Thinking local, reading global

I’m really enjoying a book I came across by accident titled Serve the People: A Stir-fried journey through China by Jen Lin-Liu, an American journalist who moved to China after graduating and found herself wanting to explore food as a way of exploring her cultural heritage. She enrolls in a cooking school and begins to learn to cook.

What I’m enjoying most are the descriptions of the changing food culture in China. As Lin-Liu learns about different aspects of traditional Chinese food–who sharpens knives, how to buy food at the market, how to cook simple homemade meals–the old ways are quickly being replaced by the new. The knife sharpener who used to cycle around the city offering his services is now upstaged by pre-sharpened blades. The younger generation who grew-up eating homemade dumplings, now eat out or survive on what their parents feed them. The wet markets where Lin-Liu likes to shop are being leveled to make way for apartment towers, and multinational supermarket chains are stepping in to feed the people.

It seems ironic to me: just as many of us in the west are rediscovering the pleasures of local food and the beauty of markets and are becoming aware of the problems with long-distance food chains and a global food system, countries like China are hurrying to catch up with exactly what we are beginning to question.

Maybe one day I will travel to Beijing and eat in Lin-Liu’s restaurant, The Black Sesame Kitchen. I’ll bet her food is just as good as her book!