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Food, foodways and foodscapes: Culture, community and consumption in post-colonial Singapore.


Food, foodways and foodscapes: Culture, community and consumption in post-colonial Singapore


Singapore: World Scientific, 2016. Pp. 260. Index.

Food studies has become institutionally mainstreamed, with PhD programmes, dedicated appointments in areas such as global food history, and a raft of methodological guides. Given Singapore's cultural position at the intersection of imperial history and multiculturalism and its geographical position as a major equatorial port city connected to complex Indian Ocean and imperial trade networks, it comes as no surprise that there has also been increased scholarly interest in the study of food in this important city-state. Food, foodways and foodscapes: Culture, community and consumption in post-colonial Singapore reflects this growing engagement.

The title of the collection is perhaps a little misleading, with post-colonial being understood temporally rather than theoretically. As the editors make clear in the introductory chapter the collection ranges from the early days of 'post-colonialism' to 'contemporary times'. The editors use a very broad gaze and locate the collection in the context of interdisciplinary food studies, foregoing the opportunity of a more sustained engagement with Singapore-specific literature. The nine chapters take varying methodological approaches and there are those that will be of interest to food scholars, those that will be of interest to Singapore scholars and a few that stand out as making contributions to both.

Chua Beng Huat's opening autobiographical photo essay connects to one of the predominant themes in bom Singapore studies and this collection; heritage and memory-making. Memories are also a thread that runs through Adeline Tay's chapter on snack foods in Singapore, what she rather charmingly frames as snackscapes. Tay connects snacking to the cultural significance of time in Singapore--simultaneous symbol of a rushed lifestyle and resistance to it. For Kelvin E.Y. Low, memories exist at the intersection of senses and text as he considers food-related nostalgia as acts of consumption, remembering and reading about food. Nostalgia, expressed as a retro-aesthetic, is the focus of Jean Duruz's excellent chapter bridging memory and place. Drawing on the richest range of theoretical perspectives in this collection, the chapter illustrates how a Singaporean site can be both interesting in its own right and used to make a theoretical intervention. Stretching what retro might mean, Duruz suggests 'retro-licious' food can provide a way of acknowledging the recent past through sensory memory.

Place also concerns Harvey Neo in his standout chapter on pig farming in Singapore. The demise of pig farming is both important and underexamined, and Neo does a fine job of connecting the example of a specific industry to broader transitions in the food supply and supply chain processes in Singapore. Connections of heritage and place are also made by Lai Ah Eng in her chapter on kopitiams or coffee shops. Lai usefully insists on a more ethnically diverse history and on interrogating the complex claims to authenticity in the commodification of kopitiams.

The final three chapters take a more contemporary focus. In looking at cooking practices Vineeta Sinha makes an important distinction between eating and cooking in Singapore. She frames cooking as increasingly a special occasion affair, akin to play, and reminds us that in this context cooking is also a consumption practice. Another set of consumption practices, food imaging and blogging, is the focus of Amy Tan Xiang Ru's chapter, which highlights both the production of this material and its consumption, such as binge-gazing. The final chapter in the collection, by Lily Kong, looks outward at how Singapore's food culture in many ways simultaneously challenges and pre-empts common knowledge about globalisation.

The volume more broadly does important work to stretch and recast conventional discussions. In many ways Singapore provides an example that makes it relevant beyond its size and, excuse the pun, makes the study of its food, foodways and foodscapes deserve a seat at the kitchen table of food studies alongside well-established sites such as France, America and China.


University of Tasmania
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Author:Tarulevicz, Nicole
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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