Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion Essay
1. Kosher Chinese is a memoir of an American who worked for the Peace Corps in China, teaching English at a local university.
During his two-year stay in the country, in which he taught English speaking to his beginner class and Postmodern Literature to older students at the at the Guiyang University in the heart of China’s mainland, Levy has such an amazing and adventurous experience that he decides to put it in a book.
In writing the book, Levy aims to narrate his experiences while working in China, especially how he struggles to create a balance between respect for another culture, which is in no way lesser to his own, and the wish to share his own experiences and outlook of his American culture.
He recalls how he fails many times to strike the right balance and frequently talks about a cynical Australian he met who told him, “… and they’ll [the Chinese] take what they need from you even if you don’t want to give it” (Levy, pp. 122).
He encounters aspects of the Chinese culture that are sometimes hilarious, such as eating a millipede dinner , and in other times outrageous, like witnessing the horrendous case of animal abuse at one of the markets in Guiyang. Overall, Kosher concentrates on the cultural differences between Americans and Chinese and how he overcomes some of them, albeit with some challenges.
2. What role(s) does food play in the adventures and experiences of the author in China? Give at least three examples using quotes and page numbers.
Food plays a very important role in Levy’s experiences in China, particularly his experiences with eating unfamiliar foods, such as millipedes, chicken feet, and dogs. These experiences point to his further struggles with adopting to the new culture and add a twist of humour to the book. At the beginning of the book, he describes how he refused to eat fried millipedes.
This first uncomfortable experience introduces the audience to Levy’s forthcoming adjust to adapt to the Chinese way of life. He writes that he did not want to eat millipedes as he was Jewish, and this form of meal was not “kosher”!
Although he declares that he is a practicing but cynical Jew, he tells his Chinese friends that “I am a person who is special, too” and is not able to eat the millipedes in front of him (Levy, pp. 2). This comical introduction is a prelude to what follows in Kosher Chinese.
In another instance, as he travels from Beijing to Chengdu, a grey-haired lady seated next to him offers him one of the chicken feet she was eating. He declines the offer, to which the lady belches politely, and later “smiled and spit out a chicken talon” (Levy, pp. 7)
He writes that that is not the kind of food one sees in SEPTA, a reference to American buses and trains. Apart from adding humour to his experience, this encounter shows how Levy walks a fine line between adjusting to the new culture and not showing his intolerance to some aspects of this culture. Yet, he strives to show some willingness to embrace the altogether new Chinese culture.
The role of food in Levy’s experience in China is again seen when he observes the Chinese eating of dogs. In the chapter titled Parmesan Cheese, he describes how Guiyang markets slaughter dogs as the customer waits, then they are hung to display for ready customers.
As a show of his disapproval with this act and goes on to write of the smells, sights, and feel of open markets in Guiyang, he writes, “The market smelled bad. Real bad. The tarp was trapping more than noise: it was also capturing the fragrance of sweating, unwashed people, slowly rotting food, and death” (Levy, pp.89).
He writes that Walmart in China retails dog meat in its shelves, a fact few outside China ever knew. This experience shows the deep rift that exists between some aspects of American and Chinese cultures.
In American culture, dogs are loved by many people, are treated as pets and indeed ‘friends’ to their keeper. To read that ‘man’s best friend’ is slaughtered mercilessly is simply appalling. Animal loving Americans will certainly find it difficult to adapt to such a culture.
When Levy is asked to help in the creation of the Jewish Friday Night English and Cooking Corner Club, he uses the occasion to merge the three cultures at play: the Chinese, American, and Jewish cultures.
He does this by preparing foods associated with these cultures, including pizza and challah, and hence improves the natives’ knowledge of American and Jewish cultures, and his own knowledge of Chinese culture. Therefore, food plays a major role in bridging the gap between the various cultures.
3. In what way(s) does food and globalization figure into the story of the book? In other words, how does the author see globalization shaping food practices and habits in China and vice versa? Give at least two examples using quotes and page numbers.
Despite being a globalized society, Kosher Chinese describes a Chinese culture that is conservative in terms of its food practices.
For instance, although it accepts new aspects of foreign culture, evidenced by the presence of Walmart Stores, it attempts to modify these aspects to fit into its culture, evidenced by the presence of dog meat in Walmart Stores, an occurrence that does not exist outside of China.
However, the role of globalization in shaping food practices in China cannot be ignored since the presence of Pizza Hut, KFC, Starbucks, Ikea and Walmart stores in Guiyang must have altered eating habits among this population, and extending to the rest of the Chinese population.
Seeing these multinational American companies in China makes the author to realize that this was certainly not the China of Mao. Indeed, the author wonders aloud why Americans had never heard of the place. Levy sees food practices as one of the avenues that can open China to the rest of the world and boost globalization.
Levy also sees food practices and habits as a way of promoting globalization, and to show this, he leads and helps create a Jewish Friday Night and Cooking Corner Club, during which they make foods such as challah, pizza, and le’chaim’s, foods that area meant to introduce the Jewish and American cultures to the Chinese, hence promote globalization.
The attendees also practice English while Levy learn about China’s other billion, a further testament of the mission to promote globalization.
4. Narrate the author’s experiences about the practice of eating dog in China. Did you believe that this was a completely inhumane practice? Did he hold ethnocentric views? Why/Why not. Give two examples as evidence for your argument using quotes and page numbers.
In the chapter titled Parmesan Cheese, Levy gives an account of the process through which dogs are prepared for human consumption. He writes about the smells, sights and the feel of Guiyang open markets where these dogs are slaughtered. First, the dogs are slaughtered as prospective customers wait in queue. The slaughtered dogs are hung to display for potential customers.
The market itself is in a very poor conditions and as a mark of his displeasure at what he saw, Levy writes, “The market smelled bad. Real bad” (Levy, pp. 89). This sums up the conditions in the market and extends to the inhumane treatment of the dogs.
For animals regarded as pets in most areas of the world, and known as man’s best friend since their domestication, Levy’s description of the way dogs were treated before and after slaughtering can only be considered as inhumane.
The author’s views cannot be viewed as ethnocentric as they arise from universally held views regarding humane treatment of animals, even if they are to be used as food.
A second instance that shows that dogs were treated in an inhumane manner stems from Levy’s accounts of the way the dogs were slaughtered. His description that, “I was surprised to see the body of a skinned dog dangling from a metal hook pushed through its mouth…” (Levy, pp. 89) further points to this inhumane treatment.
In most loactions around the world, animals are normally slaughtered first, usually at a common point (abattoir), and then distributed to selling areas. However, at Guiyang, this does not occur as dogs are slaughtered even as the market goers watch, a very inhumane treatment indeed.
Levy, Michael. Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion. New York: Henry Holt, 2011. Print.
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1. Kosher Chinese is a memoir of an American who worked for the Peace Corps in China, teaching English at a local university. During his two-year stay in the country, […]