The Hierarchy of Taste: Does Vietnamese Food Have to be Cheap?


The post was published on our blog:

In this piece, a Civic Engagement member analyzes why Vietnamese food must be affordable or cheap to be considered authentic, and the roots of what is considered a “global hierarchy of taste.” Below, we have included quotes from the post:

In his book, The Ethnic Restaurateur, Ray presents the idea of the “global hierarchy of taste.” This hierarchy is one that privileges nations with economic power and military might, and one that correlates inversely with migration rates of poor people. That is, the higher the migration rate from a country, the poorer that country probably is, therefore the lower their respective cuisines appear on the hierarchy. You can see this hierarchy clearly in America with its diverse demographics and large immigrant population. The ways in which different ethnic groups and their respective cuisines are viewed are not equal across the board; rather, people’s responses to different cuisines are influenced by their perceptions of migrants and their origins.

Historically, the United States has been known to view the cuisine of immigrants negatively, particularly the poorer and more recent they are. For example, when poor Italians first immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s to escape from poverty in their home country, their food was not held in high regard; people complained that there was too much garlic and their dishes were overspiced. It wasn’t until Italians climbed up the socio-economic ladder, and migrant flows to the US slowed down did their cuisine start becoming more respected, in turn, demanding higher prices for their once-derided dishes. Today, Italian immigration to the US is very low and Italian cuisine is regarded as the most popular ethnic cuisine in America.


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February 22, 2019