One of my key projects in Hong Kong is to explore its local food-scape – what is it and who informs it? A rather trendy term popular in recent discourses in food, “foodscape” is used to encompass many relationships between the food and its landscape, and I wanted to start by considering its broad remit and focus on an angle for my SOAS dissertation.
I had set off with a couple of expert interviews with local producers about their experience working with food, embracing culture, heritage, ‘local’ foods, memory and market trends. So far, I have talked with a family baker, a transnational food retail manager, an independent food business entrepreneur, a food tour guide, a condiment producer and paid a visit to a soy sauce maker in the New Territories, not to mention ‘participant-observation’ eating food, often in social situations. Every informant and occasion has offered so much interesting insight in their own experience with food and I am still struggling where to set off my project, with some main lines of enquiry as follows:
- Hong Kong’s distinctive political situation and geographical location have given the city’s many opportunities to ride on global trade routes via the Guang Dong (Canton) province which involved many food commodities, as well as bringing forth the exchange of wealth, ideas and people. How has this historical background paved the path for Hong Kong being the culinary capital of Asia?
- How has Hong Kong’s colonial history created cultural exchange and economic opportunities to inform the local ‘cuisine’ in any way?
- How have social and political changes on mainland China (in the last century) impacted on the Chinese diaspora globally and its effect in Hong Kong? How does this in turn affect the population of Hong Kong, its local foods, land use, food production and perception of quality?
Amongst all these, there is also a health-related aspect I’d like to investigate further. Adverts for all kinds of health supplements (including infant milks) are splashed all over the territory. Many food commercials also carry health claims often citing very complicated chemical names, endorsed by celebrities such as this by Aimee Chan on Hipp Organic (why is the boy in the advert still requires ‘baby food’?), a ‘white’ scientist in a lab coat doing research in highly sterile conditions, or telling mothers it is imperative they decide the best for their children in adverts such as this. How does power influence the way food and health messages are communicated?