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"Reimagining Food in Asia and the Pacific" Lecture Series to Be Held at Pomona College

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The “Reimagining Food in Asia and the Pacific” lecture series, presented by the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, will explore the constructed and artificial nature of so-called national cuisines, and how they are impacted by geography, globalization and localism.

As the inspiration of the “Reimagining Food” series, Pomona College Professor of History Samuel Yamashita points to a classic scholarly article by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai: “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in 20th-Century India.”  In the article, the author described the creation of an Indian “national cuisine,” and by doing so affirmed the popular view that the world consists of many national cuisines, such as “Chinese food,” “Italian food” and “French food.”

“However, colonialism, war and globalization have undermined, or at least complicated, the conception of a ‘national food’ in several different ways,” Yamashita says, noting numerous examples.

  • Decades ago, curries found their way into the British diet, thanks to a century of colonial rule in South Asia.
  • The U.S. fought three wars in Asia in the 20th-century—World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam Conflict—introducing American servicemen to Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian fare.
  • The emergence of Asian economic dominance meant that foods once regarded as exotic or strangely foreign have become familiar; for instance, sushi.
  • The health crazes of the 1960s and 1970s helped Americans discover the benefits of bean paste, tofu, soybeans and seaweed.
  • Dishes that, at first glance, seem authentically Asian—such as pad thai or sushi rolls—are, in fact, either foreign inventions or dishes created for foreign customers.
  • One can find Asian ingredients like soy sauce and dishes like sashimi at the toniest French restaurants in Europe and the U.S.
  • Lately, ramen, together with anime, has become a fixture in popular youth culture of this country.

“The lectures in this series will address some of these developments in ways that will offer new and interesting perspectives on 'Asian food' in the contemporary world,” Yamashita says.

The lecture schedule is as follows:

Thursday, February 6: “Rescuing Taste from the Nation: Indian Ocean Cuisine”—Krishnendu Ray (chair, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health, New York University)

Thursday, March 6: “The Invention of ‘Chinese Food’ Within and Outside China”—Charles Hayford (independent scholar)

Thursday, March 27: “Korean Cuisine and the Forces of History”—Kataryzna Cwiertka (Leiden University; author of Cuisine, Colonialism and Cold War: Food in 20th-century Korea)

Thursday, April 10: “Cuisine and Empire in Asia and the Pacific”—Rachel Laudan (author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History; visiting professor, University of Texas at Austin).

All talks will be held at 4:15 p.m. in Hahn 101 or Hahn 108 (Pomona College, 420 N. Harvard Ave., Claremont), and will followed by a discussion and a reception.

The “Reimagining Food” series is co-sponsored by the Pomona College Departments of History and Asian Studies. For more information, contact pbi@pomona.edu.

The Pacific Basin Institute is dedicated to expanding and enhancing comity and shared knowledge among the nations and cultures that face the Pacific. A valued study, media production and research center, PBI also offers books, film series and lecture programs to a general as well as academic audience. Since the turn of the past century Pomona College has been a leader in Asian Studies among American universities.

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