The Social Life of American Crayfish in Three Cultures
In The Social Life of Things, Arjun Appadurai (1986) mentions that: “Commodities, and things in general, are of independent interest to several kinds of anthropology. ... As valuables, they are at the heart of economic anthropology and, not least, as the medium of gifting, they are at the heart of exchange theory and social anthropology generally.” Here, I would like to pay attentions to the different meanings of one food item in various social contexts in order to understand local livelihoods from an anthropological perspective.
Food is one of the most important cultural markers of identity in modern societies, and it has provided a medium for the understanding of social relations, kinship, class, gender ideology, and cultural symbolism. Much scholarly attention has focused on the social and cultural construction of foodways, but a truly comprehensive view of food cannot neglect local politics and power relations among different stakeholders in the mode of food
production. It is also necessary to discern how, when, from where and even why different kinds of food are produced, prepared and supplied. These are vivid examples of the global movement of ingredients which travel from region to region and even across oceans from continent to continent. Most importantly, they remind us not only of the changing concepts of food, as well as various eating and cooking styles in different places, but also of how people adopt and reproduce for trade and consumption regarding the local social development. This research project seeks to examine the social impacts
brought by the introduction of North American freshwater crustaceans (commonly called crayfish) to Japan and mainland China, and to investigate individual and community responses toward the adaptation, consumption and conservation of this exotic species mainly during the last two decades. By studying different crayfish production in the US, Japan and mainland China, I aim to understand the socio-cultural changes that have taken place in the agricultural and fishery system in relation to the local economic and
conservation developments since the 1990s. Finally, questions related to food production have been overlooked by social scientists, as it is commonly believed that they are the province of professionals working in the field of agriculture, biology, and nutrition. However, cultural aspects of food production have a significant impact on how and what we eat, and my focus of this project will help to elucidate the different interests of various stakeholders in the local socio-political context of production.

(For more information, please contact: sidneycheung@cuhk.edu.hk )

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  • 2010 The Social Life of American Crayfish in Asia. In Globalization, Food, and Social Identities in the Asia Pacific Region, James Farrer ed. (online conference proceedings) Tokyo, Japan: Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture, 2010. (available at: http://icc.fla.sophia.ac.jp/global food papers/
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