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Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body and Identity, Food Safety, and Security



This introductory chapter to the edited volume Food Anxiety in Globalising Vietnam puts food in Vietnam in global perspective in terms of agricultural development, food system modernisation, and socio-cultural relations, and conceptually outlines food anxiety as the book’s common lens. This lens proves central for understanding the ‘dangerous’ side of food as material matter and symbolic meaning. ‘Food anxiety’ uncovers the politico-economic context and the socio-cultural embeddedness of eating and the struggles of urban consumers and food producers with ambivalences around the security and quality of food, their bodily integrity and identity. From the perspective of critical development studies, this chapter opens up the following discussions around power and the inclusive and exclusive nature of food globalisations in local contexts.
© e Author(s) 2019
J. Ehlert, N. K. Faltmann (eds.), Food Anxiety in Globalising Vietnam,
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around
Body andIdentity, Food Safety,
JudithEhlert andNoraKatharinaFaltmann
Imagine wandering around an open food market, tempted to satiate your
appetite with something fresh and delicious. You come across a market
vendor who displays a large pile of something on a silver tray. Given the
view of a throng of curvy-shaped knotty things, you are puzzled to distin-
guish the actual boundaries between these nearly transparent objects.
Only at second look, this bunch turns out to be a catch of dead shrimps
with their visceral organs shining through, some with their heads torn
o, some with intact bodies. Meanwhile a range of scents is in the air,
some appetising, others perhaps more alien. Imagine being the viewer of
this scene, what does it arouse in you? Depending on your perspective—
eating habits and socio-cultural background, current sensation of hunger,
perception of the quality, or knowledge of the surroundings—either
delight or disgust.
is book is explicitly about such ambivalences of food ranging
between delight and disgust. e described scenario could evoke anxiety
in the viewer while others might be drawn to the food in question. At the
J. Ehlert (*) • N. K. Faltmann
Department of Development Studies, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
same time, the scenario hints at the split seconds in which humans make
something out as edible or not. According to the ‘omnivore’s paradox’,
human food consumption is navigated between the sheer abundance of
things that could be eaten physiologically but are constrained by the
social and cultural norms that dene food and produce as edible or ined-
ible, as symbolically enhanced or contaminated in the rst place (Rozin
1976; Fischler 1988). Moreover, the categorisation of ‘edible’/‘inedible’ is
historically rooted in peoples’ trial and error experiments with potentially
harmful substances (Rozin 1976; Fischler 1988). Food can make you sick
or keep you healthy, can leave you overindulged or hungry, can nurture
social belonging but can also blatantly expose social exclusion. Historical
and socio-cultural experiences, norms and discourses around material
and symbolic quality can then mark food as pure or dangerous, and as
friend or foe by the same token. is ambivalent nature of eating lies at
the very heart of the human encounter with food as both matter and
meaning and constitutes the lynchpin of this volume.
Whereas food is already amply discussed in terms of culinary ‘delight
by putting at centre stage the role of food allocation in the creation and
maintenance of social relationships, commensality, and cohesion,1 this
book rather engages with the conictive externalities and local embed-
dedness of a globalised agri-food system, namely by bringing eating in
Vietnam into perspective. e ambivalent and potentially disturbing
nature that food can have is reected in this volume’s cover image2: pho-
tographed at an open market in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), with the
depicted shrimps exemplifying the interconnectedness of global food sys-
tems and their embeddedness in Vietnam. With its cultivation at times
competing with less lucrative rice growing, and subject to food safety
concerns and as regimented item in global trade, shrimp commodity
chains symbolise the complexity of global food trade.
Vietnam proves to be an excellent case to depict the diverse facets of
food ambivalence given the country’s historical context and compressed
integration into global (food) markets. Its past—and in parts current—
experience of food scarcity and hunger has created challenges of how to
meaningfully manoeuvre in a context of emerging food abundance.
Against this dynamic background in (urban) Vietnam, people’s bodily
integrity and identity, gendered and class-based consumption, and
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
concerns of food safety and security all touch upon—in one way or
another—the ambiguous nature of food itself, and also indicate disconti-
nuities of broader social transformations.
Food anxiety is the books common lens through which such ambigui-
ties are considered. e very act of incorporating food constitutes the
moment and the process in which materially and culturally transformed
matter crosses the boundary of the body, thereby dissolving the dichot-
omy between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, between the self and the world
(Fischler 1988, 279). In this understanding, boundaries are crossed at
various scales, connecting but also disconnecting the eating body with
the multiple contexts it lives in. It is exactly the linking and disrupting
quality of foodstu—a food’s transgressive capacity (Goodman and Sage
2014)—that accounts for its ambivalent nature and makes us speak of
‘food anxiety’. erein, we understand the lens of food anxiety as consti-
tutive for unravelling social theoretical insights into the relationship
between the individual and society.3 What we observe in the vast eld of
food-related literature is that ‘food anxiety’ is more often than not used
without further conceptual explanation or becomes boiled down to para-
mount incidences of food scandals.4 We argue that ‘food anxiety’ has
more to oer than being a descriptive term for the emotional and institu-
tional management of food safety risks, as we will detail below. is vol-
ume brings together authors from various disciplines and while their
contributions are united in that they all deal with dimensions of food
anxiety in Vietnam, the authors follow their own distinct methodological
and theoretical approaches to food. Likewise, this introductory chapter
should be seen as one, namely the editors’ interpretation of what follows
in the outline of the book parts. By applying our lens of food anxiety, we
will frame the three thematic dimensions along which the book is organ-
ised: ‘Bodily Transgressions: Identity, Othering, and Self’ (Part I), ‘Food
Safety: Trust, Responsibilisation, and Coping’ (Part II), and ‘e Politics
of Food Security’ (Part III).
When it came to naming this edited volume, food anxiety as the con-
tributions’ mutual lens quickly asserted itself into the title. Since all con-
tributions focus on Vietnam, adding the country’s name was also an easy
decision. But then it took multiple attempts of testing the conceptual
sound of ‘Vietnam and beyond’ and the like to nally come down with
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
what is now the title of this book: Food Anxiety in Globalising Vietnam. In
hindsight, the title seems almost inevitable as this book is not about a
country and beyond but rather about the (globalising) dynamics of beyond
in Vietnam. Bringing in our own perspective from the eld of critical
development studies, we nd it important to stress the ‘dynamics of
beyond’. In the (food studies) literature we observe that the mentioned
strong focus on the quality of food is very often connected with the
Global North. It is, sometimes indirectly, sometimes more overtly
assumed that ‘the consumer’ in the Global North is most concerned with
quality and safety due to the food abundance provided by a modernised
(agri-)food system. us, consumers in the Global North are presented as
constantly calculating risks in their daily endeavour to eat clean and
healthy food, whereas lack of food access—even though a social reality
for many5—is much less discussed. By contrast, the Global South is gen-
eralised as struggling with not having enough to eat and set as an umbrella
term essentialising deciencies more generally. Yet, we nd it more fruit-
ful to contextualise such ‘food struggles’ along the lines of class, gender,
and race and as symptoms of locally embedded capitalist structures
bound up in the complex web of historical food trajectories. Besides the
editors’ innate interest in such dynamics around food availability and
consumerism in Vietnam motivating the compilation of this edited vol-
ume, there was also a desire to contribute to literature given the relative
paucity of existing research on this topic. Particularly from multidisci-
plinary angles, the area of food and anxiety in a wider sense has not yet
received the academic attention that we believe it deserves in order to
understand societal relations and transformations in Vietnam. erefore,
the twofold aim of this book is to contribute to research on the eld of
food in Vietnam as well as on phenomena of food anxiety more broadly.
Having made this point, it will become apparent throughout much of
this book that many forms of food anxiety in current-day globalising
Vietnam cannot be understood without the context of the country’s rapid
and recent economic integration into global agri-food systems and con-
sumer markets. erefore, we want to begin with examining the trajecto-
ries of the globalised agri-food system that Vietnam has grown to be
increasingly intertwined with. We will then sharpen the lens of food anxi-
ety conceptually. By portraying the book’s contributions and the way
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
they all speak—in yet dierent ways—to food anxiety, this will then lead
us to discuss concrete examples of what it means to be anxious in terms
of food consumption and production in Vietnam. e book ends with
concluding remarks by Jean-Pierre Poulain in which he discusses the
value of ‘food anxiety’ as a conceptual lens for understanding broader
societal transformations. He argues that because food anxiety is able to
capture contemporary crises ranging from food security and food fraud
to social controversies, it oers the perspective for a more global analysis
of the relation of humans to food.
Food inGlobalising Vietnam
When speaking of an agri-food system of global dimensions, the question
of what globalisation means in terms of food is inevitable. Depending on
discipline and school of thought, the denitions of food globalisation
and its beginnings vary widely. Referring to “food globalizations” (Inglis
and Gimlin 2009, 4) in the plural mirrors the heterogeneous and at times
contradicting dialectic relations of food matters with the social, eco-
nomic, political, and cultural dimensions of globalisation (Inglis and
Gimlin 2009, 9). While the travel of food has been a constant in human
history and migration, it can be said that especially the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries saw the spread of a mode of food production, distri-
bution, and consumption that has become increasingly globe-spanning
in nature (Inglis and Gimlin 2009, 13f.). e dissemination of industrial
agriculture and factory farming, local integration into capitalist markets
and trade liberalisation, food technology as much as global cargo trans-
port were major factors in the spread of global agri-food systems
(Beardsworth and Keil 1997).
ese global dynamics also reect—in locally unique manifestations—
Vietnam’s (agri-)food history which we will contextualise along with the
global food regimes of political economists Friedmann and McMichael
(Friedmann and McMichael 1989; McMichael 2009). Food regime the-
ory problematises the capitalist evolution of globalised agriculture as the
outcome of an unequal structural power play between dierent world
regions. In general, the European ideology of racial superiority over
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
‘backward’ colonies in need of ‘civilisation’ marked the cornerstone of the
development of a global yet highly unequal capitalist system of agricul-
tural modernisation, industrialisation, and trade. During nineteenth-
century colonialism, expanding projects of Western civilisation forced
the world to participate in a market economy controlled by global colo-
nial regimes, competing forcefully for the raw materials and markets in
the colonised Global South. In Vietnam as elsewhere, colonial hegemonic
power was ideologically based on constructed racial superiority, forcefully
implemented on the bases of science, industrial might, and Christian
norms (Jamieson 1995, 42). Industrialisation in Europe required the
social reorganisation of labour from national agriculture into industrial
factory work. In the ‘colonial-diasporic regime’—as the rst of three
global food regimes—extensive land exploitation and mono-cropping in
the colonies of the Global South literally fed the emerging national indus-
tries in Europe (Friedmann and McMichael 1989). In Vietnam, it was
especially the rich resource base and the water-based transport potential
of the Mekong Delta in the country’s south that attracted the French
colonial gaze.6 Following the European ‘masterplan’ of capitalist growth,
French colonial force was rst imposed on the southern region of Vietnam
in the 1860s before establishing rule in the central and northern regions
later on.7 Colonial domination triggered the First Indochina War
(1946–1954), and nally culminated in the defeat of the French regime
in 1954 and tore Vietnam in two, with the communist Democratic
Republic of Vietnam in the north and the US-backed capitalist Republic
of Vietnam in the south (Jamieson 1995, 232f.).
What then followed in terms of geopolitical struggles and agricultural
developments in separated North and South Vietnam during the Second
Indochina War (1955–1975)8 could be subsumed under what Friedmann
and McMichael coined the ‘mercantile-industrial regime’ ranging from
the 1950s to the 1970s and founded in agro-industrialisation and state-
protectionism (McMichael 2009, 143). During the second global food
regime and the post-colonial independence in the Global South, the
communist bloc and the ‘free world’ of the Cold War courted the newly
independent nation-states to follow their respective models of agricul-
tural modernisation. is included the transfer of Green Revolution
technology, namely the introduction of large-scale monoculture and
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
irrigation schemes, the reorganisation of agricultural land and labour as
well as food aid from the communist bloc and the USA, respectively.
During the decades of Vietnam’s separation in which blatant food insecu-
rity prevailed, both ‘Vietnams’ followed dierent agricultural strategies to
feed the war-torn civilian populations as well as military personnel. While
collectivisation of agriculture in the 1950s North Vietnam did lead to
increased food security of the poorest rural populations, the anticipated
increases in food production failed to materialise (Jamieson 1995, 367).
e government of the North’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam pur-
sued a ‘technical duality’ which supported agricultural mechanisation
while avoiding mechanical labour replacement (Fortier and Trang i
u Trang 2013, 83). Meanwhile, agriculture in capitalist shaped South
Vietnam was characterised by more intense mechanisation and commer-
cial agriculture (Fortier and Trang i u Trang 2013, 83).
After the reunication of North and South Vietnam in 1976 when the
Second Indochina War had been won by the communist North in the
prior year, food scarcity remained a widespread threat in the face of the
country’s international isolation. Domestic food production met chal-
lenges in providing the Vietnamese people with sucient food, with the
country having relied on annual aid (e.g. in the form of fertilisers and food)
primarily from other socialist countries ever since the 1960s (Dang Phong
2004, 21f). Moreover, the Communist Party’s attempts to collectivise agri-
culture in southern Vietnam were met with resistance on the side of many
farmers (Ngo Vinh Long 1993; Jamieson 1995, 367f.). With decreasing
production and increasing food prices, the government feared unrest in
urban areas; yet, governmental attempts to make farmers sell their rice
yields at low prices resulted in hoarding and black market activities rather
than the desired eect of low food prices (Jamieson 1995, 367f.). Eventually,
it was the synergy of multiple factors that led the Vietnamese government
to revisit its development strategies and policies more broadly:
With agriculture stagnating, foreign exchange nearly exhausted, foreign aid
low and shrinking, industrial capacity damaged by war, rebuilding stalled
by a lack of capital, consumer goods in short supply, and per capita food
consumption declining, the party began to sustain severe criticism and was
forced to reverse its relentless pressure to transform Vietnam into its own
vision of a utopian socialist paradise. (Jamieson 1995, 371)
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
Taking stock of the obstacles to the country’s food security nally gal-
vanised the Vietnamese Communist Party into reform. What followed
were the economic reforms of Đi Mi in 1986, marking a point of
departure for the country’s strong integration into global (food) markets
(Beresford 2001; Beresford 2008). e Đi Mi policy initiated the tran-
sition from a centrally planned economy, xed prices, public ownership
of the means of production, and state monopoly of foreign trade towards
an open market economy with acceptance of private and foreign capital-
ist sectors (Dang Phong 2004, 21, 37). Đi Mi mirrored a general grad-
ual neoliberal trend in development politics of that time (McMichael
2012, 111.).
Sparked by the world nancial crises of the 1970s and 1980s
(McMichael 2009), international bodies like the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund introduced further economic liberalisation
and Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) to countries of the Global
South as supposed remedies to the crisis. SAPs entailed the deregulation
of the agricultural sector and cuts in governmental and donor expendi-
tures, agricultural specialisation towards export crops plus the removal of
agricultural taris (Mittal 2009). is gradually paved the way for corpo-
rate food power to emerge and to ourish. e third global food regime
following the 1980s (‘the corporate regime’) constitutes the most recent
one, providing the structural background against which most of the
world’s food production and consumption takes place today (McMichael
2009). e latest regime is driven by the monopolised corporate power of
giant agribusinesses which dominate industrial-scale agriculture from the
basis of agronomy research and agricultural patents over to mass-scale
monocrop- and cash crop-production. e corporate landscape is com-
plemented by large-scale industrial food producers and manufacturers
monopolising the production and retail of packaged food and drinks on
a worldwide scale. e popular term ‘Big Food’ is drawn on when refer-
ring to the power and control of such global agri-food giants sharply
inuencing what the world eats (Nestlé 2013; Clapp and Scrinis 2017).
Since Vietnam’s gradual liberalisation in the mid-1980s and more
recently with accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2007, emerg-
ing food markets in Vietnam are increasingly teeming with agri-food
businesses trying to gain a foothold. e Green Revolution with its high
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
inputs of pesticides, fertilisers, and growth hormones (Simmons and
Scott 2007) is backed by global agribusinesses (see Zhang, this volume).
While Vietnam boosted agricultural production in recent decades and
switched from being a net importer of rice to one of the world’s leading
rice exporters (Tran i u Trang 2011), agriculture today faces other
challenges. Agricultural land, especially in peri-urban areas, has seen land
use conversions towards industrialisation and urbanisation, impacting
farmers’ livelihoods and—coupled with a growing population—creating
pressure on agricultural productivity (Nguyen Van Suu 2009; Ehlert
2012). Moreover, the impacts of climate change are already palpable in
agriculture, for example, in the shape of rising sea levels and salinity
intrusion, eects that are predicted to worsen with climate change (Yu
etal. 2010; Smajgl etal. 2015). Exposure to weather extremes and the
importance of the agricultural sector makes Vietnam particularly vulner-
able to these impacts which the government has so far mitigated through
technological xes such as dykes, irrigation systems, and resistant rice
varieties in line with discourses of ‘modernisation’ (Ehlert 2012; Fortier
and Trang i u Trang 2013).
With the vision of a ‘modernised’ food system also stretching into
retail, the Vietnamese government strongly encourages foreign and
domestic capital investments in the retail sector, opening the doors for
corporate power to provide for domestic supermarket shelves (Hai i
Hong Nguyen etal. 2013). Concomitantly, the food retail system was
prominently altered by the emergence of supermarkets from the early
1990s which since have grown strongly in numbers in the country’s major
cities (Moustier etal. 2010, 72). Meanwhile, the prioritisation of for-
malised food outlets has implicated the marginalisation of informal street
vendors and ‘traditional’ markets (Kurfürst 2012; Endres 2013).
Economic liberalisations in countries of the Global South produced a
growing dependency of and vulnerability towards global markets and
their prices (Mittal 2009). is became all the more apparent during the
global food crisis in 2007/2008.9 While not amongst the countries most
aected and despite its recent food productivity gains, the impacts of the
crisis did also resonate within Vietnam. e country’s entanglements in a
globalised food system in crisis showed in consumer anxieties over rising
rice prices, in the re-evaluation of the country’s food security strategy as
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
well as in the risk of small-scale producers dropping out of the farming
sector (Akram-Lodhi 2004, 2005; see Gorman, this volume).
From theProductivist Gaze tothe‘Fruits’
Against the background of the global corporate food regime, food distri-
bution networks have become as globalised as they have become obscured,
and a new quality of food safety concerns, health issues, and distrust
towards food have emerged and certainly also constitute one of the most
publicly denounced problems with food in contemporary Vietnam (see
Part II, this volume). e global span of BSE (bovin spongiform enceph-
alopathy) originating in Europe in the 1990s, large incidences of avian
u (Inglis and Gimlin 2009, 20), and the contamination of baby formula
with melanin in China (Jackson 2015) are but a few of many contempo-
rary food safety concerns. ese are often seen as related to the globalised
food systems structural characteristic of ‘distanciation’ between food pro-
duction and consumption and between the realms of the rural and the
urban (Bricas 1993; Wilk 2009; Figuié and Bricas 2010). In the same
vein, Poulain (2017, 9) speaks of the characteristic of “[m]odern food
that “has been delocalized, in other words, disconnected from its geo-
graphical origins and the climatic constraints traditionally associated
with them”. In the face of growing complexity, it has then increasingly
become the role of third parties to identify risks and guarantee product
safety through a range of quality labels (Figuié and Bricas 2010). Despite
regulatory bodies’ function to provide highly controlled food production
and trade, they may as well be contradictory or malfunctioning, resulting
in mistrust (Inglis and Gimlin 2009, 19f). Also the role of science in food
technology has become subject to growing scepticism as polarised public
debates on genetically modied organisms (GMOs) exemplify (Wilk
2009; Poulain 2017, 68). On the international scene, such problems of
industrial farming and manufacturing in the late 1970s became more and
more apparent and were criticised, for example, by emerging environ-
mental und feminist movements (Agarwal 1992; Moeckli and Braun
2001; McMichael 2012, 182.; Harcourt and Nelson 2015; Poulain
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
2017, 66). e demand for more transparency, the call on governmental
and other regulatory mechanisms, and the enforcement of consumer citi-
zenship rights (Brooks etal. 2013) started to address the perceived need
to re-embed the externalities of living in a ‘risk society’ in which scientic
progress and knowledge not only provided solutions and probabilities for
rational management of food scares but also permanently unleashed new
incalculable risks (Beck 1992). Meanwhile, neoliberal policy on a global
scale led to the birth of ‘the consumer’—understood as an individual sup-
posedly acting in the commoditised system of food provision on the basis
of individual choice, total information, and personal utility—and, by
consequence, to the individualisation of healthy and safe food choice
(Parsons 2015).
In Vietnam, concerns over the safety of food have mounted with peo-
ple being anxious about the eects of feeding their bodies with harmful
food. us, while economic growth and gains in food productivity have
meant a reduction in the prevalence of undernourishment in the country
(Marzin and Michaud 2016), one now increasingly nds widespread
concerns over food safety related to the harmful eects of the overuse of
agricultural inputs as well as regarding the insucient traceability of
food. Correspondingly, consumers at times assess that while the variety of
meals has improved, the quality of food products has diminished as has
the trust in food regulation bodies to detect substandard produce (see
Figuié etal., this volume). Faced with an emerging commoditised food
system, the ‘invention’ of the consumer in Vietnam in recent decades
coincided with described neoliberal economic paradigms on the interna-
tional scene, standing in stark contrast to the prior governmental food
rationing system and general discouragement of conspicuous consump-
tion of foreign goods (Vann 2005, 468).
With the general surplus that emanated from industrial production in
many world regions and “the majority of the populace hav[ing] access to
the ever-growing consumerist fruits of the productivist tree” (Corrigan
2011, 1), food consumption gradually became key for social dierentiation
as well as for food scholars engaging with food-related identities symboli-
cally as well as in terms of its material conditions (e.g. Goody 1982;
Klein 2014). ‘Consumer culture’, ‘consumer society’, and ‘lifestyle’
became common conceptual foci through which scholars aimed to
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
describe central organising principles of social reality and identity. is
focus breaks with class and occupation as the paramount lens to under-
stand social inequality and change (Warde 1997, 7). Whereas some
attest that the major goal of consumption lies in the expression of self-
identity (e.g. Bauman 1988), others understand lifestyles as part of a
social class’ habitus (e.g. Bourdieu 1984). Again others see lifestyle not as
a coherent function of identity but rather in terms of uid and conic-
tive plural lifestyles in post-modernist consumer culture (e.g. Featherstone
1990).10 Global agri-food industries and leisure economies in manifold
shapes provide services, products, and imaginaries through which to
express social belonging and demarcation. In this regard, the role of
transnational companies inspired controversial studies on food globalisa-
tion conceptualised in terms of processes leading either to culinary and
cultural homogenisation (e.g. Ritzer 1993) or to the localisation of global
food consumerism creating culinary heterogeneities (e.g. Watson 1997).11
Often seen as symbols of US-American cultural imperialism and a threat
to cultural peculiarities, such transnational brands are at times met with
protest and hostility (Wilk 2009).
When following the workings of ‘Big Food’ monopolising complete
global food chains, as discussed earlier, it does not come with surprise
that respective food businesses eventually moved on from saturated mar-
kets in the Global North to emerging market-terrain such as Vietnam
and other Southeast Asian countries. Western-style formats of fast food
restaurants and coee houses tend to appeal, for example, to Asian mid-
dle classes and become locally adapted as spaces for leisure and recreation,
as family events or as spaces for business opportunities (Higgins 2008;
King etal. 2008; Yan 2008; Earl 2014; Ehlert 2016).
Whereas for decades Vietnam was driven by the concern of providing
adequate amounts of food, the symbolic meaning of food has come more
and more into focus. is transformation in society’s relation with food
from scarcity to the increasing relevance of consumerism is also expressed
in the Vietnamese proverb ‘co
̛m no, áo m; co
̛m ngon, áo đp’—“enough
food and warm clothing; delicious food and beautiful clothing” (Ehlert
2016, 71). Questions of access to the material and symbolic quality of
foodstu options turns food into an ever-growing marker for social dif-
ferentiation, inclusion, and exclusion in the context of rising standards of
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
living, newly emerging middle classes, and related growth of socio-
economic disparities (Taylor 2004, xi; Van Nguyen-Marshall etal. 2012;
Earl 2014). Growing prosperity also stands in relation to the country’s
nutrition transition which is characterised by a general increased calorie
intake and growing shares of animal products, sugar, and processed foods
in people’s diets (Baker and Friel 2014). In contrast to the earlier times of
shortages, Vietnam nowadays suers from the so-called double burden of
malnutrition (Walls etal. 2009; Vietnam Ministry of Health 2012; see
also Sobal 1999, 178): cases of underweight prevail (Nguyen Cong Khan
and Ha Huy Khoi 2008), while at the same time diet-related diseases of
auence such as obesity and heart-related diseases are on the rise (Avieli
2014). In this regard a strong divide between rural and urban areas can
be observed with aspirational food-related lifestyles as well as overweight
predominantly being phenomena of the cities (TQ Cuong etal. 2007)
and child malnutrition often being a rural phenomenon (Nguyen Cong
Khan and Ha Huy Khoi 2008). What Featherstone (1991), for example,
accredits to a sheer overwhelming range of dietary, slimming, and other
‘body-work’ products on the shelves of supermarkets in the Global North,
proliferated through advertisements, the popular press, and motion pic-
tures can, without doubt, also be found in (urban) Vietnam. Drummond
(2004) for instance describes the social construction of the Vietnamese
woman in popular womens magazines. Miss Coca-Cola beauty contests
in Hanoi and HCMC start to put female body work on public display
(Drummond and Rydstrøm 2004, 12) and with the emergence of the
urban tness sector in the late 1990s, exercising has become a symbolic
and physical expression of a modern lifestyle for (women of) the urban
middle classes (Leshkowich 2012). What can be observed in urban
Vietnam is the growing signicance of the body being discursively turned
into a gendered consumer object and that proliferates as prime ‘locus’ of
self-discipline (see Ehlert, this volume).
As one can see, there is a lively debate going on in terms of bringing
together consumption with dierent forms of identity construction that
ranges from the extremes of the liberal idea of the freedom of choice to
being an irreversible corollary of the socio-political context and the mate-
rial conditions one lives in. e growing divide between insucient
access to (quality) food for some and oversupply of food for others makes
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
Vietnam particularly vital for the study of food anxieties since people
more and more have to manoeuvre between certain paradoxes: in the
midst of growing food abundance, they, by eating, manoeuvre between
health and illness, pleasure and displeasure (Beardsworth and Keil 1997),
and social belonging and exclusion (Bourdieu 1984). In the Vietnamese
context of neoliberal market transformation and rampant consumerism
(Schwenkel and Leshkowich 2012), fast developing urbanisation, the
modernisation of the agricultural and food industries as well as the emer-
gence of certain health, beauty, and lifestyle trends, consumers are thus
increasingly confronted with the insecurity of what they symbolically and
physiologically ingest via their food options and deprivations. In contrast
to the dominant denition of ‘the consumer’ described as driven by pref-
erences, freedom of choice, and free information in neoclassical econom-
ics, the following book contributions all work on contextualisation
(Kjærnes et al. 2007), namely on the socio-cultural processes and the
structural power that the consumption and production of food and
related social anxieties in urban Vietnam is embedded in.
The Transgressive Nature ofFood:
Conceptualising Food Anxiety
What is on one’s plate (or not) is by many means complex given the trans-
gressive nature of food. Goodman and Sage establish that for the human
body “there are few things more essentially transgressive and boundary-
crossing than food” (2014, 1). In the widest sense of the term, ‘transgres-
sion’—being an established concept in social theory—refers to the
delineation, crossing, and exceeding of spatial, discursive, behavioural,
and material boundaries (Jenks 2003). We understand such boundaries as
uid ‘areas’ marked by relational interaction between blurred rather than
supposedly clear-cut categories (Lamont and Molnár 2002).
e complexity of food then lies in its characteristic of bounding
diverse scales in one’s own mouth. rough the lens of food one can con-
nect the past with the present, the individual with society and the domes-
tic household with the world economy (Belasco 2007, 5). Yet, the
complexity of food does not end on the plate. It is rather nurtured again
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
by the very act of incorporation of food into the body (e.g. Fischler 1988,
279; Probyn 2000; Carolan 2011; Abbots and Lavis 2013; Lavin 2013;
Abbots 2017). Eating thus constitutes the intersection of the body and
the ‘Self’ (see Lupton 1996) or the ‘objectied’ and the ‘lived’ body
(Gugutzer 2012). Correspondingly, the body is more than an object reg-
ulated by social norms and structural relations but constitutes the imme-
diate site of the visceral and sensory experience of ‘being-in-the-world’
(Csordas 1990).
We, the editors, conceptualise food anxiety as evolving from trans-
gressing diverse scales that lace the visceral being of the self with societal
norms, political dynamics, and economic structures. e constant nego-
tiation of such boundaries provokes essential questions, even poses
threats, to relational integrity at dierent levels (Lavin 2013, xii). ese
internalised or unconscious as well as conscious negotiation processes are
also captured through the concept of food neophilia and neophobia—
the openness/aection towards respectively the distrust/fear of new food
(Rozin 1976; Fischler 1988; Wilk 2009). Related to the ‘omnivore’s par-
adox’, humankind’s relationship to food is inherently contradictory,
alternating between the search for diversication and mistrust of poten-
tial danger (Fischler 1988). In contrast to the terms ‘uncertainty’ or ‘fear’,
which are rather conned to risks regarding food quantity, quality, and
palatability, ‘anxiety’ captures more fundamental struggles over identity,
dierence, and power (Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy 2008).
Anxiety’ reects not only on questions of integrity in terms of material
‘realities’ but also regarding the transgression of discursive structures.
What one consumes and produces, can access or is excluded from tells
something about one’s class-based, gendered, racialised, and historical
embeddedness in global capitalist systems of food production, distribu-
tion, and consumption. Furthermore, what one eats or refrains from
needs to be seen in the context of diverse local social norms and taboos
of food provisioning and responsibility (DeVault 1994) as well as under-
stood as embedded in codes of body conduct, attractiveness (Lupton
1996; Probyn 2000; Cairns and Johnston 2015), and productivity (e.g.
Foucault 1977, 1978; Featherstone 1991). Historical trajectories of food
scarcity, emotions, and memories of food desire as well as imaginaries of
abundance are imparted over generations (Sutton 2001). As such, food
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
demarcates as well as crosses physical, symbolic, and imagined boundar-
ies, and as the process of incorporation is so closely linked with subjec-
tivity, it constitutes a great source of anxiety and risk in general (Lupton
1996, 16). Food anxiety in its symbolic and material dimensions, then,
emerges as an eect of fundamental social processes and structures bound
in relationality and the essential process of boundaries constantly being
made and unmade (Lamont and Molnár 2002; Jenks 2003).
In the following presentation of the book structure, the reader will be
introduced to the various dimensions of food anxiety as resonating at dif-
ferent intersections at stake. e editors’ lens of food anxiety on the case
studies will reect on how and which boundaries are transgressed, negoti-
ated, kept elastic, or reinforced. e book is organised in three parts,
reecting on dierent boundary crossings and respective food anxiety
facets. Part I focuses on bodily transgressions and questions of (colonial)
identity, gender, and power. Part II puts centre stage the boundaries
between the supposed xed triangle of state, market, and society by dis-
cussing questions of trust, responsibilisation, and coping regarding food
safety. e nal Part III turns to the politics of food security by elaborat-
ing on transgressions of territorial agricultural boundaries and volatile
global food markets.
Part I—Bodily Transgressions: Identity, Othering,
Part I of this book makes central the interface of the eating body, the
subjective self and broader society. It discusses identity construction as
a process strongly mediated through food consumption, deprivation,
and body work. Eating oers insights into the ways in which identity,
dierence, and power are inscribed upon the body be it as formulated,
for example, in Bourdieu’s concept of the class-based habitus (1984) or
by Foucault’s techniques of self-discipline and optimisation (1988;
Parsons 2015), as socialised into gendered bodies (Butler 1993; Lupton
1996) or as racialised ‘Others’ (Hall 1997; Slocum and Saldanha 2013).
Furthermore, the focus on eating throws light on agency and the “micro-
practices of contestation and acceptance” (Abbots 2017, 14) towards
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
the structural, discursive, and material forces working on the body.
Embodiment—as the sensory, visceral, and emotional dimensions of
bodies as ‘being-in-the-world’ (Csordas 1990)—draws attention to the
very sensual experiences of being regulated in terms of gender, class, and
race but also to embodiment as a potential site of resistance (Abbots
2017, 20f.).
Eating as a project of negotiating identity is fundamental. e posi-
tioning vis-à-vis ‘foreign’ food either through hostility or openness can be
an expression of a perceived threat towards an imagined culinary origin
as much as the demonstrated consumption of the unfamiliar can be an
expression of distinction or sophistication (Wilk 2009; see Peters, this
volume). As we will see with the rst contribution by Erica J.Peters, this
colonial power play very subtly materialised in people’s everyday food-
ways. Peters’s chapter ‘Power Struggles and Social Positioning: Culinary
Appropriation and Anxiety in Colonial Vietnam’ opens this section by
providing an in-depth historical portray of food-related anxieties as
rooted in dierent power constellations. By focusing on Vietnams pre-
colonial and colonial culinary history, Peters lays the groundwork for the
subsequent book chapters which concentrate primarily on food anxieties
in contemporary Vietnam. e choice to integrate a historical perspec-
tive in this volume was made in order to avoid assumptions about the
historical singularity of phenomena (Inglis and Gimlin 2009, 11). Peters’s
historical account elaborates on the central point of food becoming a
powerful vehicle to rise in and to demarcate one’s social status as well as
to exclude others from social mobility. e chapter deals with anxiety on
the part of the colonial power(s) in Vietnam. Anxiety here is triggered by
colonised bodies incorporating French foods. French colonisers per-
ceived the Vietnamese elite and general population eating French food
according to French etiquette as acts of bodily and symbolic transgres-
sions by the ‘uncivilised’. To the contrary, the Vietnamese colonial elite
actually played with such dichotomies of the ‘civilised’ and the ‘back-
wards’ by displaying the sophistication of their own food etiquette and
gustatory traditions. rough demonstrations of the French’s inability to
handle, for example, chopsticks, the Vietnamese relativised narratives of
‘civilisation’ and, therewith, turned the embodiment of Vietnamese food
into a potential site of resistance towards the colonial regime. Besides
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
examining food anxieties during the French colonisation of Indochina
both on the side of the colonisers and on the colonised society, Peters also
takes a look at intra-societal conicts and anxieties along the lines of
class, location, and political views. She uses food as a lens to show how
the complex social boundaries, for example, between the rural ‘back-
wards’ and the local (urban) elite, were constantly transgressed, rein-
forced, reproduced, and challenged along matrixes of constructed
‘superiority’ and ‘inferiority’. Peters’s contribution shows the intimate
relationship between food and claims of social and political authority as
a means to assure oneself and one’s own identity against the respective
Other. She closes with the argument that anxiety evolves on the part of
the colonisers because their power feels illegitimate and vulnerable more
generally. is would make the constructed demarcation line between
the rened ‘culinarily civilised’ and the ‘rawness’ of the colonised bodies
becoming more and more porous.
Whereas anxiety in Peters’s chapter is triggered by supposedly clear-cut
identities of the powerful and the subordinate becoming transgressed
through food practices, the subsequent chapter by Nir Avieli relates to
anxiety as a matter of transgressing food taboos and social norms of food
restrictions. In his chapter ‘Forbidden from the Heart: Flexible Food
Taboos, Ambiguous Culinary Transgressions, and Cultural Intimacy in
Hoi An, Vietnam’ Avieli brings the reader’s attention to contemporary
Vietnam and presents an ethnographic study conducted in the central
Vietnamese town of Hoi An. Avieli’s ethnography zooms into the cater-
ing and consumption of he-goat meat and ‘jungle’ meat, both subject to
certain food taboos. He describes the food venues where these ‘forbidden’
meats are served as strongly marked by the symbolic display of extreme
masculinity, characterised by both vague and blatant associations with
sexual services and female suppression as well as the abuse of political and
social power. In the two case studies and along the cultural symbolism of
meat, the essence of the patriarchal system of dominance and power as in
men over women and men over animals and nature unfolds through the
incorporation of the female sexualised Other and of ‘forbidden’ meats
(Twigg 1983; Adams 2000; see also Probyn 2000). Another momentum
of masculine ‘might’ shows in the abuse of the law through the incorpora-
tion of the ‘wild’ esh of legally protected forest animals. e dense
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
atmospheric description of respective food venues imparts to the reader
the strong ambivalence that accompanies the consumption of such sym-
bolically contaminated meats (Rozin 1976). Avieli tickles out the conic-
tive aair of eating between lust and disgust. Being aware that their
culinary practice is ambivalent as it transgresses social and moral impera-
tives, the eaters of tabooed meat escape to what he describes with Herzfeld
as ‘cultural intimacy’ (Herzfeld 2005). is notion constitutes that the
act of transgression itself creates new boundaries of social bonding in
these arbitrary culinary places. ere, cultural intimacy becomes based
on essentialised maleness through the subordination and symbolic con-
sumption of the female and the wild. e transgression of such food
taboos loaded with gendered notions of masculinity and femininity
becomes even reinforced by social condemnation. us, the chapter illus-
trates the relationality of boundaries at play with the discussed meats
being subject to taboos and anxiety in some and desirable and identity-
instilling in other contexts.
Part I closes with a chapter by Judith Ehlert titled ‘Obesity, Biopower,
and Embodiment of Caring: Foodwork and Maternal Ambivalences in
Ho Chi Minh City’. According to the World Health Organisation, obe-
sity constitutes one of the major food anxieties as the threat it poses is
global in scale. It is supposed to put public health systems as well as the
productive labour force of whole economies under pressure (WHO
2000). In this vein, fatness is considered a moral transgression and obese
people conceived as supposedly unable to restrain themselves for the
public good and in the name of idealised personal responsibility (LeBesco
2011; Lupton 2013; Cairns and Johnston 2015, 89.). For the rst time
in recent history following the opening-up of the economy, obesity and
being overweight have also entered the public health discourse in Vietnam
relating it to general dietary changes towards the increasing consumption
of processed, convenience, and high-calorie foods (Vietnam Ministry of
Health 2012). e government addresses the global ‘obesity epidemic’12
through national programmes on nutrition and health education and
public awareness campaigns. e obesity discourse and the media’s and
the food industry’s diverging appeals of ‘consume and abstain’ serve the
author as a scaold for her empirical study on how mothers experience
the conicting social norms and practices of feeding children amidst the
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
prescription of certain body and beauty ideals for children. She elabo-
rates how food femininities are constructed through discourses and prac-
tices of mothering and rooted in the embodiment of caring for oneself
and one’s children. Ehlert argues that food anxiety on the side of mothers
and mothers-to-be arises from the conicting demands being placed on
them. First, a whole food industry co-opts the practice of feeding and
caring as it promotes their products tainted with paramount symbols of
love and care for prot-making purposes. Second, and simultaneously,
public health campaigns urge mothers to regulate their children’s
unhealthy appetites, coupled with social media fora and lifestyle blogs
pandering to ‘modern’ and responsible mothering. ird, intergenera-
tional conicts regarding the regulation of children’s nutrition add to the
complex demands that frame the ‘correct’ feeding of children as a moth-
er’s obligation and as essential to her ‘moral personhood’. ese conicts
materialise in certain ways to discipline the child’s body and leads to
mothers exerting self-discipline on their own bodies. e chapter shows
that the correspondence with social norms addressing femininity and the
child’s body as object in terms of its shape and physical constitution are
inevitably internalised as well as embodied in the phenomenological
sense (Crossley 2012). e conicting demands of caring become
embodied and arouse sensual ambivalences wielding socially structured
food anxiety.
Part II—Food Safety: Trust, Responsibilisation,
By addressing food safety, the contributions in the second section touch
upon an aspect of food anxiety of high societal relevance and one of the
most prevailing contemporary food concerns in Vietnam. e empirical
basis of this section counters the academic bias that discusses concerns
for food quality and safety predominantly as phenomena of the Global
North. Against the structural framework of the capitalist system of food
production and provision, Part II deals with subjective feelings and dis-
courses on food anxiety that actors experience in the face of decreasing
transparency in global food chains that reaches down to local urban
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
markets. Moreover, this section centres on the relational power between
society, state, and the market in terms of food safety as it articulates
questions of how people negotiate the described intransparency and lack
of accountability when eating food that is perceived as hazardous.
Related to the previously mentioned sweeping changes in food provi-
sioning are transformations in qualication processes of food. Whereas
in wet markets quality is observed directly and sensorily on the basis of
embodied food knowledge, in supermarkets third-party labels on often
pre-packaged foods are supposed to be quality guarantors (Figuié and
Bricas 2010, 187). Concomitantly, trust is negotiated very dierently in
the face of third-party institutions. At the same time the relation between
state and society has seen a change in character: while under central
planning consumerism was ocially frowned upon and possible mostly
on an illicit black market, post Đi Mi citizens are expected to embody
their roles as consumers (Vann 2005). And while structurally the gov-
ernment continues to exercise power over the conditions of the food
system, its role is now more indirect in terms of decision-making.
Rather, policy interventions and market paradigms position the indi-
vidual as responsible for behavioural change regarding (food) shopping
based on the execution of choice (Wertheim-Heck 2015). As stated, it is
particularly anxieties that touch on the safety of food that are examined
under Part II.Besides issues of food hygiene, it is especially the question
of chemical contamination that concerns people regarding their health
and bodily integrity. rough mismanagement of (at times illegal) agri-
cultural inputs, preservatives in food processing and chemicals used in
food scams, unclear amounts and types of substances make their way
into food and eventually into people’s bodies. To a certain degree, peo-
ple are ‘blindfolded’ when eating as they cannot retrace the origin and
the quality of the food they ingest on a daily basis, stirring people’s inse-
curity in terms of harming one’s health and bodies.13
is second part begins with the chapter ‘Trust and Food Modernity
in Vietnam’ by Muriel Figuié, Paule Moustier, Nicolas Bricas, and
Nguyen i Tan Loc, and provides an overview of the food safety con-
cerns that exist in current-day Vietnam. is contribution presents
empirical research into Vietnam’s transforming food system and the anx-
ieties associated with this. By specically drawing on the notion of trust
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
in consumers’ search for quality food, this chapter examines peoples
strategies of coping with a food system in transition. It builds on the idea
that there exist three types of food systems—traditional food systems,
modern food systems, and late modernity systems—with very dierent
risks as well as qualication processes of food. Due to the speed of
changes in terms of industrialisation, urbanisation, and economic liber-
alisation in recent decades, the authors hypothesise that the food system
in Vietnam shows characteristics of all three types of food systems as it
has been transformed by a ‘compressed modernity’. Traditional food sys-
tems are characterised by small-scale farming as well as small local mar-
kets where food quality is assessed directly through the senses and based
on trust in familiar sellers. In the face of industrialised food production
and lengthened food chains in modern food systems, then, the gap
between a highly specialised food sector and the population not involved
in food production is bridged by institutions who guarantee the quality
of food through formalised labels. As such a liberalised food system pro-
duces sustainability and safety issues that cannot be assessed by consum-
ers directly and thus are less acceptable to them, the authors then speak
of food systems of late modernity in which the negative consequences
behind the achievements of modernisation such as productivity increases
become visible. It is under these intransparent and complex circum-
stances that food safety becomes a major concern of consumers since
neither direct qualication nor governmental controls seem to be able to
oer sucient trust in food. Consequently, consumers diversify their
ways of building trust in food sources and navigate between them
depending on the context. Figuié etal. describe how the boundaries
between the dierent and coexisting systems are at times uid and how
they are negotiated by consumers while posing a source of anxiety at the
same time. e exceptionally rich empirical basis for this chapter com-
poses data from 12 years of research in Vietnam. By conceptually marry-
ing questions of trust with modernisation processes of the food system,
the chapter oers insights into the sources of and dealings with current-
day food anxieties in Vietnam.
e following chapter ‘Between Food Safety Concerns and
Responsibilisation: Organic Food Consumption in Ho Chi Minh City’
by Nora Katharina Faltmann focuses on one specic response to food
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
anxieties in the form of eating organically produced food. is chapter
examines emerging organic food consumption in urban Vietnam and
contextualises it within the country’s current food safety situation.
Faltmann’s empirical research on Ho Chi Minh City indicates that while
environmental concerns do not play a role in organic consumption, per-
sonal health concerns and food anxieties in light of the prevailing food
safety issues do all the more so. With this, consumers’ individual motiva-
tions for buying organic products in urban Vietnam dier widely from
the emergence of organic food consumption as part of wider environ-
mental movements in the Global North that still often informs Western-
centric understandings of organic consumption. e chapter points out
that whereas organic sectors in Global North contexts have seen strong
corporatisation and conventionalisation tendencies in past decades, envi-
ronmental protection continues to serve as the ocial rationale behind
many foreign-nanced organic initiatives in Vietnam. Yet in the context
of the country’s food safety issues, Vietnamese consumers rather seek
organic food as an individual response to food safety concerns, particu-
larly in terms of chemical contamination. With the clientele of Ho Chi
Minh City’s high-priced organic niche market most prominently being
highly educated, well-earning, and female in familial care positions,
organic food consumption is moreover structured along the lines of class
and gender. Opting for organic food, thus, poses an individual strategy to
achieve safe food provisioning for oneself or one’s family within the
realms of market logic. Similarly, the chapter identies the recent grow-
ing interest of the Vietnamese state in the development of the organic
sector as clearly corporate-driven whereas the governmental emphasis on
productivity-oriented agriculture and overall food security persists. e
at times contradicting inuences of neoliberal consumer discourse, the
socialist state as well as contemporary food safety issues simultaneously
structure the organic sector and produce food anxieties that Faltmann
illustrates based on the narratives of organic food consumers. It is in this
vein that the author embeds her ndings on organic consumption within
changing societal discourses that mark a shift in the relations between the
government, the market, and the individual.
Notions of what constitutes safe food and ways to acquire such are
also an element of the next chapter, this time with a focus on (informal)
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
practices of urban gardening in Hanoi. In this chapter, Sandra Kurfürst
links her own empirical research on urban gardening practices and rural-
urban food supply in Vietnam’s capital with conceptions of the rural and
the urban. ‘Urban Gardening and Rural-Urban Supply Chains:
Reassessing Images of the Urban and the Rural in Northern Vietnam
argues that while binary categories of the rural and the urban in Vietnam
persist in imaginaries, the boundaries between them are oftentimes
transgressed in practices of everyday life. e author recalls the symbolic
meanings of the urban as a hub of modernity, political power yet also as
polluted and disorderly in contrast to the countryside which is regarded
as a socially intact place of tradition, in touch with nature and source of
safe and fresh food, yet also designated as potentially backward. ese
binary categories are continuously reproduced in social interaction while
at the same time being resolved in everyday practices (in the city). ese
practices are then worked out by Kurfürst in relation to prevailing food
anxieties and urbanites’ quest for safe and fresh food. rough, for exam-
ple, growing food in urban space on sacred pagoda land, in private spaces
prior dedicated to ornamental rather than edible plants or in public
spaces, ideas of what constitutes inherently urban or rural practices and
spaces are negotiated. In the case of gardening on public land in Hanoi
that the government increasingly transforms from agricultural to con-
struction land, citizens—so the author argues—make (subversive) usage
of space purposed for economic activities, hence actively shaping their
urban environment. With such interim usage often being tolerated by
local authorities, ‘mediation spaces’ occur in which the boundaries
between public and private, economic and agrarian, are re-negotiated
and uid while on a national level, policies for the re-zoning of agricul-
tural land into investment land for development projects (see Gorman,
this volume) intend more clear-cut determinations of the functions and
value of land through concomitant classications. Another realm that
expresses uidity between rural and urban conceptions in Vietnam’s
urbanising society lies in relations urbanites maintain with kin in their
rural place of origin. e source of knowledge for cultivating food in
the city often lies in the rural biographies of urban gardeners.
Moreover, such rural-urban ties also function as provision systems for
urban residents with food from the countryside. Other than food from
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
the in-between spaces of vast peri-urban areas providing Hanoi with
food, products directly from the countryside are trusted as safe and fresh.
is applies all the more so if this food is acquired through direct per-
sonal relations even though the end consumers might know little about
the conditions of production or origin. us, the chapter shows that on
the one hand the rural/urban binary continues to inform the way people
imagine space as well as safe food, while on the other hand their practices
often prove the uidity and ambivalence of such imagined boundaries.
Part III—The Politics ofFood Security
Part III touches on the most basic anxiety around food: food security—
namely the adequate availability and accessibility of food not only to
meaningfully fuel one’s body but to avoid malnutrition and chronic hun-
ger. At the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome, food security was dened
as “exist[ing] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic
access to sucient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs
and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 1996). Critical
debates on food security often take a swipe at the concept’s apolitical core
and its technocratic understanding of ‘feeding the world’ from the top-
down (Holt Giménez and Shattuck 2011). e genuine political nature
of food safety, however, comes into light when relating it more closely to
the path-dependency of colonial exploitation, the unequal conditions of
global trade, and mass production and mass consumerism bearing most
severely on marginalised groups to cater for their food needs. e politi-
cal dimension of food security also plays in as much as food provision and
accessibility are crucial in terms of national sovereignty and political
authority, providing the essential backbone for a regime’s legitimacy
(Bohstedt 2016).
Part III of this book centres on such political dimensions of food secu-
rity when it discusses questions of national sovereignty and the limits of
protecting domestic production markets amidst global food provisioning
systems. e chapters in this book part portray how, despite the general
abundance of food on a global scale and increase in consumer auence,
structural deciencies of the agri-food system continue to work to the
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
detriment of marginalised groups. Food security as a basic need seemed
almost forgotten in Vietnam, tranquilised as it was by the heydays of
economic growth and agricultural boom. On the basis of its agricultural
output records in recent decades, Vietnam not only provides for the
domestic market but contributes signicantly to the global food provi-
sioning system through its agricultural export orientation. However, the
global food crisis that reached fever pitch in 2007/2008 exposed Vietnam’s
shaky interconnectedness with volatile agricultural commodity markets.
Although much less than elsewhere, when the food crisis hit Vietnam it
sharply called the assumed steadfastness of food security into question.
As will be shown, China plays a dominant role for the development and
future of the Vietnamese agricultural sector. Besides the relationality of
the food security strategies of both countries, they are strongly connected
in terms of food safety issues. What will become most apparent in the
two chapters in Part III is the class-based dimension of having enough
(safe) food to eat—no matter on which side of the national borders one
is. e permeability of both national agricultural sectors towards global
agri-food trends is highlighted by the following chapters whereas food
anxiety will show in reinforcing class-based boundaries. is is what will
be focussed as the politics of food security in this book part.
In his chapter ‘From Food Crisis to Agrarian Crisis? Food Security
Strategy and Rural Livelihoods in Vietnam’, Timothy Gorman begins
with a scene of food panic that economic analysts would not have dared
to suspect; as the food price crisis of 2007/2008 swept Vietnam, anxious
consumers queued up to buy food and hoarded supplies of rice. As one
economist exclaimed in disbelief: “In Ho Chi Minh City, for heavens
sake, the centre of the second-largest rice exporting surplus in the world,
supermarkets and rice markets got cleaned out in two days” (Timmer in
Charles 2011). Gorman takes this alarming outcry as basis for his metic-
ulous inspection of the post-crisis national food security strategy as
dened in Resolution 63. His discourse analysis brings to light the spe-
cic cultural, political, and historical pathway that the document was
formulated on and the government’s priority to shield the Vietnamese
population from falling back into historical times of rice insecurity.
Whereas panic buying of urban consumers in 2007 constitutes the start-
ing point for Gorman to illustrate the reactions to the global food crisis
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
in Vietnam, in his chapter, he reconstructs the rationale of why the gov-
ernment responded in the way it did. According to him, the legacy of
food shortages in Vietnam translates into the historical promotion of
production- and supply-oriented rice agriculture as a means to prevent
political unrest throughout the dierent times and regimes (see also
Peters, this volume). In connection with this, the chapter discusses
Confucianist norms of sovereignty, based on the teleological power of the
sovereign to provide for its people, the deeply entrenched symbolism of
rice for the Vietnamese diet and identity as well as rice constituting the
major foodstu for the rural poor and urban working classes as crucial
drivers of the post-crisis rice policy. e chapter then brings together the
implementation measures of Resolution 63 with a broader agrarian crisis.
In his case study, the author discusses how the resolution has aected the
social conditions and peasants’ class struggles more broadly in the rice-
growing areas in the Mekong Delta. Gorman summarises the externali-
ties of the modernised and production-oriented rice and food policy by
describing a ‘general air of agrarian crisis in the countryside’. is ‘general
air’ on the part of small-scale peasants speaks of their anxiety regarding
the insecure and blurry options they have when dropping out from the
agricultural sector with not too many options for being meaningfully
absorbed by other economic sectors. With his chapter and from the
standpoint of critical agrarian studies, Gorman retraces food-relationality
between various scales—from the volatile bubble of global trade markets
to the territorially bounded nation-state aiming to provide food security
down to the risky livelihoods of small-scale farmers in the Mekong Delta.
is implies food, in this case rice, to travel between the boundaries of
highly abstract food markets, over fairly concrete physical and territorial
boundaries to the embodied boundaries of food producers and consumers
alike. Furthermore, this chapter covers the historical interconnectedness
of time-related boundaries when it brings together the collective memory
of food scarcity of the past that carries on as an imperative for the party’s
resolution to provide food in a self-sucient and production- oriented
manner within own territorial boundaries.
In his chapter ‘When Food Crosses Borders: Paradigm Shifts in China’s
Food Sectors and Implications for Vietnam’, Hongzhou Zhang assumes
that it would be politically, diplomatically, and practically challenging for
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
Vietnam to repeat the ban of rice exports, as was done in 2007/2008, in
the case of another crisis. With China being the biggest rice consumer in
the world and Vietnam supplying an enormous share, Zhang analyses the
implications of Chinas overall food security strategy and changing con-
sumer food preferences for the Vietnamese agri-food market and for
global agricultural developments more broadly. Due to its growing pro-
duction gap China turns to alternative measures to assure growing
domestic demand and national food security in staples. As in Vietnam’s
agricultural policy (see Gorman, this volume), China also prioritises
farmland concentration to the dead end of small-scale agriculturalists.
Besides further exploitation of the aquatic and marine resources which
has recently triggered a lot of geopolitical conict between Vietnam and
China, China heavily invests in agricultural technology developments in
the form of GMOs. is is backed by China’s economically powerful
merger and acquisitions of business giants in the agri- and pharmaceuti-
cal sectors which are likely to shape the GMO agenda for the global agri-
food industry as a whole (Zhang 2016). In the same vein, Chinas
agriculture going global relies on land-based investments outside of its
national territory—a strategy often criticised as neocolonial land grab-
bing (Hofman and Ho 2012). Zhang then zooms in on domestic food
consumption leading the focus to food safety issues in China as well as
beyond its borders in Vietnam. Part II of this book on food safety por-
trays Vietnamese consumers being suspicious towards the consumption
of Chinese food produce. Given Vietnam’s suspicion towards the ‘Big
Brother China’, the ambivalences arising in Vietnam are twofold: on the
one hand, the Vietnamese discourse condemns Chinese food14 as it is
perceived harmful for a person’s health as well as for national integrity
more generally; on the other hand though, the relative aordability of
Chinese imported produce caters to a substantial demand for cheap food
of the working class and destitute groups in urban and rural society in
Vietnam. Zhang’s data shows that counterfeit and substandard food
products legally and illegally entered the Vietnamese consumer market.
Furthermore, China’s increasingly harsher environmental policies drive
Chinese low-end food manufacturing, fertiliser, and pesticide sectors out
of the domestic market, which resettle in emerging markets like Vietnam.
Just like for the Vietnamese case, broader changes in dietary patterns in
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
China expose strong class-based dierences and rural-urban divides.
Whereas high- and middle-income consumers turn to (partly organic)
imports from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries which are per-
ceived as safer, consumers who cannot aord to go the safe way suer
from sharply rising domestic retail prices and substandard food supply to
the detriment of their health. Evidently, food anxiety for price-sensitive
consumers on both sides of the border in China and Vietnam relate to
food security as well as food safety concerns. e food legally and illegally
traded in both directions of the national borders show how food risk is
passed on domestically and across the land borders to poorer groups who
structurally make up the major ‘recipients’ of such food risks endemic to
the domestic as well as global food systems.
1. For an overview, see Mintz and Du Bois 2002; on Vietnam, see Avieli
2. We thank Carina Maier for providing us with this photo as it captures
the essence of this book so well.
3. By approaching food as a paramount physical and social requirement of
human existence, it was anthropological and sociological scholars in par-
ticular who lifted food out of its perceived irrelevance for scientic dis-
covery (e.g. Lévy-Strauss 1997; Mintz 1985; Mintz and Du Bois 2002;
Murcott 1983; Mennell et al. 1992; Counihan and Kaplan 1998;
Poulain 2017).
4. For detailed works engaging with food anxiety theoretically and empiri-
cally see, for example, Abbots 2017; Jackson 2015; Lavin 2013.
5. For an example on an intersectional approach to issues of food access in
the USA, see Alkon and Agyeman 2011.
6. Of course, Vietnam’s colonial history pre-dates the arrival of the French
colonial regime as much as the formation of the nation-state itself
involved the forced subordination of diverse ethnic groups by the ethnic
Vietnamese (Kinh) majority in the pursuit of arable land to ght hunger
in scarcity- prone areas (see Peters, this volume). Since ethnic Vietnamese
(Kinh) gained rule over Chinese power in 939AD and claimed rule in
the Red River Delta in the North (Bc B), the Vietnamese “slowly
inched their way through the centre (Trung B) into the South (Nam
Food Anxiety: Ambivalences Around Body andIdentity, Food…
B), opening new land to colonisation and encouraging migration from
older areas” (Popkin 1979, 84). During the great “advance to the south
(Nam tiến) (Hickey 1967, 2) rst Vietnamese and Chinese settlers
reached the Mekong Delta in the 1600s (see Peters, this volume; Biggs
2004, 79; Brocheux 1995, 10.). is claim of new frontier land
involved the forced colonisation of diverse ethnic populations in the
areas defeated by the ethnic Vietnamese (Taylor 2007; Scott 2009) and
marked the beginning of a decades-long internal food transfer from the
southern delta for ghting hunger in the scarcity-prone regions (Biggs
2004; Brocheux 1995).
7. e French colonial terms for these regions were Cochinchina for the
southern, Annam for the central, and Tonkin for the northern region.
8. Also known in the USA as the ‘Vietnam War’.
9. At the peak of the crisis skyrocketing prices for staple food resulted in
menacing levels of food insecurity and malnutrition and sparked protests
and food riots in a number of countries in the Global South. Revealing
the instability of the global food system through the volatility of world
market prices, the crisis was caused by the interplay of a variety of short-
term factors including nancial speculation in agricultural commodity
markets, export restrictions, decreasing global grain stocks, and bad har-
vests. ese were coupled with long-term shifts including land competi-
tion between crops for food and crops for livestock feed and so-called
biofuels and rising fuel prices in fossil fuel dependent agrarian systems
(Mittal 2009; Weis 2013).
10. For a summary of the debate, see Warde 1997.
11. Ritzer’s work on the McDonaldisation of Society (1993) discusses ratio-
nalisation as a principal structural driving force of modernisation in gen-
eral and in the eld of food consumerism specically, predicting a certain
trend of culinary homogenisation. Watson (1997) confronted Ritzer’s
rather pessimistic outlook regarding the loss of culinary diversity. Along
with empirical case studies on the localisation of fast food markets,
Watson highlights that the structural expansion of McDonaldisation
does not inevitably lead to cultural homogenisation but rather to the
localization of this structural imperative—fostering global culinary
12. For a critical perspective of the social construction of the ‘obesity epi-
demic’ in China, see Greenhalgh 2016; for a critical account of the ‘obe-
sity epidemic’ and neoliberalism, see, for example, Guthman 2009 and
Metzl and Kirkland 2010.
J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
13. e chapters in this section have set their primary focus on perceptions
and practices of urban consumers, while food safety of course also relates
to the realms of the rural. While (harmful) agricultural practices are part
of the general food safety debate and academic focus, farmers’ perspec-
tives are often given less room despite their central role in and direct
contact with food production. Whereas Part III of this volume zooms in
on the major changes in domestic agriculture in the course of agricul-
tural restructuring policies of the government, rural perspectives on
issues of food safety are not part of this volume, posing one of its limita-
tions. We certainly would have liked to integrate such work and are con-
vinced that perspectives of rather than on those growing the food would
deepen insights into the country’s food safety debate and require further
academic attention.
14. Suspicion towards the safety of Chinese food imports is not conned to
Vietnam (for Japan, see Walravens 2013).
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J. Ehlert and N. K. Faltmann
... More specifically, two recent studies in Vietnamese cities have pointed to concerns over food safety as a key motivation for urban agriculture (Kurfürst 2019;Pham and Turner 2020). In Vietnam, the widespread cynicism regarding conventional food systems has fuelled alternative food movements as increasingly aware urban middle-class consumers search for trustworthy vegetable producers and distributors (Ehlert and Faltmann 2019). Scholarship on urban food in Vietnam has illuminated the volatility of food systems as a result of heightened food safety concerns and increased consumer demand for clean vegetables (Naziri et al. 2014;Kurfürst 2017;Hansen 2021). ...
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As a central component of the “green city” narrative, urban agriculture is gaining importance in urban planning and global sustainability agendas. In Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, the “green city” is core to the state’s urbanisation agenda, with a green corridor envisioned as part of the city’s Master Plan for 2030. We investigate the patterns and processes of small-scale urban agriculture underway in this green corridor to better understand whether this type of agriculture actually intersects with, and is supported by, state plans. We frame our paper in conceptual debates around food safety and everyday governance, while supporting our analysis with data from interviews with resident gardeners and officials, as well as the mapping of urban gardens in seven wards in and alongside the green corridor. We pay attention to practices and motivations of residents who maintain small-scale vegetable and fruit plots (the most prevalent form of urban agriculture), and the challenges and constraints they face. Our work reveals the temporary and interim status of urban agriculture in Hanoi, highlighting the contradictions within Vietnam’s “green city” discourse. Nonetheless, urban residents still undertake urban agriculture, negotiating or compromising with state officials, to meet their demands for fresh and safe food.
... Increasing prosperity also came with widening socio-economic inequality, e.g., in the shape of income polarization (Oxfam 2017) and class differentiation including an emerging middle-class often understood through (conspicuous) consumption (Ehlert 2016) and high-ranking or high-earning professions (Gainsborough 2010). Meanwhile, the country's food system has transformed from widespread scarcity to an increasingly diversified food supply (Ehlert and Faltmann 2019). ...
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In recent years, the southern Vietnamese metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City has seen a proliferation of urban gardening, ranging from the minute home-growing of herbs and vegetables to commercial urban gardens. In this article, I argue that what underlies these phenomena is urbanites' striving to control the food they consume in light of prevalent food safety concerns in Vietnam. Based on ethnographic research, the article demonstrates that urban food growing efforts are largely related to a widespread crisis of confidence in the food system in general and in farming specifically. People are particularly concerned with agrochemical contamination of food and its long-term health effects. Meanwhile, tensions exist between negative views of "unsafe" practices of unknown farmers and the simultaneous romanticization of rural life and of food acquired through personal rural connections. In the context of growing socioeconomic inequalities in the late socialist country, the research also examines how urban gardening as an individualized and middle-class activity renders visible class differences in access to locally produced, "safe" food.
... Supermarket development has brought foreign foodstuffs into domestic urban markets. Multinational pharmaceutical and industrial food and beverage companies have also played their part in making sure branded products fly off the supermarket shelves (Ehlert & Faltmann, 2019a). Vietnam is said to be currently undergoing a so-called 'nutrition transition'. ...
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This article draws on Bourdieu’s concept of habitus as a means to analyse social distinction and change in terms of class and gender through the lens of food consumption. By focusing on urban Vietnam, this qualitative study looks into the daily practices of food consumption, dieting and working on the body as specific means to enact ideal body types. Economically booming Vietnam has attracted growing investment capital in the fields of body and beauty industries and food retail. After decades of food insecurity, urban consumers find themselves manoeuvring in between growing food and lifestyle options, a nutrition transition, and contradicting demands on the consumer to both indulge and restrain themselves. Taking this dynamic urban context as its point of departure and adopting an intersectional perspective, this article assesses how eating, dieting and body performance are applied in terms of making class and doing gender. It shows that the growing urban landscape of food and body-centric industries facilitates new possibilities for distinction, dependent not only on economic capital but on bodily and cultural capital also, and furthermore, how social habitus regarding food–body relationships are gendered and interlaced with class privilege.
... Further, studies have indicated that individuals' food-related perceptions and practices may be influenced by criteria such as their identity and habits (Chen, 2011). This is supported by the contention of some researchers who believe that the primary goal of individual consumption rests in expressing one's identity (Ehlert and Faltmann, 2018). This would hold especially true for the consumers who are ethically-driven, possess a strong ethical self-identity and exhibit concern J o u r n a l P r e -p r o o f about the influence of their lifestyle and food choices on the environment (Husic-Mehmedovic et al., 2017). ...
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The consumption of organic food is gaining ground globally due to consumers’ concerns for personal health and food safety. Several countries, such as Japan, are turning their focus to promoting organic food consumption, but research is scarce on Japan’s organic food market. Additionally, despite consumers’ positive predisposition, retail sales in Japan for organic food are low, and there is a need to understand the reason for this disparity. This study addressed this need by examining factors that may drive the willingness to purchase (WTP) and stated buying behavior (SBB) toward organic food through the Stimulus–Organism–Behavior–Consequence (SOBC) paradigm. The developed model was tested using cross-sectional data collected from 928 Japanese consumers. Study findings suggest that food safety concerns (FSC) and health consciousness are positively related to openness to change, and ethical self-identity. Further, openness to change and ethical self-identity are positively associated with WTP, while SBB is positively associated with WTP. In addition to this, buying frequency positively moderated the association of self-identity with WTP and WTP with SBB. The study offers critical implications for researchers, marketers and retailers.
... Of particular interest for this paper are concerns over access to safe food. Food safety debates in Vietnam articulate around fear and distrust towards local food production and provisioning systems and, in turn, the ways people create trust and navigate such food provision systems (Ehlert & Faltmann, 2019). These food provision systems range from individual food vendors, local wet markets, and national supermarket chains, to global food networks (Figuié et al., 2019;Wertheim-Heck et al., 2015). ...
Urban agriculture literature regarding the Global South reveals important knowledge gaps concerning spatial variations of food gardens across cityscapes, gardener motivations, and tensions with urban planning regulations, especially in locales beyond sub-Saharan Africa. In Vietnam, urban agriculture is growing in popularity and gaining media attention but there is little research as to why urban agriculture is practiced in smaller Vietnamese cities, especially those close to rural hinterlands. In this paper we investigate small-scale urban agriculture – or food gardens – in Lào Cai, a small upland city located on the Sino-Vietnamese border. We find a complex diversity of garden sizes and land management arrangements where gardens are built, including on state institutional land, thanks to informal arrangements. Gardener motivations focus predominantly on food safety concerns, contrasting with key motivations found elsewhere in the Global South. Throughout the city, albeit more so in newly urbanising sectors, this urban practice remains precarious due to irregular land access and confusing city authority regulations. We thus examine how urban residents are working to access safe food and contribute to their city’s urban food system while state officials tend to focus their priorities elsewhere.
... This contributes to changing food-shopping practices, as it becomes more common to travel by car or motorbike to buy food and more common with bulk shopping instead of going to the market every day. Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the large supermarket chains are able to benefit from a series of food scares and the fact that food safety has come to be ranked as a main social concern in both countries (see Ehlert and Faltmann 2019;Zhang 2019). Not knowing what to trust, many consumers believe imported food from the supermarket, or, particularly for the case of China, bought online (Zhang 2019), is safer than local markets. ...
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The rapidly escalating production and consumption of meat across the world has drawn much attention in recent years. While mainstream accounts tend to see the phenomenon as driven by ‘natural’ processes of consumption pattern change through economic development, critical geographies have turned to exploring the uneven capitalist processes underpinning what Tony Weis calls ‘meatification’. In Weis’ view, meatification unfolds through what he calls ‘the industrial grain-oilseed-livestock complex’, which is presently becoming a dominant form of agricultural production worldwide. Simultaneously, but less thoroughly investigated in the emerging scholarship, meatification unfolds in and through everyday geographies of consumption that we conceptualize as variegated ‘meatscapes’. By bringing together critical geographers’ interest in the political economy of meat with practice theory and consumption research, this contribution furthers the geographical dialogue around the spatial transformations brought about by meatification. Looking at Vietnam and China as examples of rapidly meatifying countries, we explore the intersection of macro-scale spatial transformations through trade and commodity flows and, at the micro-scale, transformations in food practices. We thus argue for an approach to meatification that is multi-scalar and conducive to further regionally specific research of meatification in Asia and beyond.
... Food is a human necessity. However, with the development of society, food safety has caused anxiety to human beings and, thus, has become a topic of interest [1]. ...
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This study aimed to investigate netizens’ food safety knowledge, attitudes and behavior, status, and their demand for science popularization by WeMedia. Firstly, participants were recruited by WeMedia, including WeChat, Microblog, and QQ. Then, a web-based survey was conducted using a self-designed questionnaire, which comprised 29 items about the knowledge, attitude, and practice (KAP) status of netizens’ food safety and the demand for science popularization by WeMedia. A correct answer on knowledge-related items was assigned a value of 1 point, and the high, medium, and low levels of knowledge had a total of 6–8, 3–5, and 0–2 points, respectively. A correct answer on attitude-related items was given a value of 1 to 5 points, and the high, medium, and low levels of attitude had a total of 16–20, 8–16, and l4–8 points, respectively. A correct answer on practice-related items was given a value of 5 to 1 point, and the high, medium, and low levels of attitude had a total of 22–30, 14–22, and 6–14 points, respectively. Results showed that the distribution of the different levels of the KAP scores were as follows: high (79.0%), medium (20.2%), low (0.8%); high (65.6%), medium (34.1%), low (0.3%); high (70.1%), medium (29.4%), low (0.5%). Approximately 86% of the subjects desired to obtain food safety knowledge from WeMedia. In conclusion, the netizens’ KAP in food safety are relatively optimistic. A large demand for science popularization on food safety knowledge by WeMedia is warranted. The WeMedia has a potentially important role in science popularization and health promotion related to food safety and health behaviors.
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Amidst calls for making food systems more sustainable, new unsustainable food transformations unfold alongside economic development. Explanations for unsustainable food transformations in emerging economies vary greatly, but there is widespread agreement that demand from new middle classes play a crucial role. Yet this demand is to a large extent co-created by systems of provision, and middle-class consumers are constantly navigating food transformations in a search for healthy and safe food. Focusing on Vietnam’s dramatic food transformations, and combining attention to the political economy of food with a social practice approach to consumption, the paper zooms in on the how middle-class households in Hanoi negotiate the rapid transformations of food systems and food environments. The paper concludes that new thinking on sustainable food systems is urgently needed and argues that vital insights can be gained by studying food practices and their interaction with everyday geographies of consumption.
The American experience in Vietnam divided America as a nation and eroded its confidence in both the morality and the effectiveness of its foreign policy. Yet America's understanding of this tragic episode remains superficial because, then and now, it has never grasped the passionate commitment with which the Vietnamese clung to and fought over their own competing visions of what Vietnam was and what it might become. To understand the war, we must understand the Vietnamese, their culture, and their ways of looking at the world. This book paints a portrait of twentieth-century Vietnam. Against the background of traditional Vietnamese culture, it takes the reader through the saga of modern Vietnamese history and Western involvement in the country, from the coming of the French in 1858 through the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Throughout this analysis, it allows the Vietnamese—both America's friends and foes, and those who wished to be neither—to speak for themselves through poetry, fiction, essays, newspaper editorials, and reports of interviews and personal experiences. By putting America's old and partial perceptions into this new and broader context, the book provides positive insights that may perhaps ease the lingering pain and doubt resulting from its involvement in Vietnam.
The book looks at canonical books in political theory and contemporary interventions in food politics to examine how the experience of eating structures our ability to conceptualize politics. The book offers a theoretical treatment of food politics, examining how food offers valuable resources for thinking about such political concepts as identity, knowledge, and sovereignty. The book does not just contribute to Food Studies, but helps explain the rise of Food Studies as an area of humanistic inquiry. The book links the concerns of food politics (especially questions of sustainability, public health, and inequality) to the changing nature of global order and the possibilities for democratic rule. The book examines the significance of consumerist politics, and (simultaneously) the relationship between politics and ethics, public and private.
Proust’s famous madeleine captures the power of food to evoke some of our deepest memories. Why does food hold such power? What does the growing commodification and globalization of food mean for our capacity to store the past in our meals – in the smell of olive oil or the taste of a fresh-cut fig? This book offers a theoretical account of the interrelationship of culture, food and memory. Sutton challenges and expands anthropology’s current focus on issues of embodiment, memory and material culture, especially in relation to transnational migration and the flow of culture across borders and boundaries. The Greek island of Kalymnos in the eastern Aegean, where Islanders claim to remember meals long past – both humble and spectacular – provides the main setting for these issues, as well as comparative materials drawn from England and the United States. Despite the growing interest in anthropological accounts of food and in the cultural construction of memory, the intersection of food with memory has not been accorded sustained examination. Cultural practices of feasting and fasting, global flows of food as both gifts and commodities, the rise of processed food and the relationship of orally transmitted recipes to the vast market in speciality cookbooks tie traditional anthropological mainstays such as ritual, exchange and death to more current concerns with structure and history, cognition and the ‘anthropology of the senses’. Arguing for the crucial role of a simultaneous consideration of food and memory, this book significantly advances our understanding of cultural processes and reformulates current theoretical preoccupations.
Despite government claims that food is safer and more readily available today than ever before, recent survey evidence demonstrates high levels of food-related anxiety among Western consumers. While chronic hunger and malnutrition are relatively rare in the West, food scares relating to individual products, concerns about global food security and other expressions of consumer anxiety about food remain widespread. Anxious Appetites explores the causes of these present-day anxieties. Looking at fears over provenance and regulation in a world of lengthening supply chains and greater concentration of corporate power, Peter Jackson investigates how anxieties about food circulate and how they act as a channel for broader social issues. Drawing on case studies such as the 2013 horsemeat scandal and fears about the contamination of infant formula in China in 2008, he examines how and why these concerns emerge. Comparing survey results with ethnographic observation of consumer practice, he explores the gap between official advice about food safety and people’s everyday experience of food, including a critique of ideological notions of ‘consumer choice’. A captivating, timely book which presents a new theory of social anxiety.