Authenticity as a Social Construct

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People always suggests to their friends to eat at certain Asian restaurants over others because of its “authenticity”. But how do people rule a restaurant as authentic or inauthentic? Are their opinions credible because they are of that race? But what if two people of the same race do not agree if a restaurant is authentic or not? What makes one person’s opinion more valid than other’s? What is authentic and what is inauthentic? Why is it such a big deal?

By Merriam Webster’s definition, authenticity is “genuine, true; [and] not copied”. Authenticity always goes back to the notion of origin or roots. Authentic food implies that products are prepared using the same ingredients and processes as found in the homeland of the ethnic group. People often like to categorize foods as being real or fake because being able to place things into categories is a way to legitimize the dominant group’s perceived knowledge. They do this by assessing the relative strangeness and/or acceptability of the food. Because of this, immigrant food is often categorized as ethnic food precisely because of its alterity and difference. This reinforces the dominant power because by categorizing Asian food as an “other” the hegemonic power is legitimized.

So it is safe to say that authenticity is a social construct, and consumers need to stop stressing the authenticity of a restaurant because authenticity itself it a difficult to define due to different intercourses and identities of people.

For example in “Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader”, the authors conduct an ethnography on a Filipino Christmas dinner where different Filipino Americans were disappointed because the meal did not meet their subjective definition of authenticity. Some of the guests notes that back in their homeland they would not have used red sausage in every dish because it was “tacky’. However, this is not an issue the authenticity of the food. Some guest dis-identified with their homeland because it may be a way of “refusing the linearity and simplistic essentialism” that surrounds questions of authenticity.

This is why the author suggests to its readers to “dismantle the very notion of authenticity” especially for the discourse that concerns immigrant food because inauthenticity is not lack of authentic elements. It is a state and process of emotional discomfort and a refusal to admit defeat to an easy mapping of identity. As shown in the Filipino Christmas dinner, everyone’s’ experiences of homeland is different, and because of that there is no “one true” perception. The reality is that we need to recognize the intersectionality of people within each race. People can come from different social backgrounds. One person might have experienced more meat in their dishes at home because they were more affluent than another person. Or maybe they had less meat in their dishes because they did not have access to those resources back in their homeland. It is impossible to know everyone’s experience in his or her homeland, but we cannot say that a person’s experience is any more or less legitimate than another person’s. Thus, one person’s perspective is not anymore valid than the others.

With the hundred of different Asian cultures, there is no one “authentic” or “real” Asian cuisine. Everyone has different perceptions and identities for food (even within their culture). Asian cuisine is not just a localized practice; it is formed by multiple culinary convergences, attempted adaptations, and “outside influences”, thus Asian cuisines intersect with multiple dimensions of identity and difference. Obsessing over authenticity is an unproductive obsession with what other people think. As shown in the Filipino Christmas dinner, everyone’s’ experiences of homeland is different and because of that, there is not “one true” perception. Reality is that we need to recognize the intersectionality of people within each race and be more opened minded that different people experience different senses and have different perspectives.

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