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Asian Cultural Heritage and the Impact on Food Choices

Food is a vital component of cultural identity. More specifically, traditional food beliefs are embedded in cultural heritage. Therefore, cultural heritage can influence food choices. Food choices refer to how people decide what to eat. Multiple factors influence food choices. So, how does cultural heritage impact food choices among Asian cultures?  

Traditional food beliefs are encompassed within cultural heritage and family history.  As traditional food beliefs are transferred from generation to generation,  these beliefs are a predominant influence on food choices. For instance, the Yin and Yang theory is a traditional belief that is significantly embedded within Chinese culture. This belief has been established over many centuries, thus it has a substantial influence on food choices in Chinese culture. According to this theory, Yin and Yang are complementary and opposing properties that regulate health. Eating foods in Chinese culture is primarily centred on achieving equilibrium of these forces. It is traditionally believed that maintaining this equilibrium may help maintain health as well as prevent and eliminate illness. Foods are categorized as Yang or Yin. More specifically, Yang foods are traditionally believed to encompass the properties of hotness. Examples of yang foods chips, black tea or oily foods. In contrast, Yin foods are traditionally believed to encompass the properties of coldness.  Examples of Yin foods include watermelon, water spinach and aloe. The properties of hot and cold do not necessarily refer to the temperature of foods. Rather, these properties have been established by the Yin and Yang theory. To achieve equilibrium, individuals will choose to consume diets containing equal amounts of Yin and Yang foods. 

Example of Yang Food: Fried Chicken

Example of a Yang Food: Fried Chicken

Embedded within traditional food knowledge are also food symbolisms and holidays. Thus, holidays and food symbolisms have a substantial impact on food choices. In particular, dishes associated with specific holidays inherently possess symbolism. For instance, Lunar New Year is a major holiday celebrated in Hong Kong, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea and other countries. This celebration signifies the end of winter and the beginning of a new year. Analogous to Christmas, this holiday is a time for families to reunite, gather and enjoy holiday meals. There are distinctive foods that are customarily consumed during Lunar New Year. Generally, families will choose to consume these food items due to their symbolic value. For instance, fish is always consumed among Chinese families as it represents togetherness and abundance. Tangerines are also regularly consumed during Lunar New Year as they symbolize happiness and prosperity. Moreover, noodles are regularly consumed as they represent longevity: a long prosperous life consisting of good health, wealth and happiness.

Longevity Noodles

Longevity Noodles (Image Source: Fine Cooking)

Differing food symbolisms associated with Lunar New Year also exist among other cultures that celebrate this holiday. For instance, Lunar New Year in Vietnamese culture consists of similar food symbolisms as in the Chinese culture, but also different ones. For instance, sticky rice cakes are a necessity to consume during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year as they represent longevity, abundance, prosperity and unity. 

Vietnamese Sticky Rice Cakes

Vietnamese Sticky Rice Cakes (Image Source: Yummy Vietnam)

Traditional food knowledge is also comforting as individuals may adhere to them to invoke a sense of comfort. For instance, individuals may choose to employ their traditional food knowledge to make cultural dishes. Furthermore, consumption of traditional foods may create feelings of comfort as it may remind immigrants of their home country, remind adolescents or adults of their childhood or remind individuals of family members. 

Conclusively, traditional food knowledge, which is embedded within cultural heritage, is inherently critical and heavily influences food choices. Among these, traditional food knowledge is comforting, unique and beautiful.

Author

Asian Cultural Heritage and the Impact on Food Choices
Student │ Food Justice Advocate │ Science Communicator