The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century

The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century

The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century

The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century

Synopsis

Tasty, convenient, and cheap, instant noodles are one of the most remarkable industrial foods ever. Consumed around the world by millions, they appeal to young and old, affluent and impoverished alike. The authors examine the history, manufacturing, marketing, and consumption of instant noodles. By focusing on three specific markets, they reveal various ways in which these noodles enable diverse populations to manage their lives. The first market is in Japan, where instant noodles have facilitated a major transformation of post-war society, while undergoing a seemingly endless tweaking in flavors, toppings, and packaging in order to entice consumers. The second is in the United States, where instant noodles have become important to many groups including college students, their nostalgic parents, and prison inmates. The authors also take note of "heavy users," a category of the chronically hard-pressed targeted by U.S. purveyors. The third is in Papua New Guinea, where instant noodles arrived only recently and are providing cheap food options to the urban poor, all the while transforming them into aspiring consumers. Finally, this study examines the global "Big Food" industry. As one of the food system's singular achievements, the phenomenon of instant noodles provides insight into the pros and cons of global capitalist provisioning.

Excerpt

Instant ramen noodles—tasty, convenient, cheap, shelf stable, and industrially produced (unlike “real” ramen noodles)—are consumed by huge numbers of people worldwide. Invented by Momofuku Ando in 1958, apparently to assist his war-torn Japanese compatriots, they have become so pervasive and commonplace that our friends often expressed surprise at our interest in them. “Why study them?” one asked. “My kids grew up on them.” Were they, in other words, significant enough to be of any particular interest, to be informative about anything of importance? The Noodle Narratives, written by three anthropologists—Deborah and Fred from the United States and Tatsuro from Japan—is our answer to this question and a demonstration that instant noodles are perhaps one of the most remarkable foods ever.

The fact that instant noodles are so quotidian and ubiquitous is noteworthy. Their mass-produced ingredients are inexpensive as well as widely available and, for most of the world’s population, broadly acceptable: wheat, vegetable oil, and assorted flavorings, usually including salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), a meat or chicken essence, sugar, and flavorings readily blended for local preferences. The World Instant Noodles Association (WINA), created to improve the quality of instant noodles and increase their consumption worldwide, estimates that 95.39 billion packages and cups of instant noodles were sold during 2010 across an impressive range of markets. Almost everyone eats or has eaten instant noodles.

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