Food, globalisation, and cultural capital


Food is not only the product of context, but it can also transform into the context itself. Culturally and ecologically food carries meanings and symbolism (Fischler, 1988; Mintz & Bois, 2002). For instance, eating sushi at a sushi bar or at home can deliver the sense of Japan through the shape of the food, the way it was cooked, and the way people eat. In this respect, sushi is closely related to the culture of Japan, not just as a mere food made of raw fish and rice. In this paper, I will explore the surroundings and the understanding of one Korean dish called kimchi, and look into its relations to globalisation and influence through the concept of “cultural capital”. Cultural capital, according to Bourdieu, is the form of capital which determines one’s social position through the accumulation of it. The growing global recognition of kimchi can be seen as growing cultural capital in the globalising world in terms of influence. In fact, South Korea’s effort to promote its cultures abroad began with the influence of American cultures. As a defensive measure, it strove to gain more recognition through its cultural objects in other cultures, with the aim of transforming the nation from the “influenced” to the “influencing”. Through commodification and commercialisation of cultures, the nation was able to export its diverse forms of popular cultures to other countries. With the moderate success of popular culture industries, more investment has been put into promoting Korean food. As the recognition of Korean food grew, there have been some visible changes in the social ecology it resides, including its relations with people and the environment. First, the names of Korean dish does not need to be translated into English. As more and more people learn the names of Korean dish, the need to explain them in different means of reference has been reduced. Second, kimchi, one of the most smelly food, is being accepted in neutral environments such as international flights. These changes, to some extent, imply the influence of Korean food in the global arena. The main sources of the research are journals, books, and news articles. However, my personal encounter with the changes is also included.
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Ni hao at me?

I was walking down the street this morning to get a nice cup of coffee in an environment that’s more vibrant than my room, when I saw a man giving direction to a group of young men who left in hurry. The friendly looking man was wearing a flash orange uniform with his presumably cleaning materials in the cart he was pulling. When I was almost walking past him, he looked at me and said ni hao with his hands politely folded. His smile and polite gesture pleased me, and yet I said “Oh I’m not Chinese.” He didn’t seem to understand English, though. After a moment, I started thinking why I had to say that. I could have greeted him nicely because I kind of felt pleasant with his gesture somehow. I know that it can be often called racism in some context when people just assume who you are based on the look or inaccurate interpretation of the look. Saying ‘ni hao’ instead of ‘goede morgen’ when he obviously could do it can sound a bit wrong. Still, I hated that I had to say who I’m not or who I am at the genuinely-felt greeting.
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