by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: China

May 6 2024

Today: a book a out Taiwan’s TV cooking star, Fu Pei-mei

Tinight at 6:00, I’m moderating a conversation with Michelle King about her new book, at:

Archestratus Books, 164 Huron, Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Information here.

Michelle T. King.  Chop Fry Watch Learn: Fu Pei-Mei and the Making of Modern Chinese Food.  WW Norton, 2024.

I had never heard of Fu Pei-mei when this book was sent to me so I was curious to find out who she was and what she had done to deserve such a close look from a food studies scholar.

My ignorance.

Fu (1931-2004) is most easily understood as the Julia Child of Taiwan, whose televised cooking shows charmed and enlightened cooks for decades after World War II.

Fu left mainland China for Taiwan in 1949 as a war refugee, and soon married.  She did not know how to cook, but housewives were expected to and her husband complained.  She was forced to learn, and hired restaurant cooks to teach her.  Once she did learn, she began teaching others and eventually landed on TV just when it was starting.  This, in turn, led to a remarkable career as a TV personality, cook, cookbook author, and world traveler.

But this book is much more than a biography.  It is also a cultural history.  As King puts it,

The circumstances of her birth and the timing of her culinary career gave Fu a front row seat to every major political and social event affecting modern Taiwan’s history for more than seventy years.  Through the pages of Fu’s cookbooks and the story of her life, we come to understand not only the twists and turns of Taiwan’s modern political history, but also the dynamic shift in women’s roles during the postwar economic boom, when women begn to leave kitchens and cooking behind for jobs in offices and factories.

Fu was mainland Chinese and her work got caught up in the politics of mainland vs. Taiwan; she represented Taiwan although her food represented—and highlighted—regional mainland Chinese cooking with Taiwanese cuisine only added later.

Reading this book raised a personal question for me: how did Fu do it?  Her husband did not want his wife working outside the home and it’s hard to imagine his approving her travel and fame.  Somehow, she managed.  King suggests that perhaps by not challenging her husband’s control of the family or its finances, she was able to be free to conduct her career.  Fu must have been one formidible woman.

Along with the biography and history, King includes “kitchen conversations,”excerpts from interviews with Chinese-Americans who have cooked from Fu’s books.

All of this made me want to find one of Fu’s bilingual cookbooks and see if I can produce some of my favorite Chinese dishes.  By all reports, the English translations of her recipes were clear, and they worked.

And so does Chop Fry Watch Learn.  

Can’t wait to find out more about it.  Join me tonight!

Mar 21 2024

The ultimate fusion diet: Chinese-Mediterranean?

I learned about this from reading a headline in FoodNavigator-Asia: Mediterranean diet linked to reduced neurodegeneration in elderly Chinese.

This got my attention: Why would anyone be studying the Mediterranean diet in Chinese people.  The traditional Chinese diet, like that of the Mediterranean diet, is largely plant-based and strongly associated with health and longevity.

But here we have it.  Basically, they want to know if this diet works in Chinese as well as North American and Oceanic populations.  As so it does.

The study: Association of adherence to the Chinese version of the MIND diet with reduced cognitive decline in older Chinese individuals: Analysis of the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey.  The Journal of nutrition, health and aging.  Available online 1 January 2024, 100024

  • Purpose: This study aimed to assess the correlation between the Chinese version of the MIND (cMIND) diet and cognitive impairment in older Chinese individuals.  [MIND = Mediterranean-Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay].
  • Method: The cMIND diet score (cMINDDS) was calculated by assessing dietary patterns based on survey responses.
  • Results: The increased cMINDDS was associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment. Higher consumption of fresh fruits and nuts was associated with a decreased risk of cognitive impairment (OR = 0.77, 95% CI: [0.66, 0.89] and OR = 0.70, 95% CI [0.58, 0.86], respectively).
  • Conclusion: Adherence to the cMIND diet was associated with lower risks of cognitive impairment in older Chinese individuals.

About the diets

The MIND diet recommended 10 brain-healthy food groups (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, soybeans, whole grains, not fried fish, not fried poultry, olive oil, and wine) while avoiding five unhealthy groups (red meat and products, butter/margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fast fried foods).

The cMIND diet comprises 12 components: staple food composition, quantity, fresh vegetables, mushrooms or algae, fresh fruits, fish, cooking oil, soybeans, nuts, garlic, tea, and sugar.

Here’s a quick comparison:

Comment:  Both diets are healthy.

Bottom line (can’t be emphasized enough, apparently): Eating a healthy diet is good for health.

Nov 10 2023

Weekend reading: The story of Chinese food

Fuchsia Dunlop.  Invitation to a Banquet.  The Story of Chinese Food.  Norton, 2023.  420 pages.











Fuchsia Dunlop, who has lived in China, went to cooking school there, and writes Chinese cookbooks, does something different here.  She writes about the history of Chinese Food using traditional dishes (stir-fried broccoli with ginger, Shandong guofu tofu, etc)  as starting points for exploring the how and why of each of them.

Chinese food is an inescapable cultural presence all over the world…As a brand, ‘Chinese food’ has global recognition.  Yet, from another perspective, Chinese food has also been the victim of its own success.  The resounding popularity of a simplified, adapted, even bastardized form of Cantonese cuisine, first developed in North America and then scattered like confetti all over with the world, with its childish predictability and limited range, its birght colours, sweet-sour and salty flavours, deep-fried snacks and stir-fried noodles, has clouded appreciation of the diversity and sophistication of Chinese gastronomic culture. (p.5)

The book makes up for these deficits.  Dunlop relates what she found on her travels throughout China about the origins of this cuisine (cuisines, really), the basic ingredients (animal and vegetable), the techniques (chopping, steaming, stir-frying), ending with a short dissertation on Chop Suey and scholarly apparatus: chronology, notes, bibliography.

Another quotation:

When it comes to Chinese food, I see myself increasingly as a small insect scaling a great mountain of human ingenuity.  It’s paradoxical, because in many ways modern China can seem sameish.  All over the country, the same identikit modern buildings, the same brands, the same clothes…Even after the destruction of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese food bounced back in a glittering kaleidoscope of colours.  All over the country, in nondescript little restaurants in concrete buildings, with nice calligraphy in a frames, people are tucking into remarkably delicious and locally distinctive foods.  At some profound level, this is how China expresses itself, from ancient times until now, from now until eternity (p.331).

As you should be able to tell from these brief excerpts, the book is an easy read.   I particularly enjoyed reading about Dunlop’s food adventures throughout China.  She now lives in the UK but used the pandemic to share them with us.

Sep 27 2023

Annals of Marketing: Coca-Cola innovations

As I keep saying, it’s a Brave New World.  Try this one: Coca-Cola launches beverage created with the help of artificial intelligence.

Earlier this year, Becks rolled out the world’s first beer and full marketing campaign made with artificial intelligence. The AB InBev-owned brand said the beer, called Beck’s Autonomous, was selected by AI as its favorite among millions of different flavor combinations it generated.

….For Coca-ColaCreations, the use of AI is a natural step that positions the drink in a way that could pique the interest of younger consumers who will want to try it, before potentially increasing their consumption of other Coca-Cola products. Similar to other beverages released under the Creations platform, the latest beverage doesn’t promote or reveal a flavor profile, such as cola, cherry or vanilla, but rather a mood or experience.

As for mood and experience, we have this: More than the Real Thing: Chinese consumers want emotion and culture, not just drinks – Coca-Cola.

Of course China is very rich in culture and heritage, but beyond this there are also many elements of the lifestyle today that consumers will also link to local culture, such as popular trends locally

…One of these is the rise in popularity of the game League of Legends locally, and with this in mind we launched a limited edition “The Hero Has Arrived” product in collaboration with the game, creating an entire platform for players and consumers to really connect with it—this was also designed to have a unique limited edition flavour with zero sugar, so it remains in line with current trends as well.

Here it is clear that this sort of innovation requires thinking that is less dependent and far beyond just the science of beverage creation—it comes from a focus on understanding local trends, consumers, items and the connections between them to form the culture, and integrating this culture into the innovation.

Comment: Yes, Coca-Cola sells bottled water but that’s not how it makes its money.  The real money is in sugary beverages and other ultra-processed drinks.  I suppose AI is as good as any other marketing expert but I sure hate to see these products flood China.  The country is having enough of a problem with its rising prevalence of obesity and related chronic diseases.

Jun 13 2023

Cargill is selling its Chinese poultry business to venture capital company

This article in Feed & Grain caught my attention: Cargill intends to sell its poultry business in China to private equity firm DCP Capital, according to reports.

Cargill is the tenth largest broiler producer in the world; it was responsible for the slaughter of an astonishing 625 million broilers last year, of which 49 million were in China.

You don’t hear much about Cargill because it is not publicly traded.  It is family held, but huge:  155,000 employees, annual revenues of more than $134 billion.

It makes that money from food oils, ingredients, grains, oilseeds, cotton, animal feed, and financial services.

According to this article,

Cargill in 2013 inaugurated its integrated poultry operation in Lai’an, Anhui, China, which included every stage of the supply chain: breeding, raising, feed production, hatching, slaughtering and processing…The company also opened a new US$48 million poultry complex in Chuzhou, Anhui, in 2019. That operation included breeding, raising, feed production, hatching and primary and further processing capabilities.

Now, Cargill is selling off its Chinese enterprises to venture capital.

Cargill must think it best to get out of China.

The venture capital company must think money can still be made there.

This, it seems to me, is an example of what is happening to the global food supply.

It is no longer about making sure that people have enough to eat and do not go hungry.

Food is about making money for investors.

That means keeping costs as low as possible, regardless of the effects on health or the environment.

May 12 2022

Annals of food fraud: eel smuggling

I am indebted to Politico Morning Agriculture (behind a paywall but try Twitter) for this riveting item: Major Seafood Dealer and Eight Individuals Indicted for International Wildlife Trafficking

The Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section, unsealed an indictment charging a major seafood distributor and eight of its employees and associates with smuggling, Lacey Act violations and conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, stemming from their trafficking in large volumes of highly imperiled eels.

The mind boggles.

Who knew that eel poaching and smuggling are major wildlife trafficking problems.

With respect to European eels, exporting them has been illegal since 2010.  But wait.  The indictment gets better:

Despite this ban…the defendants conspired to unlawfully smuggle large quantities of live baby European eels out of Europe, to their eel-rearing factory in China. After rearing the baby eels to maturity, defendants’ Chinese facility would then slaughter and process the eels for shipping to the United States, to be sold as sushi products.

It ends with this caveat:  An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

I’m due to be called for jury duty.  Is this what I’m in for?

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Apr 20 2022

If you like Chinese food (and who does not?), now is the time

The James Beard Foundation has justifiably given its Humanitarian-of-the-Year award to Grace Young, the fabulous cookbook writer who has also become, as she puts it, “The accidental voice of Chinatown.”

Since January 2020, my beloved Chinatown here in New York has been under siege. Due to the ongoing pandemic, a multitude of restaurants and businesses have closed permanently, while others struggle to remain open. Most eateries and shops that have survived have still not returned to pre-COVID business, and this is not sustainable. Over the last two years, as I watched this tragedy unfold, I realized Chinatown (actually Chinatowns everywhere) was in dire need of someone to speak for this treasured ethnic community wavering on the brink of extinction. It needed an advocate, a dedicated voice to rally the press and public to this crisis. I became one of those voices, along with many others who have since responded to the need.

The foundation is supporting her call to #LoveAAPI:

Now, we’re joining Grace Young and Poster House on a new campaign, #LoveAAPI. The expansion of this effort is a nationwide social media campaign to support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and Chinatowns everywhere!

As Grace said in an email to me in response to my congratulatory note:

The idea is to fight the anti-Asian hate with Love. Post a photo or video of your favorite AAPI restaurant, grocer or shop and tell us what you’re eating or buying. Why you love the business and use the hashtag #LoveAAPI.

More than that, support your local Chinatown restaurants and food stores, particularly the mom-and-pop outfits.

I was in San Francisco recently and walked the entire Chinatown corridor on Grant Street, dismayed by the closed shops but even more dismayed by reports of violence against Asian-American residents.  Here’s a situation where you can help, just by going out to dinner, looking around, and recognizing what a wonderful contribution Chinatowns make to American life.  Enjoy!

Oct 8 2021

Weekend reading: Selling salad in China

Xavier Naville.  The Lettuce Diaries: How a Frenchman Found Gold Growing Vegetables in China.  Earnshaw Books, 2021. 

The publicist for this quirky book sent it to me and I have to admit being charmed by it.  The French author started out in international corporate food, managing canteens in 70 countries for the Compass Group and based in Paris.

At age 27, almost on a whim, he went to Shanghai to sell salads to the Chinese (who didn’t eat salads) and oversee the production of vegetables for KFC and other fast food places.

He was, to say the least, ignorant of Chinese language and culture but learned a lot during the twenty years or so he spent there.

His book is about how his naivete and uncertainty got in the way of getting small farmers to grow lettuce and other vegetables consistently and safely, and how he slowly and painfully learned to speak and write Chinese, and learn the importance of guanxi (personal relationships essential for getting anything done in China).

He is so modest, so hard on himself, and so likable that I wanted him to succeed—which he did, and quite well.

Among other things, his company produced bagged salads for Chinese supermarkets.  Food safety maven that I am, I won’t even buy bagged salads in the U.S.  His descriptions of small-scale food production are terrifying.

He reports no outbreaks due to his products, although he talks about plenty of others, including the melamine-in-infant-formula scandal predicted by the earlier melamine-in-pet-food scandal I wrote about in Pet Food Politics.  

I liked his thoughtfulness about his experience.

All these years, I had viewed the microscopic farming plots as a barrier to the modernization of China’s agriculture.  But after a few hours with my Chinese friends, I was beginning to see things differently.  Where would all these seasonal foods come from if there were fewer farmers?  Would there still be regional differences?  If China follows the developmental path of the West, the number of farmers will shrink while operations increase in size.  Farms will focus on scale and productivity, specializing in fewer crops, breeding the most productive ones and neglecting some that have a higher nutritional content but lower returns per acre.  Is that really what Chinese consumers want?

…family farmers weren’t necessarily just an obstacle on China’s path toward modernization; they might actually be its cultural gatekeepers, protecting the local food industry and underpinning a renaissance of Chinese beliefs that will be key to the health of both the Chinese people and the safety of the foods they cherish.  (p. 246)

Quirky?  Definitely for a business book, but in a good way.  I enjoyed reading it.

[The author is now a food business consultant in Oakland, CA].