Sameness in diversity: food culture and globalization in the San Francisco Bay Area and America, 1965-2005
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The central paradox of globalization is its ability to simultaneously create cultural diversity and homogeneity. “Sameness in Diversity” examines how that paradox affects everyday experiences through food consumption in the United States. After the 1960s, globalization and immigration expanded eating choices in American supermarkets and restaurants. Even as eating choices widened, American and global food consumption increasingly homogenized, for fast food and processed foods captured larger shares of the collective diet. The global fruit and vegetable trade and the efforts of supermarkets and food processors to market ethnic foods each show how Americans saw their eating horizons grow from 1965 to 2005. Asian and Latin American immigration created a demand for new foods in the United States, and advances in communication and transportation enabled the consumption of those foods in San Francisco or Peoria. Cookbooks and restaurant menus served as translation devices for the new ethnic cuisines. The nature of translation changed over time, however, for what was once exotic became familiar, thereby homogenizing the ethnic. The same supermarkets and restaurants that offered more food choices also homogenized. Supermarket chains consolidated within the United States and across borders so that shoppers and restaurant patrons in the suburbs of Shanghai and San Francisco could get the same foods from the same chains. For the first time these suburbs were at the nexus of globalization, embodying the sameness of strip malls and prefabricated housing stock, but also hosting the new immigration and its cultural diversity. Globalization disoriented geography and Americans responded by searching for authenticity in foods, for global trade made that possible. The flattening nature of fast food and processed foods also caused many to search for authentic eating experiences. All of these elements – expanded food choices, homogenized eating habits, the translation of ethnic foods, the search for authenticity, and the importance of suburbs – come together in the way that Chinese food changed in America after the 1960s. It evolved from homogenized chop suey to differentiated dim sum to homogenized orange chicken, all in the span of four decades.