Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women's Religion and Theology. Edited by Rita Nakashima Brock, Jung Ha Kim, Kwok Pui-Lan, and Seung Ai Yang. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. 352 pp. $49.95 (paper).
Although the cover is adorned with a photograph of eating utensils, Off the Menu has almost not lung to do with food. The culinary reference serves, instead, as a coordinating metaphor for a collection of essays by sixteen different women. The phrase refers to a practice that, readers are assured in the introduction, is a common experience for Asians in North America. "When Asians go to Asian restaurants, the waiters often advise us not to order from the menu, because these dishes are meant to satisfy the western palate. They tell us that the kitchen can prepare 'authentic' Asian dishes 'off the menu' " (p. xvii). The phrase is emblematic of a new social culture which confronts participants with questions of authenticity in a globalizing world.
The metaphor of the menu is extendable, however. The "menu" is also, in a sense, the "schemata" or the "curriculum" of contemporary religious and theological studies - a selection that, by and large, has been shaped by the palates of white experience (p. xviii). In this sense, the writers in this collection affirm the range of possibilities that register off the menu. If the menu claims to represent the available options, they challenge readers to assume that it is merely an adaptation to local taste and flavor. Thinking off the menu is an exercise in expanding the culinary, cultural, taste-creating imagination.
The collection is the enterprise of a network of women in academia and ministry that goes by the extensive acronym PANAAWTM - the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry. The group has been meeting for over twenty years and although most are affiliated with the Christian tradition, it has included women who belong to Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Shinto traditions. The long list of contributors to this volume includes names that will be immediately familiar to many in academic theology (Kwok Pui-Lan, Rita Nakashima Brock, and Gail Yee, to name a few). …