ASCJ 2009
SUNDAY JUNE 21, 10:00 A.M.-12:00 A.M.
Session 25

Dangerous Eating in Asia

Organizer/Chair: Shaun Kingsley Malarney, International Christian University

The following panel explores the cultural dimensions of fear, anxiety, ambivalence, and insecurity connected with food procurement, preparation, and consumption in Asia. Anthropologists and sociologists have long recognized the role that food plays in ritual life and the power it has to reflect social processes and cultural change. Yet the topic of food and insecurity tends to be dominated by more quantitative, policy-oriented studies. The papers in this panel take an ethnographic approach and examine the ambivalences and concerns that permeate food-related practices in contemporary, transnational, and colonial contexts. Drawing on case studies from illicit meat markets in colonial Vietnam, survival foods in Japan, the media’s handling of knowledge about genetically modified foods, and convenience store diets, the papers address how broader anxieties in society are articulated through food. In focusing on issues related to “dangerous eating” in Asia, the panel reveals how uncertainty and insecurity are created by the presence of food, as much as in its absence.

1) Shaun Kingsley Malarney, International Christian University
Dangerous Meat in Colonial Hanoi

In 1937 the mayor of Hanoi, Henri Virgitti, and the Director of the City’s Municipal Hygiene Service, Bernard Joyeux, published a short book entitled The Question of Meats in the City of Hanoi (La Question des Viandes dans la Ville de Hanoi). A central assertion in the volume was that within the city there existed what they described as “dangerous meats” (les viandes dangereuses), of which they described twelve different varieties. Virgitti and Joyeux’s descriptions focused on the physical dangers of meat, yet their volume echoed a deeper theme in French colonial discourse about Vietnamese attitudes toward meat and their failure to adhere to French standards regarding the proper care and treatment of raw meat as well as edibility and inedibility. As will be argued in this paper, the French colonial discourse on dangerous meats in colonial Hanoi constituted an important mechanism for the reassertion of the alleged inferiority of the Vietnamese, which in turn constituted a subtle justification for the imposition of French colonial control over the Vietnamese population.

2) Ryan Sayre, Yale University/Waseda University

The Taste of Disaster: The Politics of Survival Foods in Japan

What will Tokyo's residents eat when the big one hits? This paper looks at the two most likely candidates in an effort to consider how survival foods give flavor and texture to the disasters they help to mitigate. Using ethnographic and textual examples I unwrap the respective social imaginaries of kanpan, the most representative Japanese survival food since World War II, and Calorie Mate, a ubiquitous energy bar that has recently begun to make inroads into disaster preparedness discourse. Focusing on legal issues generated by survival foods, attitudes towards taste, and the cultural presumptions underling particular disaster foods, I make an argument that kanpan and Calorie Mate exemplify conflicting understandings of the relationship between everydayness and disaster, between normalcy and exceptionality. By focusing on foods intended for extra-ordinary situations, this paper works toward a better understanding the status of the everydayness in contemporary Japan.

3) Tomiko Yamaguchi, International Christian University
Food Safety Controversies in Japan

Issues related to food safety are of concern to people across the world. We see much evidence of this in Asia. For example, the Korean beef market, once the third largest importer of American beef, shut its doors to the United States because Koreans are worried about eating meat tainted with mad cow disease. Similarly, consumer groups in Japan adamantly opposed the commercialization of genetically modified food and thus genetically engineered crops are not grown on Japanese soil. This paper explores how the mass media in Japan in particular communicates essential information about food safety controversies and scientific knowledge related to the safety of food. Using the issue of genetically modified food as a case study, I shed light on the ways in which the Japanese mass media interprets, characterizes, and articulates a complex body of scientific knowledge concerning food safety and the impact this approach has on public discourse and the perceptions food safety nationally and beyond.

4) Gavin Hamilton Whitelaw, International Christian University
Shelf Lives: The Uneasy Social Digestion of Konbini Cuisine in Japan

The convenience store’s cornucopia of edible offerings is a focal point for chain competition and the source of flavorful media attention in Japan. Yet the prepackaged abundance proffered by these stores is also a potent symbol of what is rotten with society today. Daily sales statistics on the tonnage of onigiri sold and the oceans of oden ladled point to the less savory side of Japan’s hyper-consumer economy―mega-corporate domination of food and retail, busier lifestyles, increasingly fragmented household structures, and a national diet based by processed foods. In the following paper I draw on extended fieldwork as a convenience store clerk and a solid month of intensive convenience dining to explore the ambivalences people feel toward konbini cuisine and Japan’s most ubiquitous food vendor. In the paper, I examine how people on both sides of the counter come to accept the role of these stores not simply by metabolizing the food they eat, but through a range of familiar social practices that culturally embed these stores in personal lifeways while challenging some of the very processes that have contributed to the konbini industry’s expansion.

Discussant: Tom Gill, Meiji Gakuin University