Bite of Taiwan culinary intimacy in contemporary Taiwanese food narratives
This thesis examines the trope of intimacy in an array of food narratives – including prose essays, novels, autobiographical accounts, travelogues, and pictorial books – published in Taiwan since the 1990s. By focusing on texts written by Lu Yaodong 逯耀東 (1933-2006), Fu Peimei 傅培梅 (1931-2004), Jiao Tong 焦桐 (1956-), Li Ang李昂 (1952-), Liu Kexiang 劉克襄 (1957-), and Cai Zhu’er 蔡珠兒 (1961-), I demonstrate how these writers mobilise what I term “culinary intimacy,” a socio-cultural imagination that emphasises how food, as a universal language, can effecti¬vely reunite people disregarding their differences. I argue that these writers challenge the formalism of nationalist discourse in their food writing which becomes a means for them to articulate their indeterminate identities. Further¬more, I will point out the identity crisis that these writers allude to in their dining accounts where they often accentuate food’s palliative functions. By analysing selected Taiwanese food writings within their contemporary cultural contexts, I pay attention to how literary works intervene in socio-political discourse. Specifically, I appropriate Michael Herzfeld’s idea of “cultural intimacy” to foreground how these writers cast doubt on nationalism and national identity at a time when Taiwan still endeavours to prove its political and cultural legitimacy. In this regard, different relationships, including brotherhood, friendship, and family, are constructed to allude to the geopolitics Taiwan shares with China, Japan, the USA, and other Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Besides, Taiwan’s convoluted colonial history – governed by the Dutch, the Spanish, and the Japanese – is brought to the fore when the writers investigate the world history of food. Hence, Taiwanese food writing epitomises the nation’s hybrid culture – a cultural amalgamation that resists any single-sided, exclusive nationalist discourse. To unfold the concept of “culinary intimacy,” I explore themes such as “home/¬land,” “body,” and “nature.” Chapters 1 and 2 examine the food experiences of main¬land Chinese immigrants who often reveal a fondness for their hometown dishes. Yet I demonstrate that both Lu Yaodong and Fu Peimei reveal an ambivalent attitude to the “home/land” that refers to both mainland China and Taiwan. In Chapters 3 and 4, I examine issues concerning Taiwanese consciousness as they are framed by a reverie of male potency, the national body, and sexuality. I analyse how Jiao Tong and Li Ang re-imagine the national union as a sexual union in a novel view of cross-strait relations. In Chapters 5 and 6, I study how Liu Kexiang and Cai Zhu’er insist on knowing the origins of the fruit and vegetables that they consume. The global move¬ments of the plants as they are transported across borders also initiate a sense of cosmopolitanism alongside a growing ecological awareness. In other words, when writers envision a more culturally diverse and politically tolerant world, they rely on the global connections between Taiwan and other countries via these intimate food accounts.