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Noodle Narratives

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

Frederick Errington
Tatsuro Fujikura
Deborah Gewertz
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 210
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  • Book Info
    Noodle Narratives
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95667-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations and Table
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Instant Noodles as Quotidian and Ubiquitous
    (pp. 1-10)

    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...

  6. 1 The Taste of Something Good
    (pp. 11-32)

    The circumstances of Ando’s invention of instant noodles have circulated widely, with standardized versions of the story appearing in the instant noodle museums as well as in numerous publications, including Ando’s autobiography, The Story of the Invention of Instant Ramen. Indeed, as featured in our conversations with instant noodle manufacturers, these tales have become a charter myth—a foundational noodle narrative—for a whole industry. Ando, it is said, envisioned a streamlined variant of a food already well known to his postwar countrymen from “real” ramen shops.¹ However, unlike these “real” noodles, which required considerable time and attention to prepare,...

  7. 2 Japanese Instant Noodles in the Market and on the Mind
    (pp. 33-63)

    Nowhere has Ando’s invention received more notice than in its country of origin. In Japan, instant noodles have not only been acclaimed in museums and voted the most important Japanese invention of the twentieth century; they have also been most elaborated in product development and merchandising for an ever more competitive market. In addition, they have been explicitly linked, for better or worse, to significant changes in postwar everyday life. We begin the Japanese portion of our noodle narratives by considering their best-known enthusiast, Ton Tan Tin, whose life, times, and engagement with instant noodles exemplify many of the larger...

  8. 3 What Instant Noodles Reflect and Affect in America
    (pp. 64-82)

    We learned much about the instant noodle market worldwide when we visited the Tokyo headquarters of Nissin Food Holdings. There, after bows and an exchange of business cards, we met with four dark-suited executives (all, apparently, authentic “salarymen”): an executive adviser, an executive officer of corporate communications, a manager of corporate communications, and a specialist in product development. Tatsuro translated, although we all knew that some of them spoke serviceable English.

    They told us about the importance for Nissin in maintaining its dominant share in the saturated market of Japan, as well as in increasing its share in markets elsewhere....

  9. 4 Instant Noodles for the Bottom of the Pyramid in Papua New Guinea
    (pp. 83-101)

    Instant noodles have, indeed, become the global food that Ando anticipated. Humble and everyday, they are now readily incorporated into quotidian expectations and activities—into the “habitus” of many people in many places. In their capacity to mesh with diverse lives, instant noodles both reflect and affect those lives. For example, in Japan, instant noodles may arrive on the market elaborated to the point of saturation, fostering the appreciation of small differences among similar commodities (an appreciation expressed by Ton Tan Tin through his “hobby”). And in the United States, instant noodles may arrive elaborated hardly at all, sometimes fostering...

  10. 5 Making (and Unmaking?) a Big Food World
    (pp. 102-125)

    In developing countries such as Papua New Guinea, the popularity of instant noodles—and of other inexpensive industrially produced foods—has been shifting what the anthropologist Lynne Phillips calls “the markers of food exclusion and inclusion.”¹ By bringing the instant noodle–eating poor into the bottom of the pyramid (BOP), companies like Nestlé have been promulgating an inclusive “big-food” future, one in which everyone—producers and consumers everywhere—would seemingly benefit. Thus, as sales of instant noodles flourish (again, 95.39 billion packages and cups globally in 2010), prosperity and comfort become less elusive; slackers, students, prisoners, heavy users, and settlement...

  11. CONCLUSION: Big Food for a Huge Population?
    (pp. 126-144)

    At the 2010 summit of the World Instant Noodles Association (WINA), Koki Ando proclaimed that “instant noodles could save the Earth.”¹ In this final chapter of our noodle narratives we consider whether instant noodles, conceived broadly as a particular instance of mass capitalist provisioning and as a more general representative of that provisioning, can feed a world of (by most estimates) nine or so billion people in 2050. How, in other words, might instant noodles and similar products in the various food futures that are proposed—indeed, promoted and implemented—as feasible for a huge world population that includes those...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 145-170)
  13. References
    (pp. 171-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-200)