Organized Panel Session
Few things look like food: reengineered plastics, bacterial colonies, counterfeit ethanol, and chemical extracts. Yet, these unfamiliar objects are essential to some of the most recognizable food products: soy sauce, sake, synthetic meats, miso, rice wine, and peppercorn. This panel explores how broader themes of toxicity, edibility, and inedibility offer new perspectives in establishing new frameworks in “Asian” STS, or Science Technology and Society studies. We ask: What are the conditions that transform otherwise inedible into things that we want to eat? What are the conditions that convert ultimate objects of desire into unwanted waste? What are the boundaries between rare and rotten, refined to rancid? This panel uses a variety of approaches in the humanities and social sciences, including history, anthropology, and the social studies of science, to explore the legal, industrial, technical, and chemical aspects of some of the most iconic foods.
Victoria Lee begins with foods that might kill. She explores how kōji, the “national fungus” of Japan, became associated with one of the most dealy carcinogenic byproducts. Tristan Revells looks at the failed efforts to regulate counterfeit alcohol as poison in early 20th century Shanghai. Anthony Acciavatti examines how engineers transformed soybeans into an industrial plastic and then back into an edible synthetic meat. Lan Li takes on the chemical history of peppercorn as scientists distilled and extracted its inedible numbing agent. Jia-Hui Lee brings together broader themes of technologies and techniques of determining (in)edibility make sense of “Asian” sensations and sensibilities.