On Day 57 I posted a photo of a Chinese (French-based) grocery store. I believe that grocery stores are great cultural indicators. Let me explain for the sake of my anthropology degree.
Food is something we consume everyday (duh). We have local rituals and traditions surrounding the type of food we eat, how we eat it, and who we eat it with. Now a grocery store is like a land-mine of cultural information. It reveals our food preferences, regional and global agriculture, climate, and our values.
American vs. Chinese Grocery Stores
In America, it is obvious that Americans value efficiency, choice, and accessibility. We have pre-packaged goods that are ready with a quick zap of the microwave. We have produce from Brazil, Mexico, and other temperate climates because running out of bananas in the dead of winter would be tragic. We demand every type of food from all around the world because we can with imports.
In China, values are much different but have been shifting towards an American attitude more and more. While you definitely see meat in form of the whole animal, you also see plenty of packaged food and simple starches. However, the staples of Chinese diets are still rice and noodles. Why? Because of local agriculture and history. The Chinese have been cultivating rice for thousands of years.
Chinese Street Food
In addition to grocery stores, street food is also a great cultural indicator. The food, almost always fried, varies from seafood, meat, bread, and dumplings doused in oil. They also sell corn on the cob, eggs, fresh and dried fruit, and even insects. And the food is cheap cheap cheap. It is fast-food with local flavor. However, street food is now growing beyond its regional roots. This mirrors China becoming more globalized. You see it in fashion, the youth consumer culture, and the foreigners mingling on the streets.
While I tried to avoid street food because of sanitation issues, I definitely want to try more on later trips to China. If anything, I am a cultural explorer and foodie at heart. Next up? Fried scorpion.