“You are what you eat,” but what if you’re seen as a rat eater, bat lover, or MSG user? In Inscrutable Eating, Jennifer Lin LeMesurier considers how everyday assumptions about Asian food influence the perception of Asian and Asian American identity within the US racial landscape, demonstrating that beliefs about how certain people eat are inseparable from attitudes that support hierarchies around race, gender, and sexuality.
Drawing on rhetorical theory, affect theory, and Asian American studies, LeMesurier analyzes messages in US popular culture about Asian eating to develop the concept of gut orientations: rhetorically dominant ways of interacting with food that scale upward to feelings of desire and disgust toward social groups. Looking at examples from fears around MSG to uproar over wet markets as the source of COVID-19, she argues that these “gut” reactions establish certain racial views as common-sense truths rather than cultural biases, reinforcing dominant norms about what belongs on whose plate, or who belongs at what table. In demystifying marginalizing discourse around food and eating, LeMesurier shows how exposing the tacit, felt ideas of consumption is necessary to contest broader forms of discrimination.