconnected McWorld.

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Answer these questions by responding below!

1.) Does the globalization of McDonald’s adversely or positively affect the culture of different nations?

2.) Some say that the globalization of McDonalds is a bad thing because everyone will be exposed to the same food; others say that they are a good thing because you are always able to eat something you recognize and like.  What are your opinions? Have you gone to McDonalds overseas? If so, was it good? I went to the one in Berlin a few years ago when McDonald’s was piloting the McCafé’s in European establishments and I must say, I couldn’t taste the difference!

3.) Ever since the ‘melting pot’ expression has been used to describe America, do you think that the mix of Americanized cultures and foods, such as American Chinese food, is healthy for the promotion of diversity in this country? If so, why? If not, why not?

4.) Regarding Inglis and Gimlin’s discussion of the ever-growing technology behind today’s methods of food production and distribution, do you think that these technologies create more problems than they attempt to solve? (Think about Monsanto, What you saw in Food Inc., previous readings etc.)

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Emma Hubbard permalink
    June 5, 2012

    The globalization of McDonald’s positively and negatively affects the culture of different nations. I think the globalization of McDonald’s can be positive because it allows you to always eat something that you recognize, no matter where you are in the world. It can also be negative because everyone will be exposed to the same food. I have neve gone to a McDonald’s overseas. In fact, I have never traveled overseas. I think it’s unique that when you went to a McDonald’s in Berlin, you couldn’t taste the difference. If i were to travel overseas, I think there would be an upside and a downside to seeing a McDonald’s or eating at one. The upside would be that it is a restaurant that I would recognize, and know what the food tastes like. The downside would be that it is a chain restaurant that is not unique in its food. If I travel overseas, I am going to spend my time dining at new places. The cuisine is part of the experience in a different culture. I would not choose to dine at a McDonald’s, because this is a restaurant that I can eat at basically anywhere.

    Ever since the ‘melting pot’ expression has been used to describe America, I think that the mix of Americanized cultures and foods, such as American Chinese food, is healthy for the promotion of diversity in this country. Although Cheng finds that much of the Chinese restaurants in America are not serving authentic “Chinese” food, I still feel that these restaurants are promoting diversity in our country. I have never had the chance to eat authentic Chinese food, so the food that is provided in Chinese restaurants in America is the best that I can get.

    In Cheng’s article, he references an old Chinese saying, “for a king, his people are most sacred; for the people, food is most sacred.” Food is very important to the Chinese culture. Although Chinese restaurants in America may not provide the whole parts of the food we are eating, I believe these restaurants provide foods, tastes, and experience, such as using chopsticks, that are similar to those in the Chinese culture. It is important that we are able to experience and appreciate diverse foods, such as Chinese food. According to Cheng, “it is apparent that Chinese restaurant culture in the United States has become an integral part of American culture.”

    Regarding Inglis and Gimlin’s discussion of the ever-growing technology behind today’s methods of food production and distribution, I think that these technologies create more problems than they attempt to solve. The extra land given to farmers to grow crops, and the use of machinery integrated into farming has led to overproduction, as seen in Food Inc. Food markets are able to provide crops that usually can only be grown or provided seasonally. This is taking away the fresh and local aspect to the foods. According to Inglis and Gimlin, “postindustrial work patterns and sedentary lifestyles have contributed to high levels of obesity in their populations.” Fast food chains are growing within countries and are growing globally. There are “local” struggles that we face, such as the struggle for organic food production.

    • Josie Warren permalink
      June 25, 2012

      In response to Emma’s post, I couldn’t agree with you more that the globalization of McDonald’s “allows you to always eat something that you recognize, no matter where you are in the world.” When I was in 5th grade, my family and I went on a vacation to Europe and I’ll never forget McDonald’s in a way saving me while I was in Paris. For some reason the food there did not agree with me and everything I ate would come right back up. My dad was trying everything in his power to find something for me to eat while we were there and it just wasn’t settling right. He then brought home McDonald’s chicken nuggets and I could not have been happier. This was a food I was familiar with and knew wouldn’t make me sick. The globalization of McDonald’s saved me while I was in Paris for those three days.

  2. Seana McCroddan permalink
    June 5, 2012

    First off, I really liked the definition given for “globalization.” I don’t normally associate homogenization with globalization when I think about it in relationship to every day uses of the word, found in news articles and company policies, etc. But the pairing nicely explains the differences in culture slowly being filtered out as they mesh with others. And a good example of this is the American-Chinese food we eat all of the time. I have never eaten real Chinese food myself, but I have heard some of my Chinese friends talk about how different it is. This meshing of the two food ideas is slowly starting to change the American perception of Chinese food to where, if we ever get the chance to visit China, I don’t think we would find the foods or tastes we were expecting.
    McDonald’s, in a way, is kind of the opposite. They want their food to taste the same all over the globe, which is also an example of the definition of globalization, just in a different way. When you think about it, one of the most well known symbols worldwide are those double golden arches. You see them everywhere no matter where you are. I was over in Europe on two separate occasions, and there were two times when we were all absolutely starving in both London and Germany, so we stopped at McDonalds. While its true, they do offer different products depending on where you are (like I know somewhere in South America they have avocado on their sandwiches), their generic menu items all taste exactly alike. They had a few different sauces and different kinds of sandwiches, but for the most part, everything was cookie-cutted to fit the brand and taste everyone expects.
    I never really thought it out until now, but it makes sense, all of the correlations between the Chinese history in America. I never associated the gold rush to Chinatown to P.F. Chang’s before, but they do all have a common history and I do feel like the American culture plays a heavy role in all three.
    In regards to the last question, having just written the post about Food Inc. and all the problems associated with new food technology, I do think it causes a lot more harm than good. I think food was definitely healthier years ago when they didn’t have the technology to put preservatives in all of our shelved, packaged foods, or the means of hybridizing seeds to make them the biggest, most disease-resistant they can. With the increase of medicinal technology to offset the health risks associated with our new era of food, it is hard to tell whether the food we are eating is a lot more detrimental to our health than in the past or not, but I would assume it has to be.

    • brubakra permalink
      June 5, 2012

      You’re right, Seana, in saying that you almost can’t go anywhere without seeing the golden arches. I also have stopped in McDonalds once when I was in England and was ridiculously hungry. I didn’t taste the difference in anything I ate there, but I did remember how busy it was, and it was 11 in the morning. McDonalds has changed their quality of food since the Supersize Me movie, but I still wish some other American restaurant was spreading the American name in other parts of the world. Other cultures are ‘fast’ like ours, and they want to be able to grab food and go, but does it have to be with Cheeseburgers and Chicken Nuggets? Especially after watching Food, Inc, I am less inclined to eat at a McDonalds in America not to mention anywhere else.

      • kikomr permalink
        June 6, 2012

        I also agree that the golden arches are their trademark symbol. That is interesting that you both had the same experience that I did in Germany and England. It really is cookie-cut specifically to provide for the amount of global demand they have. I mean, Food Inc really showed a lot about the food industry. After watching it, I also am less inclined to go to McDonalds on a friday night or what have you.
        And also, when I first wrote the post and read the readings, learning aout the connection to American history that the Chinese do, I respect them more because of the hardships that they had to undergo. Not many people talk about it today. Which is interesting.. It might be a sign that we are moving on from that period in a swift manner.

      • Katie Love permalink
        June 8, 2012

        I one hundred percent agree with your point brubakra about how it is such a shame that other, more reputable and equally as American restaurants should extend their branch abroad as they portray our culture in the same, if not brighter light than McDonalds does. It saddens me that the golden arches are in fact so prevalent that I wonder if there is any hope for us to be known for any other restaurant…
        Also in concern to health and especially that of worldwide health – what good are we doing spreading our name with unhealthy fast food? We are slowly killing our own nation with it and now others? This is doing nothing for the American name, especially in the area of food. It upsets me that we could be the nation known for spreading unhealthy food around the world and selling it as convenient and good for others.

  3. brubakra permalink
    June 5, 2012

    I’m so glad we got to spend a day reading about the globalization(s) of food! This is something that has been happening all over the world for hundreds of years, and it is really important to understand, or at least a view on it, to learn more about our culture and others. While I don’t really like the influence America has had on other countries, such as the McDonald’s franchise, it is a testament how food can cross country lines. I hate to say it, but I sometimes feel comfort when I get my Starbucks coffee in Australia, partly because it reminds me of home. I think with the large amount of cultures we have in America today, it is important to allow everyone to feel ‘at home’ for all citizens, no matter their culture. There is a power in food that can allow us to feel safer, more accepted, more comfortable in a foreign country. I’m not saying that eating a bowl of spaghetti in Scotland is going to make me happy, but it is sometimes nice just to know it is on the menu. I love being able to ask my family if they are in the mood for Mexican, Indian, or Thai food that night. I think it’s a great way to learn about other cultures and appreciate their culinary skills and traditions. It is unfortunate, however, that many places have had to Americanize in a way to make their food more desirable to Americans. For instance I love sushi, Chinese food, and seafood, and I went to a new restaurant last week that had all three in a buffet style! As I piled up rainbow sushi, coconut shrimp, and egg drop soup on my plate and sat down, I noticed the girl’s plate next to me. All it had on it was macaroni and cheese, a slice of pizza, mashed potatoes, and a roll. No seafood or Chinese food in sight. Why even go to this restaurant and pay for a huge buffet when you only get American food? That is the kind of American resistance to trying other foods I can’t stand. Another reason why we should have other culture restaurants in America is simply to broaden American’s horizons to other kinds of food out there besides cheeseburgers and French fries. In Inglis and Gimlin’s article, they start out by saying that we put a lot of cultural value on food-which is so true-so why don’t we put a lot of value on cultural food? I’ve always been terrible handling chopsticks, but I always try because I feel like I am insulting the dish and the culture when I ask for a fork. I was saddened to read about all the ways America has influenced Chinese food and how the food and style of eating is majorly different than actually eating a meal in China. But I like to think America is a home for anyone and everyone, and if that means having a melting pot of different styles, tastes, and spices in food, I’m all for it. It would be nice to not to just have the vegetable as a garnish in Chinese food though;)

  4. Emma Hubbard permalink
    June 5, 2012

    In response to Seana McCroddan’s comment:

    I also really liked the definition of globalization. I agree that it’s association with homogenization explains the differences in culture slowly being filtered out as they mesh with others. American-Chinese food is very common in our culture, and I agree that the combination of the food ideas is shaping our perception of Chinese food. When we went to China and tried authentic Chinese food, I also do not think it would be what we were expecting.

    McDonald’s does want their tastes to be exposed all over the world. No matter where you go, you can find a McDonald’s. I liked how you brought up the experiences you’ve had at McDonald’s in London and Germany. I thought it was interesting that the small changes were a few different sauces and a few different sandwiches, but you said that for the most part, everything was cookie-cutted to fit the brand and taste everyone expects.

    I also never gave much thought to the Chinese history in America. I agree that the gold rush, Chinatown, and P.F. Chang’s all have a common history in which America plays a large role.

    I agree that food was healthier several years ago, before the technology existed to put preservatives in our packaged foods or hybridizing seeds. You made a great point that our medicinal technology can offset the health risks that come with the new means of food production. This can make it difficult to tell whether or not the food we are currently eating is affecting our health more than food has in the past. However, I feel that the food we eat today is more detrimental to our health than food has been in the past.

  5. tamulida permalink
    June 5, 2012

    I found this post to be very interesting. I did not realize that the number of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. had surpassed the number of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger KIng franchises combined. We are all familar with McDonald’s golden arches. This symbol is well know around the globe. I enjoy traveling and saw there was a McDonald’s in Italy and in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As an Italian myself, I would not dare eat McDonald’s in Italy when there are so many other fascinating eateries. That is a disgrace to most Italians. Ever since the “melting pot” expression has been used to describe America, the mix of Americanized cultures and foods are not healthy promotion of diversity because most restaurants do not serve authentic food in some countries. Technolgy today has caused more harm than it does good hwen referring to food production. Today there is way too many preservatives in our food. As we know from previous research studies, these processed foods with a lot of preservatives are not good for our health. I ave never been a big fan of fast food. Growing up my parents would let my sister and I eat McDonald’s on rare occassions, so I never crave a McDouble Cheesburger. After watching Food Inc. I am hesistant to eat at any fast food restaurant.

    • scalesaj permalink
      June 6, 2012

      In response to Tamulida, I also had no idea that there were more Chinese establishments than fast food chains, but it definitely seems plausible after living in Harrisonburg for so long. I think that there is an element of exoticism to these B-class restaurants from other cultures. Even taco trucks seem to have a little bit of flare that one would be hard pressed to find at McDonalds. Perhaps this works both ways, because I can add Guatemala and Costa Rica to the list of countries that have American fast food restaurants. Perhaps the same feeling of excitement or exoticism that we associate with our Americanized Chinese food is felt by Guatemalans when they eat a Big Mac. It is also a little bit sad that a highly processed burger is the face of American food. I think of prosciutto from Spain, wine and cheese from France, and rich stews and pickled veggies from Russia, while when I think of American cuisine, I picture hamburgers made with meat filler.

    • gilliakl permalink
      June 7, 2012

      I also did not realize that the number of Chinese restaurants in the United States had surpassed the number of other fast food chains in the U.S. Also, I agree with you on your point that I would never go to a McDonald’s in another country. As I said in my previous post, I love traveling and trying new things. I would never eat burgers and fries in Jamaica or anywhere for that matter if I can get that when I get back home. I feel that you are limiting yourself and your experience by doing do. I find it very interesting that other cultural restaurants try to cater to Americans taste. I really want to know if American restaurants in other countries try to cater to the taste of the people in that given country.

  6. Seana McCroddan permalink
    June 6, 2012

    In response to brubakra and tamulida-

    I was also really glad to see food and globalization as a topic on the syllabus. I was also pretty blown away by the statistic that the amount of Chinese food restaurants has surpassed the number of some of our biggest fast-food franchises combined. And I do agree with you, I love that we are able to have the opportunity to have so many different foods from all over the world in driving distances from our houses, but I don’t like how much of it has become Americanized. It does give you a sense of comfort in a different place knowing that you could get food you eat at home if there is the need, but in all of my travels I have tried my best to try as much local food as I could. While I was abroad in London, one of our favorite places to eat that we still talk about was this farmer’s market that came to a square not far from our flat every Wednesday afternoon and they had the best fresh, local food. You could smell it from streets away. New food really makes you appreciate the differences in culture.

  7. scalesaj permalink
    June 6, 2012

    I thought that Chen made a great point about how Asian cuisine had to change to accommodate the American palate. It particularly reminded me of how food signifies ideas, feelings, and actions, and the reason we study food. In particular, this piece made me think of traditional Asian medicine, and the holistic connection between food and health. I have limited knowledge of traditional Asian medicine, but I do know that they put a much deeper significance on foods being medicines instead of pills, which entails eating much more than just the soft flesh of fish, chickens, pigs, and cows. America, on the other hand, as we have learned, views food as energy and sometimes even a hassle. Perhaps this is a reason for Chinese restaurants’ success. They were able to reach their new market through integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization, so that they effectively changed what Chinese food signified to Americans.
    It was interesting to hear about the meaning that came along with Chinese food and China towns in the 19th century as well. I, of course, only know the Americanized Chinese food of today, but it was interesting to hear that these places symbolized a dining experience with poor service and unclean surroundings. Now we have, as Chen points out, a slightly exotic dining experience with foods similar to what we eat, yet different enough to make their consumption an unusual or special occasion.

  8. gilliakl permalink
    June 7, 2012

    To begin with, I felt that this article was very intriguing and I found it to be very interesting. I also think that the definition given for globalization is clear and to the point. It also made me think about I globalization in a different light. I think that the globalization of McDonald’s both adversely and positively affect the culture of different nation. I think that the expansion and globalization of McDonald’s can positively affect different cultures because it allows the brand of that company to expand. I have not been to McDonald’s in other countries but I have heard that in the different countries they have items on the menu that are national staples from that country. I think that that is important because McDonald’s expands its brand but it also allows that country to put it on spend on the food. I also think that in can negatively affect the culture of a given society because in America we have a major problem with obesity. I believe that as McDonald’s are introduced in other countries they also see a rise in obesity that they usually do not have problems with. In addition to the latter, I think that the expression the melting pot has been over used in our society and should not be used to promote the diversity of food in the United States if the food is Americanized. I love to travel and try new things. Whenever I go somewhere, I like to eat where the locals eat because they know where to go to get authentic dishes from that area. I found it very interesting that most Chinese restaurants do not sell authentic Chinese food because they want to cater to the American taste buds. I feel that if we as a nation want to use the term melting pot when describing food that we should be open and encourage authentic cooking from ant given culture.

  9. gilliakl permalink
    June 7, 2012

    In response to tamulida:

    I also did not realize that the number of Chinese restaurants in the United States had surpassed the number of other fast food chains in the U.S. Also, I agree with you on your point that I would never go to a McDonald’s in another country. As I said in my previous post, I love traveling and trying new things. I would never eat burgers and fries in Jamaica or anywhere for that matter if I can get that when I get back home. I feel that you are limiting yourself and your experience by doing do. I find it very interesting that other cultural restaurants try to cater to Americans taste. I really want to know if American restaurants in other countries try to cater to the taste of the people in that given country.

  10. Katie Love permalink
    June 8, 2012

    Kikomr, you did an absolutely amazing job on this article. I feel like you could teach a course on this!! The thorough explanation of everything including globalization, a definition that is unclear to so many including me was perfect and assisted in your research.
    I find the idea of globalization so interesting and symbolic of our modern world. It makes me smile that people from all areas can interact with one another and exchange ideas, business and even food kindly and in an effort to make each other better. Now McDonalds does nothing to make anyone better not even those here but that is an entirely different issue. America is such a melting pot that I believe the country wouldn’t be the same without an array of multicultural restaurants – with that being said I do believe it is healthy to have all these various restaurants as a promotion of diversity in our country.
    Globalization, whether negative as with the spread of McDonalds, or positive in an effort to create a sense of home in a foreign country or new palate for those who have never left their home town – is not only a pleasing concept but a necessary and wonderful one that should continue to be exercised within this and other countries around the world. Great, great post kikomr.

  11. Josie Warren permalink
    June 25, 2012

    No, I do not think that the mix of Americanized cultures and foods, such as American Chinese food, is healthy for the promotion of diversity in this country because it’s falsely portraying what the Chinese culture actually eats. Most of the meat in actual Chinese Food comes from a dog or a cat. I bet most of Americans don’t know that because we’re all used to the “fake” Chinese Food sold in our country that has what to us is “normal meat,” like chicken. Americanizing the food that the Chinese eat gives American a false portrayal of what Chinese food actually is. When my dad went to China a couple years ago on a business trip, he said he was out to dinner with a bunch of work associates and saw “Kung Pow” on the menu and was like “Hey this should be good because it’s chicken!” WRONG. During the meal, he kept wondering to himself why it tasted different than the Kung Pow Chicken in America, but didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to be rude. At the end of the meal, one of his work associates said to him, “You realize you just ate a cat right?” My dad felt so fooled. Every time he tells this story he always ends it by saying “America made me think Chinese people ate the same meet as us, but I was wrong!!” America should continue serving “normal meat,” like chicken, but on every menu say what meat the Chinese actually fill each dish with. This way we can keep our love for Americanized Chinese Food, while still being educated about what Chinese Culture is actually like.

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