Session Abstract: Few things look like food: reengineered plastics, bacterial colonies, counterfeit ethanol, burnt wood, and chemical extracts. Yet, these unfamiliar objects are essential to some of the most recognizable food products: soy sauce, sake, synthetic meats, miso, rice wine, and peppercorn. This panel explores how broader themes of toxicity, edibility, and inedibility offer new perspectives in establishing new frameworks in “Asian” STS, or Science Technology and Society studies. We ask: What are the conditions that transform otherwise inedible into things that we want to eat? What are the conditions that convert ultimate objects of desire into unwanted waste and vice versa? This panel uses a variety of approaches in the humanities and social sciences, including history, anthropology, and the social studies of science, to explore the legal, industrial, technical, and chemical aspects of some of the most iconic foods.
Victoria Lee begins with foods that might kill, presenting on kōji, the “national fungus” of Japan, which became associated with one of the deadliest carcinogenic byproducts. Tristan Revells looks at the failed efforts to regulate counterfeit alcohol as poison in early 20th century Shanghai. Anthony Acciavatti examines how engineers transformed soybeans into an industrial plastic and then into an edible synthetic meat. Max Moerman examines ritualized forms of eating ash in Japanese Buddhism. Lan Li considers these issues together in the boundaries between food and spice through the case of peppercorn. Jia-Hui Lee further contributes broader themes of technologies and techniques of determining (in)edibility make sense of “Asian” sensations and sensibilities.
Paper Presenter: Lan A. Li – Rice University
Paper Presenter: Victoria Lee – Ohio University
Paper Presenter: Tristan Revells – Columbia University
Paper Presenter: Anthony Acciavatti – Yale University
Paper Presenter: Max Moerman – Barnard College, Columbia University