The Taste and Politics of Rice: Understanding the Construction Process of Quality Food in Taiwan

Monday, July 14, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: Booth 61
Oral Presentation
Yi-Ting CHUNG , National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan
Shou-Cheng LAI , Department of Bio-industry Communication and Development, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
Concern about the meaning of rice in Taiwan has been increasing in the recent decade. Meanwhile rice has become a product that satisfies more than the subsistence demand. The question of what constitutes demand involves the food choice of people; that is to say, by which criterion people decide to consume what food? This paper analyses the processes of constructing the quality of rice in order to understand both, the coding mechanisms and the struggles around the shaping of taste.

Through the concept of “qualification” the interaction between consumer and product can be understood; therefore, we can examine the active and passive actions of consumers in the process of constructing quality, and the formation of taste. Accordingly, we adopt the cultural economy approach to examine the transformation of the consumption of rice in Taiwan, especially the experiences and the recognition of rice in the sphere of exchange, in which the stable appreciation system has been shaped.

This paper suggests that the quality of rice has changed in history. The state and scientists have dominated the “qualification” of rice for a long time. During the recent decade this influence was bypassed. The change, including the “qualification” state, has moved from the sphere of production to the sphere of marketing, including the more influential process of aestheticization and ethnicisation. There were different actors in different periods dominating the legitimacy of constructing “good” food, which people took for granted and kept consuming. Further, the tastes were shaped in the internalization process in which the consumer, the provider, the state, and scientists were in struggle. Our exploration suggests that the material and symbolic change of rice in Taiwan, and the knowledge construction around “good rice,” do reveal the power of the market to influence the production and consumption of food systems.