Flavors of Empire
Food and the Making of Thai America
University of California Press 2017
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Asian American StudiesNew Books in FoodNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network February 13, 2018 Ian Shin
In Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America (University of California Press, 2017), Mark Padoongpatt weaves together histories of food, empire, race, immigration, and Los Angeles in the second half of the twentieth century. Flavors of Empire explores how Thai food became hyper-visible in the United States, and yet Thai people have remained relatively invisible in American life. The story of Thai food in America begins with U.S. informal empire and culinary tourism in Thailand in the 1950s. Subsequent migration and settlement in LA spurred a Thai restaurant boom in the 1970s and 1980s. Padoongpatt investigates how these culinary contact zones helped shape Thai identity while remaining attentive to tensions over ethnicity, class, and gender in these spaces. The commercially driven, multicultural sensibility that made Thai cuisine popular among Angelenos had its limits, however, and Padoongpatt uses the clash over a weekend food festival at a Thai Buddhist temple to highlight conflicting modes of suburbanization. By the 1990s, the Thai community could organize politically, and used local culinary tourism to stimulate equitable economic development in the newly designated Thai Town neighborhood of LA. As the story of Thai cuisine in the U.S. continues to unfold, Flavors of Empire urges readers to think critically about the long journeys—both geographic and historical—that our food has taken to get to our plates.
Ian Shin is C3-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in the History Department at Bates College, where his teaching and research focus on the history of the U.S. in the world and Asian American history. He is currently completing a book manuscript on the politics of Chinese art collecting in the United States in the early 20th century. Ian welcomes listener questions and feedback at [email protected].