Angela Ki Che Leung et al., "Moral Foods: The Construction of Nutrition and Health in Modern Asia" (U Hawaii Press, 2019)

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The twelve chapters of Moral Foods: The Construction of Nutrition and Health in Modern Asia (U Hawai’i Press, 2020) are divided into three sections: Good Foods, Bad Foods, and Moral Foods. Using case studies from nineteenth- and twentieth-century China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia, these chapters investigate the moralization of food in modern Asia. These studies on moral food regimes are highly specific, but their implications, especially about the malleability of food as an object of moralization, are far reaching. The first chapter in Good Foods, by Francesca Bray, examines the construction of rice as a symbol of self in Japan and Malaysia. Jia-Chen Fu’s contribution looks at the “goodness” of soymilk in China. Izumi Nakayama’s work is about the emergence of breastmilk as a “good food” in Meiji-period Japan. Finally, Michael Liu writes about Chinese experimentation with nutrition during WWII. David Arnold’s chapter on moral foods―especially rice―in India during the period of British colonial rule begins the second section on “bad” and even “dangerous” foods. The other three chapters in this section address bad foods in South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong, respectively. Tae-Ho Kim looks at discourses on rice, barley, and wheat in modern South Korea. Tatsuya Mitsuda writes on the creation of badness around sweet confections in Japan. Finally, Robert Peckham examines bad foods in the context of British colonial public health programs in Hong Kong. In the final section, Lawrence Zhang shows how changing visions of the health and morality of tea track with geopolitical, cultural, and scientific developments in the modern relations between East Asia and the West. Angela Ki Che Leung’s looks at the modern reinterpretation of vegetarianism in China. Volker Scheid also looks at China, specifically at the reconstitution of traditional Chinese medicinal knowledge and practice. Finally, Hilary Smith’s chapter tackles the moral meanings that accrued to milk in modern China. Each of these chapters shares the volume’s overall interest in both the moral regimes of food in the context of modern nation-building and the bodies and lives of consumers.

Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese language and history in the University of Bergen's Department of Foreign Languages.

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