Bitter and Sweet (Paperback)

Food, Meaning, and Modernity in Rural China (California Studies in Food and Culture #63)

By Ellen Oxfeld

University of California Press, 9780520293526, 280pp.

Publication Date: May 23, 2017

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (5/23/2017)

List Price: 34.95*
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Less than a half century ago, China experienced a cataclysmic famine, which was particularly devastating in the countryside. As a result, older people in rural areas have experienced in their lifetimes both extreme deprivation and relative abundance of food. Young people, on the other hand, have a different relationship to food. Many young rural Chinese are migrating to rapidly industrializing cities for work, leaving behind backbreaking labor but also a connection to food through agriculture.

Bitter and Sweet examines the role of food in one rural Chinese community as it has shaped everyday lives over the course of several tumultuous decades. In her superb ethnographic accounts, Ellen Oxfeld compels us to reexamine some of the dominant frameworks that have permeated recent scholarship on contemporary China and that describe increasing dislocation and individualism and a lack of moral centeredness. By using food as a lens, she shows a more complex picture, where connectedness and sense of place continue to play an important role, even in the context of rapid change.

About the Author

Ellen Oxfeld is Gordon Schuster Professor of Anthropology at Middlebury College. She has also been a visiting scholar at the Hakka Research Institute, Jiaying University, Meizhou, Guangdong, China. She is the author of Drink Water, but Remember the Source: Moral Discourse in a Chinese Village, among other books.  

Praise For Bitter and Sweet: Food, Meaning, and Modernity in Rural China (California Studies in Food and Culture #63)

"Bitter and Sweet is a rich and detailed ethnography that makes a convincing case for following food through its transformations as it is created, exchanged and consumed to reveal myriad themes of contemporary social life, what I would call a “gustemological” approach to culture."

— Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

"This is useful reading not only for fellow anthropologists in the China field, but also for anyone interested in knowing about modern China. Summing Up: Highly recommended."