Taking Ramen Seriously: Food, Labor, and Everyday Life in Modern Japan

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University of California, San Diego, 2009 - Food - 242 pages
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The study of food can divulge some of the most basic characteristics of different people's social organization at any given point in time, and is a useful way to address issues of historical change and continuity at the level of everyday life. The study of food through history is also an important way to bridge the conceptual bifurcation of labor, on one hand, and leisure on the other. Because eating is the most basic activity necessary for the reproduction of labor power, as well as a social activity thick with symbolic associations of recreation and superfluity, it reveals the tight connections between work, rest, and macroeconomic organization in ways that may otherwise not be evident. Building on these notions, in this dissertation, I examine the reconstitution of Chinese noodle-soup in modern Japan at key moments to illuminate the political and economic logic of changes in everyday life. I study the social historical implications of changing food practices by examining shifts in the popularity, material constitution, and meanings attributed to Chinese noodle-soup and its association with different categories over time. The designation of the dish as foreign, urban, cheap, nutritious, fast, slow, novel, traditional, unhealthy, or Japanese in various social-economic contexts reveals how dietary practices and ideas about nourishment are tightly interlaced with shifting labor conditions, industrialization, international trade relations, and state policy-making. Dietary change, as seen through one particular dish, therefore, serves as the medium for establishing the connections between shifts in the political economy and everyday life practices in modern Japan.

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