Omnivore - More on David Sedaris 'attack' on Chinese food

David Yang of the San Francisco Chronicle joins the fray


  • www.taiwaneseamerican.org
  • Jeff Yang

I wrote recently about David Sedaris' Guardian essay in which he describes sanitation and cooking in China. The essay has produced an avalanche of controversy — as the work of any good humorist should.

The site of the intensest debate is Jeff Yang's column for the San Francisco Chronicle's website, SFGate. The column is entitled "David Sedaris talks ugly about China."

Yang goes out of his way to establish that Sedaris' savaging of Chinese culture is different from his routine savaging of everything else he writes about. Of course, this is usual when a reader is related to the group being savaged. (Yang is the American-born son of Taiwanese parents.) I found it somewhat irritating that Yang, who is amazingly prolific, didn't note in the column or the bio at the end of it that he is a consultant in marketing to Asian cultures. You can see that as relevant or not.

Whatever else you can say about Yang's rant, it is a good reminder that China remains a third-world nation whose cuisine is shaped by centuries-long destitution. A sample:

The fact is, if you're hungry enough, rodents start to look tasty, as do chicken toenails, random innards and balls. And once you've eaten them long enough, all these things become a nostalgic part of your cultural identity — especially after you've pulled yourself out of poverty. They go from things you have to eat all the time to things you chooseto eat once in a while, to remind yourself you no longer have to eat them all the time.

The column has produced over 700 comments at this writing. It's a fascinating debate. You might also check out Yang's personal blog, where he takes apart the recent report that "Chinese Food May Be Worse Than McDonald’s."