Ellen Oxfeld, Middlebury College

Ellen Oxfeld is a professor of anthropology at Middlebury College. She is currently finishing revisions on an ethnography of food culture in rural southeastern China titled Bitter and Sweet: Food, Meaning and Modernity in Rural China (to be published by  University of California Press next year). She is also the author of Blood, Sweat and Mahjong: Family and Enterprise in an Overseas Chinese Community (Cornell University Press, 1993) and “Drink Water, but Remember the Source”: Moral Discourse in a Chinese Village (University of California Press, 2010). She is co-editor, along with Lynellyn Long, of Coming Home? Refugees, Immigrants and Those Who Stayed Behind (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). 



Bitter Greens and Sweet Potatoes: Food as Embodied Memory in Rural China

This paper investigates how particular food substances in rural China embody historical memory and become markers of the historical transformation from food shortage to food abundance. In particular, the paper examines how villagers in rural Meixian, a county in Guangdong, China, find significance in, and indeed remember the past, through their discussion of common foodstuffs. The meanings of these foodstuffs are not merely fixed in an overarching semiotic system—although such meanings are part of the story—but in addition, their significance has changed over time as these foods interact with historical events and transformations. Furthermore, the village residents heavily view the historical changes themselves through the lens of food.