Monday News: World Book Day, Apple stops services in China, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and American hypocrisy with “ethnic food”
World Book Day: century-old library distributes 50,000 books – World Book and Copyright Day was created by UNESCO is held on April 23rd (the birth and death date for some prominent authors including Shakespeare and Maurice Druon). The day is designed as a tribute to books and authors, and aims to inspire a love of reading, particularly in young people. Sarvotham Grandhalaya, in Vijayawada, India, celebrated World Book Day by giving away 50,000 books in only its second annual giveaway:
Raavi Sarada, who runs the library with a great amount of passion, believes that a book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition.
“Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold,” she says.
The library launched free distribution of books last year and intends to make it a tradition.
“Encouraged by public response last year, when we had a collection of only 6,000 books, I decided to repeat the exercise this year on a larger scale. A plea to publishers, organisations and individuals to donate used books evoked tremendous response while the public reaction was even better,” says an elated Ms. Sarada. – The Hindu
Apple Suspends Online Book and Movie Services in China – Although Apple only started offering book and movie services in China last September, they had to suspend those services after meetings with Chinese authorities. Apple has historically been willing to modify its content to meet Chinese content standards, so their self-suspension may not be extended, especially given how ambitious they are to distribute content via the iPhone.
Apple suspended its iBooks and iTunes Movies services in China last week after meetings with the country’s video and publishing regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, two people familiar with the matter said.
The case highlights the challenges of navigating China, where laws are often vaguely worded and clarified later. In last week’s meetings with Apple, officials pointed to broad new rules issued in February that ban companies with any foreign ownership from engaging in online publishing, one of the people familiar with the talks said. – Wall Street Journal
Interview with BA and Ph.D Alum Viet Thanh Nguyen – This is a fantastic interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose book The Sympathizer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Nguyen is also associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The Sympathizer is Nguyen’s first novel.
GP: Can you say anything about how your education here at Berkeley and especially your decision to major in English shaped your ideas for writing?
VTN: I double majored in Ethnic Studies. I never would have become a professor, at least of literature, without Ethnic Studies. While I became an English major because I loved to read, I couldn’t see myself committing my life to the study of literature for its own sake, which is how most English professors (at that time, and perhaps now) taught literature. I needed to see that literature had a connection to the world, to matters of social justice. Ethnic Studies allowed me to make those connections, through studying the literature, history, political struggles, and social movements of Chicanos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. I owe an enormous amount to teachers like Ronald Takaki, Elaine Kim, Sau-ling C. Wong, and Barbara Christian, in addition to the memorable English teachers I had in Oscar Campomanes, Abdul JanMohamed, Alfred Arteaga, David Lloyd, Steven Goldsmith, Maxine Hong Kingston, and yourself. The courses in English that were de facto Ethnic Studies courses, dealing with postcolonial theory and literature, the literatures of immigrants and border-crossers, the literature of African Americans, all were fundamental into shaping me into a writer who sees himself as participating in a tradition of literature as social critique. . . .
GP: What is you advice to all of those students in our English classes who study literature, but also want to write fiction or poetry?
VTN: Writing fiction or poetry will make you a better literary scholar. Writing creatively will give you a greater sensitivity to your own writing as a scholar, and will make you look at the literature you study in ways that can both affirm and subvert the purely theoretical approaches to that literature. But it certainly isn’t easy to be both a scholar and a writer of fiction or poetry. It means having two jobs, two lives, two languages. Persistence, stubbornness, the ability to deal with incomprehension from both scholars and writers who only do one thing, and the ability to absorb a lot of rejection, are key. – The Wheeler Column
How Americans pretend to love ‘ethnic food’ – A really interesting interview with NYU’s Krishnendu Ray about how American perceptions of food mirror cultural hierarchies in general. As certain cultures are perceived to be “lesser,” so are certain foods, and as certain cultural groups gain “prestige,” so does their food. An insightful look at how racial and cultural ignorance and biases affect the way we eat and the expectations we have about how certain foods should taste and what they should cost.
There is ample evidence that we treat these foods as inferior, as Krishnendu Ray, the chair of nutrition and food studies at New York University, writes in his new book “The Ethnic Restaurateur.” Ray points to the comparatively low price ceiling for various “ethnic cuisines,” as a telling sign. Despite complex ingredients and labor-intensive cooking methods that rival or even eclipse those associated with some of the most celebrated cuisines — think French, Spanish and Italian — we want our Indian food fast, and we want it cheap.
The double standard carries with it all sorts of consequences, which Ray chronicles in his book. The people who make the “ethnic food” we eat are not always what they seem. Nor is the food, which, because of our refusal to treat it with the same prestige we treat others, is not nearly as authentic as we imagine it to be. – The Washington Post
The Indian place down the road from me is not cheap.
And for us DC people, neither Rasika nor Bombay Club is cheap or lacking in prestige.
Some of the cheapest food you can find is Italian food- and it’s not authentic at all either if you ask someone from Italy. Every country puts its own twist on “ethnic” food. The Japanese version of “American” food is very unlike what most Americans eat. If you are a famous chef like Ming Tsai you can command top dollar for Asian inspired cuisine in Boston or at a restaurant in one of the fanciest suburbs of it. If you are a family just trying to make a living you will likely make whatever kind of food you think will sell at the price point the market will bear. French cuisine is really the only one I think has any real status attached to it. If you think Italian you could think of an expensive bistro, or more likely most people think of Olive Garden or the pizza place down the street.
What a great set of links today. I look forward to reading that whole interview with Nguyen, and I’m especially interested in how the social/real-world connections made the study of literature meaningful for him, because that’s such an ongoing battle (often raised from the conservative side, with the argument that we should be teaching enduring values and not dwelling in abstruse theory, and his point seems rather different). And wow, he was lucky in his teachers.
I heard a podcast discussion a while ago about the “ethnic food” issue (I think it was On the Media). Ray’s argument makes sense to me because there are some very wealthy Chinese immigrants where I live, and as a result, though we have plenty of cheap and inauthentic Chinese food, we have high-end restaurants as well. And we’ve also got a very well-known Indian restaurant. So his point that food will move up the class scale as an immigrant group does makes total sense. The podcast also discusses Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Frontera Grill, and whether his Mexican food is high-end because he’s white–and whether he is essentially appropriating a food culture and speaking for/over Mexican chefs as the voice of authenticity. Bayless was pretty unwilling to entertain these questions, but it was an interesting conversation.
OOO I want to comment on “ethnic” cuisine prices too. With the caviat that I am not too much of the eating out person (I do, just not that much, so I am not making this up :)), I took the point of this article to be not that “ethnic” cuisine is cheap, but that overall it is *cheaper* than French, Italian, etc. I certainly ate couple of times in the Indian restaurants that are not cheap here in New York, but I ate quite a few times (and when I say quite a few I am counting over the years not months) in the restaurants that are much, much cheaper than European food and it is my impression that at least here in NY there are more places like that.
Good friend introduced me to Korean food (she is a first generation Korean immigrant) and what was good from her perspective was dirt cheap in comparison to any other restaurants I visited before.
When I first came to US, I ate for a little while in those awful Chinese take outs (apologies to those who love them, my stomach hated me very fast) – oily, greasy, super cheap, but it was a food I never ate at home so I liked. I stopped pretty fast and of course the Chinese /Tai place which I have near the office I work is twice as expensive or more than usual prices in those places and food is way better. But I think the point is that I never saw European cuisine places which are as cheap as those take outs. And once again I believe those places are the majority, not the place that is near my work – but I could be wrong because as I said – I am not too much of restaurant goer, especially for dinner.
Yes, I agree with Sirius and Liz2. I sometimes wonder if persons read the article before commenting, or truly believe that a general statement is properly countered by a one or two examples? Strange. The writer also pointed out that language plays a role in defining how we regard regional cuisines, so that French food would rarely be classified as “ethnic”.
I’m so sad that World Book Day here crapped out. I loved handing out books for World Book Night.
Maybe Americans think “ethnic” means non-white (as that article says), but that is a totally incorrect interpretation of the term. My Ukrainian family is accused of being “ethnic” almost every day – as a racist insult.
Think of allegedly “ethnic” fashion, which is almost all Eastern European.
I once sent my mother to Publix to pick up some dry udon noodles for dinner. She asked the stock boy for “un-done” noodles.
I love living in a city where there are SO many food choices, I can get local-grown bok choy and fresh figs in the produce section, and there is no “ethnic” aisle because the entire store is stocked for so many different ethnicities. One of our major national brands (President’s Choice) is experimenting with different takes on their “traditional” frozen foods — there’s a butter chicken lasagna, a greek lasagna, and a “tex-mex” lasagna they make and all three are pretty great. The same brand has been doing fantastic work with bottled sauces for years (their butter chicken and mango curry sauces are some of my favourites) so their frozen and packaged offerings have been met with pretty significant success. I love it! There’s just so much to choose from!
I haven’t found a good roti place since Curry in a Hurry closed, but since I can get real ramen and real pho (!!!) in a food court of all places, I am a happy happy camper. There’s just so much good food, even poor Tim Horton’s and Burger King have empty lines come lunchtime, while everyone else is doing such brisk business they even have text-ahead orders. It’s at the point where steam-tray fried rice is the exception, and there are huge vats of steamed rice instead, instead of tucked in the back for the employees.
WRT pricing, however, none of this is significantly more or less expensive than any other foods — the only reason some things that code as less “ethnic” like cucumbers and berries are expensive is because they’re imported and the CAD has been sucking for the last 8 months. $4 cucumbers, no thank you. Local zucc is less than a dollar? Yay!
I think the hardest thing to find in the city is an americanized chinese buffet, they just don’t exist here, to the woe of some of my american co-workers.
Funny, I always figured there’s no point in going out for Italian food, because it’s pretty easy to make it at home. Maybe not as good as a real high-end restaurant, but I couldn’t afford to go to one of those anyway. When I get to the “big city” – Albuquerque – I want something I can’t get in my small town – which is almost anything other than burgers, pizza, and Mexican food, but we usually go for Indian or sushi. A $40 dinner for two is expensive to us, but I see their point. Some people would spend $100 or $200 for a nice date night meal at a French-inspired place.
‘Ethnic’ is a term that’s broadly been PCed out of the UK, at least in terms of food (though you still see it pop up in fashion, unfortunately). I think there was a realisation that dividing European and ‘everywhere else’ cuisine into different camps was a distinction that came from a very dodgy place. We’ve been absorbing ingredients and recipes from around the globe for centuries, so it seems weird to say this dish is British but that one is Indian when both appeared in the UK two hundred years ago.
That, and it gets our backs up when people suggest French food could be better than British :P
How high end a place is here depends on how specific the region is. A posh Indian restaurant is a Goan, or Kerala, or a Delhi street food restaurant. Instead of Chinese you have Sichuan, Cantonese or Hong Kong. Italian is Neapolitan or Tuscan or Venetian. Even American food here has the same distinctions: Macdonalds and Burger King are just plain ol’ American, but a trendy barbecue place is Tennessee style, or a kitsch diner is Californian, or a gourmet burger joint New York.