Mark Swislocki


On his book Culinary Nostalgia: Regional Food Culture and the Urban Experience in Shanghai

Cover Interview of April 01, 2010


Aside from inviting readers to take food and nostalgia seriously, I think that there might be a kind of mirror in Shanghai’s historical record for the evolving set of broader concerns about the state of the world food supply today.  The stridently “localist” impulse that animates practices ranging from the Slow Food Movement to the rise of community supported agriculture is not unprecedented.  Those who deride localism as elitist or “nostalgic” in the worst sense of the word would thus do well to listen more carefully to what that nostalgia is saying about what people want to eat and why.

The tenacity of regional food culture in China meant that nobody ever seriously considered the possibility of creating a national cuisine, let alone considered that doing so might be desirable.  It may be that food just doesn’t lend itself, ultimately, to such a product.  The last century and a half of food processing and industrialization has, of course, facilitated the spread of foods across regional boundaries, so that Americans can, if they wish, all eat the same condiments, canned goods, and prepared foods.  But the backlash, however long in coming, may be telling us that the attempt to nationalize cuisine, rather than culinary nostalgia, is the true pathology in the history of food.

© 2010 Mark Swislocki