DARE TO ASK: Chinese food a favorite with blacks?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
It seems that in America, black people are crazy about Chinese food. What are
the cultural reasons behind this?
Tom I., white, 34, Paris
What do you base this weird assumption on?
Sharon, black, Michigan
It's for the same reason Chinese people in America love McDonald's: it is
quick, inexpensive and tasty.
Michele, 38, white, Jacksonville
Chinese food is just good as hell!
Nyla, 17, black, New Jersey
Chinese food tastes good to lots of folks. I see many Hispanics whenever I go
to a Chinese restaurant.
E.D., 48, black, Missouri
I never ate rice without sugar until I moved up North. My first taste of
fried rice hooked me for life. It was bought at the corner rice house, where
most African- Americans buy and prefer.
Vivian, 56, black, Houston
We do spend money on good food - that's why we encourage the Greeks, the
Japanese and others to bring their cuisines to the ghetto ... they'll get rich!
We would love to have other foods in our community, but for the time being, we
are fighting just to get grocery stores.
Diane, black, Charlotte, N.C.
Tom is on the right track. Once we found a strange, brown folded cookie wafer
lying on the ground. We cracked it open, and inside, oddly enough, was a thin
strip of paper with a message on it: "Trust your intuition. The universe is
guiding your life. And remember, don't tell white people how off the chain this
Chinese food is."
Truth is, of course, that eating preferences vary just as much among
African-Americans as any other group, says Eric J. Bailey, professor of medical
anthropology at East Carolina University and author of Food Choice and Obesity
in Black America.
That said, as major cities developed in the United States, various ethnic
groups did find themselves in proximity to one another, among them Chinese and
black people. That led to mixing and matching of cuisines, Bailey said. And
consider Chinese food's similarity to soul food: basic food products that are
altered with extra sauces to be made sweet or spicy.
"Soul food was developed that way, too. By adding sauces to stuff that was
bland, it began a pattern of modifying food. Slaves had to find a way to use the
remnants left behind by their owners. You try to make whatever is available
usable and tasteful for the palate. You experiment ... when you're given scraps,
you're going to try to make it nice for everyone."
And like soul food, Chinese food, with its fresh ingredients like vegetables
and some meat sauteed in for good measure, can and should be changed to make it
better for the body.
"We can still adhere to the pattern, but we can use sodium substitutes or
find other ways to affect things like the amount of cholesterol," he said. "We
can maintain the feel, but make it healthier."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers.