Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies, Vol 2 (2011)

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Feasting with 'the Other': Transforming the Self in Food Adventuring Programs

Jacqui Kong

Abstract


Food adventuring television programs are a relatively recent phenomenon which merge two previously distinct genres of television programming, i.e. travel programs and cooking shows. These programs often feature celebrity chefs or famous personalities going in search of ‘new’, ‘exciting’ culinary adventures which, more often than not, open doors to experiencing and learning about different groups, cultures and their specific ways of life. As such, ‘difference’ is the highlight and main focus of these programs – not just the cuisine which is featured.

            It is this multilayered, complex terrain in these food adventuring programs which leaves much room for analysis. ‘Difference’, as a precious cultural commodity in these programs, is represented and managed in a myriad of ways by different hosts in different programs. Thus, this paper aims to analyze how this activity of ‘searching out’ and ‘presenting’ others’ cultural traditions and ways of life to viewers, affects the ways in which ‘the Other’ is presented and related to on-screen. It is thus necessary to analyze how this activity of ‘consuming’ and experiencing the Other’s cuisine and culture occurs and what its implications are within the larger picture of ethnic and power imbalances. I propose that these experiences of traveling to ‘unknown’ and ‘unfamiliar’ locales often transform into mutual exchanges, rather than mere, fleeting encounters between Self (food adventurer) and Other (local inhabitants of the places these food adventurers travel to). Subsequently, the Self undergoes a ‘transformation’ of its own, as the privileged positionality of the celebrity chef is displaced and challenged in such exchanges.


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