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Hunger Pangs

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0024412/00001

Material Information

Title: Hunger Pangs Foodways, Racial Melancholia, and Gender in Asian American Chick Lit
Physical Description: 1 online resource (91 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Adams, Kelly
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: american, asian, chick, consumption, ethnicity, food, keltner, malladi, narrative, popular, race, women
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This thesis examines the Asian American chick lit genre and explores the ways in which Asian American chick lit writers negotiate their racialized position writing in the margins of the normatively white mainstream chick lit genre. Asian American chick lit texts provide critical insight into how ethnicity is commercialized and commodified for mainstream consumption and articulate the complex ways in which Asian Americans have been racialized and gendered. This thesis continues the work conducted on women?s cultural productions published in the 1980s by Janice Radway and Tania Modleski, as well as contemporary studies on chick lit by scholars such as Suzanne Ferriss, Mallory Young, and Caroline Smith. However, my work differs critically from these studies in its focus on issues of race and ethnicity within the genre. While Radway and Modleski were influential in challenging myths about popular women?s narratives, their studies mainly focused on middle-class, white women. The same is true with recent scholarly publications on chick lit. To engage with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in Asian American chick lit texts, this thesis explores the construction and articulation of ?foodways? in Asian American chick lit. I contend that the way Asian American chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and create food is analogous to the ways in which mainstream (white) chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and select material items such as clothes and accessories. The popularity of ?food pornography? as a practice of Asian American authors and as a source of pleasure for white readers illustrates how Asian Americans have adapted melancholically to their exclusion from America by producing ethnic products for consumption and how the white majority, in turn, has responded by melancholically consuming these ethnic products. Thus, my analysis of foodways is theoretically informed by Anne Cheng?s psychoanalytic critique of racialization in the U.S. and is situated in the discourses of Asian American studies, food studies, and gender studies. The texts I examine in this thesis include Kim Wong Keltner?s The Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby in Chapter 1 and Amulya Malladi?s Serving Crazy with Curry in Chapter 2. Through an examination of Asian American chick lit texts, I argue that food is a productive site to articulate the contradictions within the genre, which texts both practice ?food pornography? and challenge the commodification of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, the consumption and rejection of food, as well as the creation of recipes, become a critical means for these Asian American chick lit protagonists to form their identities. Ultimately, this thesis posits that an examination of Asian American chick lit represents a critical step towards conceptualizing not only what the potential future of Asian American literature might be, but also in conceiving what the current subjectivity of the Asian American woman is now and what might be her future.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Kelly Adams.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2009.
Local: Adviser: Schueller, Malini J.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO UF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE UNTIL 2010-08-31

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2009
System ID: UFE0024412:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0024412/00001

Material Information

Title: Hunger Pangs Foodways, Racial Melancholia, and Gender in Asian American Chick Lit
Physical Description: 1 online resource (91 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Adams, Kelly
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: american, asian, chick, consumption, ethnicity, food, keltner, malladi, narrative, popular, race, women
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This thesis examines the Asian American chick lit genre and explores the ways in which Asian American chick lit writers negotiate their racialized position writing in the margins of the normatively white mainstream chick lit genre. Asian American chick lit texts provide critical insight into how ethnicity is commercialized and commodified for mainstream consumption and articulate the complex ways in which Asian Americans have been racialized and gendered. This thesis continues the work conducted on women?s cultural productions published in the 1980s by Janice Radway and Tania Modleski, as well as contemporary studies on chick lit by scholars such as Suzanne Ferriss, Mallory Young, and Caroline Smith. However, my work differs critically from these studies in its focus on issues of race and ethnicity within the genre. While Radway and Modleski were influential in challenging myths about popular women?s narratives, their studies mainly focused on middle-class, white women. The same is true with recent scholarly publications on chick lit. To engage with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in Asian American chick lit texts, this thesis explores the construction and articulation of ?foodways? in Asian American chick lit. I contend that the way Asian American chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and create food is analogous to the ways in which mainstream (white) chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and select material items such as clothes and accessories. The popularity of ?food pornography? as a practice of Asian American authors and as a source of pleasure for white readers illustrates how Asian Americans have adapted melancholically to their exclusion from America by producing ethnic products for consumption and how the white majority, in turn, has responded by melancholically consuming these ethnic products. Thus, my analysis of foodways is theoretically informed by Anne Cheng?s psychoanalytic critique of racialization in the U.S. and is situated in the discourses of Asian American studies, food studies, and gender studies. The texts I examine in this thesis include Kim Wong Keltner?s The Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby in Chapter 1 and Amulya Malladi?s Serving Crazy with Curry in Chapter 2. Through an examination of Asian American chick lit texts, I argue that food is a productive site to articulate the contradictions within the genre, which texts both practice ?food pornography? and challenge the commodification of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, the consumption and rejection of food, as well as the creation of recipes, become a critical means for these Asian American chick lit protagonists to form their identities. Ultimately, this thesis posits that an examination of Asian American chick lit represents a critical step towards conceptualizing not only what the potential future of Asian American literature might be, but also in conceiving what the current subjectivity of the Asian American woman is now and what might be her future.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Kelly Adams.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2009.
Local: Adviser: Schueller, Malini J.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO UF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE UNTIL 2010-08-31

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2009
System ID: UFE0024412:00001


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HUNGER PANGS:
FOODWAYS, RACIAL MELANCHOLIA, AND GENDER IN ASIAN AMERICAN
CHICK LIT



















By

KELLY ADAMS


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

2009


































2009 Kelly Adams




































To My Family









ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This thesis could not have been completed without the support of my faculty mentors,

family, and friends. I would like to thank my thesis committee chair, Malini Schueller, for her

incredible wisdom, kindness, and rigorous commitment to helping me improve my writing and

scholarly analysis. She has been instrumental in developing my breadth of knowledge in Asian

American, American, popular culture, and gender studies, for which I am extremely grateful. I

would also like to thank my thesis committee reader, Amy Ongiri, for providing me with superb

critical mentorship both on this project as well as with my future academic career.

Outside ofUF, I would like to thank those individuals who have encouraged me to pursue

my graduate studies and who supported me throughout writing this project. Erika Beck and Lois

Becker have been both friends and mentors to me. Abigail Sills has lent me her ear on too many

occasions to count and has shared many chick lit books. My sister, Megan, and her daughter,

Lucy, have provided much needed (and appreciated) breaks from writing in the forms of

shopping, eating, and playing. My partner, Daniel, has been a wonderful source of motivation.

Finally, my parents, Paul and Melinda, have always encouraged me to do what I love. I am

forever indebted to them for giving me a home when I had none.









TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ..............................................................................................................4

LIST OF FIGURES ................................... .. .... .... ................. .6

A B S T R A C T ............ ................... ............ ................................ ................ 7

CHAPTER

1 INTRODUCTION ............................. .... .............. ............................ .9

Defining Racial Melancholia: What's Eating Asian America?................ ........... ........10
Excess and Erasure in Chick Lit: The Chick Lit "Formula" and Contemporary Chick Lit
S ch o larsh ip ............................. ................................................. ..... ... ................ 12
Consuming Food, Fashioning Identities in Chick Lit and Asian American Chick Lit .........18
N o te s ................................................................................ ...................... 2 3

2 "A SUMPTUOUS CHINESE BANQUET": KIM WONG KELTNER'S THE DIM
SUM OF ALL THINGS AND BUDDHA BABY ........................................ .....26

L indsey O w yang's D iary? .............. ..... ............................................................................29
Covert Meat-eating and the "American Dream" ........................................ ...............32
Growing Pains and the "Era of Lost Chinese Children" ............. ..... ................ 35
Spinning the Lazy Susan .................................. .. .......... .. ............39
The A ll-A m erican O w yangs......... ............................................................... ............... 42
N otes .................................................................................. ..................... 47

3 CHANGING THE CHICK LIT "RECIPE": Gender, Melancholia, and COOKING IN
AMULYA MALLADI'S SERVING CRAZY WITH CURRY ...................... ............... 54

Spicing up Silence in Amulya Malladi's Serving Crazy / i/h Curry................................. 57
Finding "Home" and Gendered Spaces: The Paradox of (Diasporic) Domesticity ........61
Add Trauma and Stir: M elancholic Recipes ....................................... ............... 68
N o te s ............................................................................. . ...................... 7 5

4 CON CLU SION .......... ............................................ .................... .. 81

W O R K S C IT E D .................................................................................85

B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H .......................................................................... .. .......................91









LIST OF FIGURES


ure1-1 "Make Your Own Chick-Lit Novel".......................15
1-1 "M ake Y our O w n Chick-Lit N ovel I". ..............................................................................15









Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of The University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

HUNGER PANGS:
FOODWAYS, RACIAL MELANCHOLIA, AND GENDER IN ASIAN AMERICAN
CHICK LIT

By

Kelly Adams

August 2009

Chair: Malini Schueller
Major: English

This thesis examines the Asian American chick lit genre and explores the ways in which

Asian American chick lit writers negotiate their racialized position writing in the margins of the

normatively white mainstream chick lit genre. Asian American chick lit texts provide critical

insight into how ethnicity is commercialized and commodified for mainstream consumption and

articulate the complex ways in which Asian Americans have been racialized and gendered. This

thesis continues the work conducted on women's cultural productions published in the 1980s by

Janice Radway and Tania Modleski, as well as contemporary studies on chick lit by scholars

such as Suzanne Ferriss, Mallory Young, and Caroline Smith. However, my work differs

critically from these studies in its focus on issues of race and ethnicity within the genre. While

Radway and Modleski were influential in challenging myths about popular women's narratives,

their studies mainly focused on middle-class, white women. The same is true with recent

scholarly publications on chick lit.

To engage with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in Asian American chick lit texts, this

thesis explores the construction and articulation of "foodways" in Asian American chick lit. I

contend that the way Asian American chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and create food is









analogous to the ways in which mainstream (white) chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and

select material items such as clothes and accessories. The popularity of "food pornography" as a

practice of Asian American authors and as a source of pleasure for white readers illustrates how

Asian Americans have adapted melancholically to their exclusion from America by producing

ethnic products for consumption and how the white majority, in turn, has responded by

melancholically consuming these ethnic products. Thus, my analysis of foodways is theoretically

informed by Anne Cheng's psychoanalytic critique of racialization in the U.S. and is situated in

the discourses of Asian American studies, food studies, and gender studies. The texts I examine

in this thesis include Kim Wong Keltner's The Dim Sum ofAll Things and Buddha Baby in

Chapter 1 and Amulya Malladi's Serving Crazy / i/h Curry in Chapter 2.

Through an examination of Asian American chick lit texts, I argue that food is a

productive site to articulate the contradictions within the genre, which texts both practice "food

pornography" and challenge the commodification of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, the

consumption and rejection of food, as well as the creation of recipes, become a critical means for

these Asian American chick lit protagonists to form their identities. Ultimately, this thesis posits

that an examination of Asian American chick lit represents a critical step towards

conceptualizing not only what the potential future of Asian American literature might be, but

also in conceiving what the current subjectivity of the Asian American woman is now and what

might be her future.









CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

She trained for hours in the gymnasium of her mind. She became adept at the double
entendre, going out to dinner armed with impeccable table manners and a forked tongue.
She savored the chase but never actually tasted the food. By the end of the dating
marathon, she was always left with hunger pangs.

Kim Wong Keltner, The Dim Sum of All Things

In this epigraph, Keltner is describing the romantic trials of her protagonist, Lindsey

Owyang. As this passage suggests, Lindsey's approach to dating entails a careful and

contemplative negotiation with (or as Keltner describes "manipulation of') the opposite sex (31).

In this respect, Pat Benatar's eighties song, "Love is a Battlefield," seems apt when describing

Lindsey's dating approach: she goes into dates trained and "armed with impeccable table

manners and a forked tongue" (Keltner 31). However, despite showing up at the dating table,

Lindsey never manages to taste the food and experiences "hunger pangs" in her love life.

I want to use this passage as a starting point for articulating my argument of what Asian

American chick lit is "about." Although I do not wish to assert that what this subgenre is "about"

is something categorically static and fixed, I do want to suggest that there is a narrative often

overlooked in popular criticism about chick lit-that is, a narrative that exceeds the formulaic

boundaries of the genre. In contrast to what this passage purports to be "about" (i.e., Lindsey's

love life), I contend that the narrative is actually describing the complex negotiation that the

racialized, young woman enacts with the normatively white mainstream. The "hunger pangs"

that Lindsey experiences suggest her impoverished status as a racially melancholic subject in the

U.S., whose "man-eating" ways are actually indicative of her inability to properly mourn her

exclusion from the dominant white identity. Thus, the narrative of Asian American chick lit does

trace a relationship, but this relationship is pathological rather than romantic.









Defining Racial Melancholia: What's Eating Asian America?

By stating that the racialized woman is a "racially melancholic subject," I am utilizing

Anne Cheng's theory of "racial melancholia," which complexly employs the theories posited by

Sigmund Freud in "Mourning and Melancholia"' to articulate how race and racialization

function within the U.S. For Freud, "mourning" and "melancholia," "mourning" is a "healthy

response to loss" where the lost object "can be relinquished and eventually replaced," while

melancholia is a type of "pathological mourning" where the lost object is never replaced and in

fact, haunts the subject (Cheng 7-8; Freud 587). As Freud explains, even though melancholia

"borrows some of its features from mourning" (for example, both are "a reaction to the real loss

of a loved object"), it nonetheless differs from mourning in its permanence (Freud 587). For the

melancholic person, there is no end to melancholia; there is no "getting over" one's loss (Cheng

8). As Freud states, the melancholic subject undergoes "an impoverishment of his ego on a grand

scale," which is a consequence of the subject's repetitive and self-destructive "devouring" of the

lost object (584; 587). As abstract as this "devouring" might sound (especially since there is

nothing material that is being "devoured" per se), what Freud is illustrating through this image of

consumption is how the ego is formed in relationship with the lost object2. The ego is constituted

through incorporation of the lost object, but also in denying and maintaining its loss through

exclusion; as Cheng clarifies, "melancholia alludes not to loss per se but to the entangled

relationship with loss" (8-9). Thus, Cheng's reading of Freud's "Mourning and Melancholia" and

her articulation of "racial melancholia" relies on this interpretation of melancholia being an

ongoing process of incorporation, denial, and loss.

In an important nuance of Freud's argument, Cheng contends that the loss for which the

melancholic grieves becomes figured as "exclusion" at the point that consuming this loss blurs

the distinction of whether it is subject or object (9). Cheng argues that "loss becomes exclusion









in the melancholic landscape" because the melancholic does not only deny, in psychically

consuming the lost object, having lost the object, but also must maintain the object as lost by

excluding it (9; emphasis in original). Thus, Cheng argues that it is "exclusion, rather than loss,

is the real stake of melancholic retention" (9).

The distinction that Cheng draws between exclusion and loss becomes critical to

understanding her contention that melancholia provides insight into how racialization operates,

specifically the racialization of Asian Americans, in the U.S. The notion of melancholic

"exclusion" is especially provocative in the case of Asian Americans, where the word

"exclusion" not only speaks of a history of legislated immigration restrictions and internment of

Japanese Americans, but also of the perception of the Asian American as "the foreigner-within."

Cheng argues that melancholia enables us to conceptualize racialization in two ways: first, in

understanding how the dominant white identity is formed and sustained; second, by providing

insight into how the racialized other is produced as "the foreigner within." According to Cheng,

"[r]acialization in America may be said to operate through the institutional process of producing

a dominant, standard, white national ideal, which is sustained by the exclusion-yet-retention of

racialized others" (10). Racialized others are thus "consumed" by the dominant white identity in

the sense that their difference is forcibly denied, yet retained, in the process of assimilation.

Thus, as should be made clear, the dominant white identity is melancholic and racialization in

the U.S. functions melancholically.

Because Cheng, unlike Freud, does not dismiss what happens to the lost object once it has

been consumed by the melancholic subject, she is able to theorize what happens to those

racialized others "consumed" by the dominant white identity and what it means to think about

the raced subject as melancholic (9). She argues that the lost object (i.e., the racialized other)









become something in-between "object" and "subject" upon its consumption and contends that its

status as both subject and object aptly describes what racial melancholia is for the raced subject;

that is, "the internalization of discipline and rejection-and the installation of a scripted context

of perception," so that the raced subject is not only the melancholic object that is lost but also

the melancholic subject who is losing (Cheng 17).

Thus, the question that I posit in the title of this section, "What is Eating Asian America?,"

can be answered as such: both the dominant white identity and Asian Americans are "eating"

Asian America. To refer back to the introductory epigraph, "hunger pangs" that Lindsey

experiences are a result of her attempting to prevent being dumped (or "lost"), but not realizing

that she is already "lost" as a racialized other and, in this process of trying to prevent "loss," is

really the one "losing." She has, to paraphrase Cheng, internalized this system in which she

either rejects or will be rejected, as well as the perception that her status is already predetermined

as rejected, in the sense that she assumes that rejection will happen if she doesn't take measures

to prevent it from happening. Lindsey's dating approach, which as I argue earlier is actually her

approach to life, can therefore be described as melancholic.

Excess and Erasure in Chick Lit: The Chick Lit "Formula" and Contemporary Chick Lit
Scholarship

Lindsey is not alone in her melancholic engagement with the world; other protagonists in

chick lit demonstrate similar melancholic responses to their racialized subjectivity. Asian

American chick lit provides a critical site to examine how racialized subjectivity is negotiated

and formed in relationship to the dominant white identity, since its status as subgenre to the

normatively white mainstream chick lit genre produces a similar kind of consumption and

exclusion. That is to say, Asian American chick lit is often subsumed as part of the mainstream

genre, so much so that their plots are perceived to be only "colored" variations of the same,









recycled, and normatively white chick lit plot. As Maureen Dowd states in her New York Times

article "Heels Over Hemingway":

Please do not confuse these books with the love-and-marriage of Jane Austen. These are
more like multicultural Harlequin romances. They're Cinderella bodice rippers Manolo
trippers girls with long legs, long shiny hair and sparkling eyes stumbling through life,
eating potato skins loaded with bacon bits and melted swiss, drinking cocktails, looking for
the right man and dispensing nuggets of hard-won wisdom, like, "Any guy who can watch
you hurl Cheez Doodles is a keeper," and, "You can't puke in wicker. It leaks."

Dowd's assessment that chick lit texts are "more like multicultural Harlequin romances" implies

that they homogenously follow the same formula and only differ in terms of protagonist's

culture. In a similar way to Dowd, other critics of chick lit have argued that at best, the genre

offers nothing more than "fluff'3 and at worst, the genre reinforces patriarchal notions of gender

that disempower women and result in a regression to prefeminist attitudes. Even Cris Mazza,

who claims that she coined the phrase "chick lit" with her co-writer Jeffrey DeShell4, denounces

chick lit as genre as nothing more than "books flaunting pink, aqua, and lime covers featuring

cartoon figures of long-legged women wearing stiletto heels" (18). She states that she and

DeShell intended for the term "chick lit" to be ironic, a gesture "not to embrace an old frivolous

or coquettish image of women but to take responsibility for our part in the damaging, lingering

stereotype" (Mazza 19). According to Mazza, "[t]he chicks in commercial chick lit, along with

Hooters restaurants and celebrity boxing, have stripped themselves of irony" (28).

What these detractors of chick lit fail to see in their broad generalizations of chick lit are

the nuances that exist within the genre and provide critical insight into contemporary issues and

constructions of gender, class, race, and ethnicity. There has been an overt failure in popular and

academic discourse to uncover what is most compelling about chick lit's success: specifically,

why this genre has proven to be so adaptable and engaging to a broad spectrum of women across

racial, ethnic, and even geographical boundaries. Although the genre arguably began with the









publication of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary in 1996, the paradigm of a thirty-

something, white, British woman looking for love and professional success has evolved into

several different genres, featuring women from different ages, races, and ethnicities. However, in

contrast to Dowd's assessment that these protagonists are just multicultural (multicolored)

versions of "girls with long legs, long shiny hair and sparkling eyes stumbling through life," I

contend that racial and ethnic differences complicate the chick lit paradigm in definitive and

critical ways that cannot and should not be generalized or simplified as commercial

multiculturalism.

The chick lit paradigm can be described as follows: a twenty- or thirty-something (white)

woman attempts to find Mr. Right and achieve professional success, while working a low-end or

relatively thankless job. The following figure, "Make Your Own Chick Lit Novel!," appeared in

Anna Weinberg's article "She's Come Undone"5 and provides a useful (if sarcastic) illustration

of the conventions of the genre.













--- ------------------------------ -


Make Your Own


Chick-Lit Novel!
---- ------ ---------------------r -_>
I. START WITH ONE YOUNG URBAN FEMALE

-------- who's a low-level ..
Employee in: j

2. CHOOSE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING:

I I'uBLISI- IN( b P11BRfC RFIATIONS

S) A \ ERIII NG I TOL) RNALISM

-------------- add -----------------
3. ANXIETY ABOUT ONE OR ALL THE FOLLOWING:

) BIio Y bl h) IX .l-F

C)E IOIOG I CA LOCK d)ANNOYING MOTHER

'*) NI M IJIN II DYINCG LONI
IN MX\IUr MFNN

I) SHOPPING h) INNtS'IIF I
1ADIlCl IN COLLLCIIi N I1 S11IOFS

i) ICOTINE j) CRA'P1 SAI ARY
A1DICIlION

k) IXC.ISNIVE \iCOHOL CONSU M I TION

) FINDING .G IOV IN i1, E L I IY OF:

1. NEW YORK 2. MANHATTAN

3. GOTHAM 4. LONDON


S----------------Mix it all g,.i,tr ---------------
4. ZANINESS ENSUES.
Your book should look ,iii rtli,,g like this:


YOUR TI HERE YOUR TITLE HERE
-- ---- --- ----------------------------------;

or





.00F Ad fki i YOURNAMEHERE




Figure 1-1. "Make Your Own Chick-Lit Novel!" by Anna Weinberg, from Book Magazine,
July/August 2003.



15









Clearly, this visual suggests that chick lit follows a predictable formula, which is interestingly

enough (in the context of this thesis), presented like a recipe. The instructions given to "Make

Your Own Chick Lit Novel" follows the same logic as a recipe: each element (e.g., "young urban

female," "anxiety about one or all of the following") can be viewed as an ingredient which, when

"mixed" with other ingredients, produces a chick lit novel. I am intentionally conceiving the

chick lit novel as analogous to a food product for consumption, the reason for which will become

clearer later in my introduction.

Although this visual implies that chick lit novels are essentially homogeneous in that they

follow same structure, I want to suggest that it nonetheless articulates an excess to the formula

that is not quite qualified. I see this excess in the word "zaniness" which indicates to me, even if

it is the predictable result of the narrative, something that cannot quite be articulated and which

is not always the same. Thus, a chick lit novel might lead to "zaniness," but this "zaniness" does

not always take the same form.

It is important to note the ways in which the ingredients in the chick lit recipe do not

always result in the same product and that the deviations, the excess implied by "zaniness,"

critically alter novel, just as any modifications to a recipe might alter the taste and texture of the

final dish. Much of the homogenization imposed on chick lit is because of its commercialization,

which as the illustration shows, often relies on recycling the same objects of feminine

consumption: high-heeled shoes, handbags, and cocktails. As Tania Modleski argues,

"Marketing strategies...work to obscure novels that may deviate in important ways from the

original formula" (xxii).

Chick lit scholars such as Suzanne Ferriss, Mallory Young, and Caroline Smith6 have all

examined such variations within the genre. Like their predecessors, Janice Radway (Reading the









Romance) and Tania Modleski (Loving With a Vengeance)7, they have challenged popular and

academic criticisms of chick lit that portray the women's popular cultural productions as too

simplistic and superficial for substantive critique8. As Caroline Smith states:

In the past, critics have been reluctant to take popular fiction seriously, and, as Radford and
other feminist critics have concurred, all too often literary critics are quick to label
women's fiction as low art, a term which, by default, often denies any thoughtful
consideration of that art. (4)

However, despite breaking critical ground in making chick lit the object of academic inquiry,

chick lit scholars and their predecessors have arguably limited their analysis by assuming a

normatively white perspective9. For example, Ferriss and Young were the first to compile essays

focusing exclusively on chick lit into an anthology titled Chick Lit: A New Woman's Fiction

(2006). In their introduction to Chick Lit, they argue that "the genre is rife with possibilities and

potentials," which not only "offers new opportunities to young women writers," but also to

"young voices in scholarship" (Ferriss and Young 12).

While I agree with Ferriss and Young's contention, the anthology marginalizes chick lit

written by women of color and does not interrogate fully how issues of race and ethnicity factor

into the chick lit genre. There is a certain assumption, by eliding these issues from analysis, that

there is a universal gendered position in the writing of and responses to chick lit. This

assumption of universality not only masks the normative whiteness that lies at the core of such

inquiry, but can also treat issues of race and ethnicity in superficial and problematic ways. Of the

fourteen essays in Chick Lit, there is only one essay dedicated to a discussion of a non-white

chick lit genre: "Sistah lit." What is problematic about this essay inclusion is not that it has been

included, but that its inclusion appears to serve as a stand-in for the multitude of Asian

American, Latina, and other African American chick lit that have been published10. This

tokenization not only further elides a critical discussion about race and ethnicity from the









discourse of chick lit, but also reinforces chick lit's association with whiteness". What Ferriss

and Young fail to acknowledge in their glossing over of race and ethnicity are the distinctive

voices that these "Other" genres offer and the possibility that these genres deviate from the chick

lit formula in critical ways, having been informed by the historical, social, and economic

circumstances of racialization in America.

Consuming Food, Fashioning Identities in Chick Lit and Asian American Chick Lit

To engage with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in Asian American chick lit texts, I

have chosen to examine the construction and articulation of"foodways" in Asian American

chick lit for a couple reasons: the representation of foodways share certain similarities to the

representation of consumerism prevalent in mainstream chick lit and foodways have been

critically involved in the racialization of Asian Americans in the U.S. By using the term

"foodways," I am specifically referring to what Carole Counihan calls the "behaviors and beliefs

surrounding the production, distribution, and consumption of food" (6). In this respect, I contend

that the way Asian American chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and create food is

analogous to the ways in which mainstream (white) chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and

select material items such as clothes and accessories. Jessica Van Slooten argues that chick lit

"novels become objects of conspicuous consumption, allowing readers a 'safe' outlet for their

own consumerist fantasies, reinforcing the luxury lifestyle as a means of creating identity and

achieving success in both personal and professional spheres" (220). While I agree with Van

Slooten's assessment in terms of mainstream chick lit, I argue that Asian American chick lit is

consumable in similar, yet dissimilar, ways. On the one hand, Asian American chick lit often

utilizes "food pornography," which Frank Chin defined as the practice of exploiting one's ethnic
12
food (and by extension, one's ethnicity) in order to gain acceptance within mainstream society

The use of "food pornography" to appeal to a wider (whiter) audience in its marketing and









paratext seems to encourage readers to not only consume these texts, but also participate in a

racialized fantasy of the Other. Moreover, food, like fashion items in mainstream chick lit, is

often used as a medium for identity construction in Asian American chick lit. On the other hand,

Asian American chick lit writers do not construct foodways homogenously, nor do they

capitulate entirely to mainstream consumerist desire to be "ethnic." They do not make the

"swallowing" of their texts easy. Their role in constructing race and ethnicity, as well as

subversively showing the contradictions within contemporary articulations of race and ethnicity,

should not be overlooked3.

That Asian American chick lit texts are marketed for to appeal to the (white) consumer's

hunger for the "ethnic" is important to consider in the context of Anne Cheng's theory of "racial

melancholia." Her theory frames my reading of these foodways, as I perceive the representations

of them in Asian American chick lit as a melancholic response to the subgenre's marginalized

position within chick lit discourse as well as to the relative invisibility of Asian Americans

within popular culture. Cheng argues that "racial melancholia...has always existed for raced

subjects both as a sign of rejection and as a psychic strategy in response to that rejection" (20;

emphasis in original). The popularity of "food pornography" as a practice of Asian American

authors and as a source of pleasure for white readers illustrates how Asian Americans have

adapted melancholically to their exclusion from America by producing ethnic products for

consumption and how the white majority, in turn, has responded by melancholically consuming

these ethnic products. According to Cheng, this consumption does not entail that raced subjects

(in this case, Asian Americans) are incorporated into the dominant white identity as "white," but

rather are retained in this identity as "the foreigner within" (10). Cheng's theory therefore









provides a critical framework for my argument to show how foodways functions in Asian

American chick lit texts as articulations of racial melancholia.

Thus, by examining foodways in Asian American chick lit novels, the contradictory power

relations that have defined not only Asian America's relationship with food, but also Asian

American identity, are revealed. By using the word "identity" in this capacity, I am not

suggesting that Asian American identity is monolithic and fixed, but quite the opposite. Rather, I

am agreeing with Stuart Hall's argument that "identities are never unified and, in late modem

times, increasingly fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply constructed across

different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices and positions" (4). What I find

critical about Hall's argument, in the context of foodways, is his articulation that "identities are

constructed through, not outside, difference," so that the act of ingestion functions as a critical

constitutive moment in which one's (imaginative) "internal homogeneity" becomes

compromised and "identity" is formed through the negotiation of the "outside" and the "inside"

(5) 14. Thus, foodways can act as destabilizing and disruptive influences, just as they can

reinforce hegemonic practices that stratify and oppress ethnic groups. Historically, food has been

used as a tool against Asian Americans to cast them as unassimilable aliens, justify their

exclusion from white America by invoking fears of physical contamination15, and (specifically in

the case of Asian American men) to feminize them6.

Conversely, food has also become a means by which Asian Americans have sustained their

livelihood, passed down their heritage, created a community, and acquired wealth (and arguably

power) in a society that has worked extremely hard to exclude them17. According to Jennifer Ho,

"Food has historically been a complex and fraught arena for Asian American subjectivity since

Asians in America became coded by and through their relationship to the food they cultivated,









picked, packaged, prepared, and served" (Ho 11). In this respect, food has worked as a double-

edged sword in Asian America, both as a weapon to castrate Asian American identity and

partition them as "Other," and as an instrument to carve a space in mainstream society. As Sau-

ling Cynthia Wong describes this quandary, "Asian restaurant owners make their living on the

knife-edge between novelty and familiarity, risk and comfort" (58) Asian America's

relationship with food (specifically that of restaurant entrepreneurs) becomes an apt analogy for

Asian American chick lit writers, who face a similar dilemma of attempting to balance on the

"knife-edge" of capitulation and subversion. The balancing act that these writers must perform is

not a simple one of deciding whether or not to "sell out" to sell books, but rather a complex

negotiation of what it means to be an Asian American writer writing in a popular genre for a

wider (whiter) audience.

In this thesis, I examine foodways in the following Asian American chick lit texts: Kim

Wong Keltner's The Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby, and Amulya Malladi's Serving

Crazy i/ i/l Curry. While other Asian American chick lit texts have images of food and eating,

these texts employ food as a central and selling feature (in other words, they are the most overtly

"food pornographic"), either by including images of food in the paratext or recipes as part of the

narrative. In Chapter 1, I analyze images of food and eating in Keltner's Dim Sum of All Things

and Buddha Baby, two novels that focus on the life of a twenty-something Chinese American

woman, Lindsey Owyang. Keltner uses images of food and eating frequently in both novels,

such as including references to popular Chinese dishes in chapter titles ("Egg Fool Young," and

"How She Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Broccoli Beef'), using food as metaphor ("it was

sprayed like a big, black shellacked ball of cotton candy"), likening characters to food (one

chapter title in Dim Sum is "Bananas, Twinkies, and Eggs") and describing Chinese food in both









repulsive and delectable ways (Keltner, Buddha Baby 12). At first glance, Keltner's novels

appear to pander to commercial expectations of ethnic texts by using "food pornographic" details

and exploiting their "Asianness" through stereotypes in the peritext. I argue that Keltner's

utilization of stereotypes and "food pornography" ironically critiques not only the stereotypes

themselves and the practice of cultural commodification, but also the legacy of Asian American

racialization in the U.S and her own vexed position as an "ethnic" (or "Ethnick") author within

the white-centered chick lit genre. Keltner's portrayal of foodways articulates Lindsey's

ambivalence toward her Chinese American identity, as well as illustrates the power of food in

defining a racialized subjectivity.

In Chapter 2, I examine recipes and the act of cooking in Amulya Malladi's Serving Crazy

ii ith Curry. I argue that the chick lit formula functions like a recipe, as the earlier "Make Your

Own Chick Lit Novel!" illustration demonstrated. However, in contrast to this illustration, which

implies that the recipe structure represents a generic limitation, I contend that viewing the chick

lit formula as a recipe enables us to interrogate nuances and consider the "excess" that I

described earlier in my reading of the illustration's undefined "zaniness." I argue that this

"excess" politicizes the novel in ways that resist commercial limitations. Thus, though Malladi

claims on her website that her novel is not about anything political, the acts of cooking and

creating recipes are gendered and racialized in such a way that articulates and critiques the

melancholic condition of racialized women. Malladi not only critiques feminism in her novel by

showing how it can function as another form of oppression for the racialized woman, but also

critiques the way cooking has been figured as an act of feminist betrayal for "modern" women.

Ultimately, this thesis posits foodways as a productive site to examine the contradictions in










Asian American chick lit and understand the hunger pangs Asian Americans experience as

consumers and melancholic subjects of "America."

Notes


1 This essay was written in 1915 and published in 1917 (Gay 584).

2 Freud states that "the melancholic's disorder" allows us to view "the constitution of the human ego" (585).

3 Beryl Bainbridge (six-time Booker Prize shortlist recipient) and Doris Lessing (three-time Booker Prize shortlist
recipient) who both denounced chick lit on BBC Radio 4's Today program August 23, 2001 (Smith 3).

4 To provide more background on Cris Mazza's claim, in 1995, she and Jeffrey DeShell published a collection of
short stories by women and titled it Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction.

5 Given Weinberg's critical treatment of chick lit (as evident by the illustration), it is surprising that this article
appeared in a magazine that was co-owned by Barnes & Noble (Goldstein). According to an article published in The
New York Times, Book magazine featured items such as "book reviews, author interviews and effusive features like
'Anita Shreve's Secret Passions' and 'Hype! Hype! Hype! Wild Publicity Stunts'" (Goldstein). The magazine was
created to be an "Entertainment Weekly-like magazine about the book world," but stopped publication in 2003
(Goldstein; Natwoka).

6 Caroline Smith wrote the first booklength study on chick lit titled Cosmopolitan Culture and Consumerism in
Chick Lit, which was published in 2008. In her study, she examines consumerism in British and American chick lit
texts, specifically how these texts "question the 'consume and achieve' offered promise by...women's advice
manuals and in doing so challenge the consumer industry" (5). Like Janice Radway and Tania Modleski's studies in
women's cultural productions, Smith's study does not engage with issues of race or ethnicity in these texts, though
she acknowledges that the "genre has expanded, crossing racial and geographic boundaries" and that the initial
narrow definition of the chick lit protagonist (white, heterosexual, British or American) has changed (Smith 136; 2).
Her selection of texts reflect, as much of chick lit scholarship does, a normative whiteness that is not interrogated
and critiqued.

7 Tania Modleski's Loving With a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasiesfor Women was originally published in
1982 (republished in 2002) and Janice Radway's Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular
Literature was published in 1982 (republished in 1991). Both studies broke critical ground by not only analyzing
popular women's productions (such as soap operas and Harlequin romance novels), which have historically and still
are often perceived as "low art," but also by arguing that these texts do not simply reify or reinforce patriarchy and
actually can be subversive.

8 As Modleski states, "women's criticism of popular feminine narratives has generally adopted one of three
attitudes: dismissiveness; hostility-tending unfortunately to be aimed at the consumers of the narratives; or, most
frequently, a flippant kind of mockery" (4).

9 Though the importance of Radway's work should not be undermined, she nonetheless did not engage with issues
of race and ethnicity. In her description of the subjects chosen for her ethnographic study on romance novels, she
states, "The reading habits and preferences of the Smithton women are complexly tied to their daily routines, which
are themselves a function of education, social role, and class position. Most Smithton readers are married mothers
of children, living in single-family homes in a sprawling suburb of a central midwestern state's second largest city"
(50; emphasis added).











10 Ferriss and Young only briefly allude to the presence of Asian American chick lit authors by stating that "chick-lit
works focusing on second-generation Chinese American and Indian American protagonists have also made their
debut" (6).

1 Although Ferriss and Young attempt to justify their focus on white chick lit by stating "[i]t is indeed impossible to
deny that the overwhelming majority of chick lit continues to focus on a specific age, race, and class: young, white,
and middle," they undermine this justification by further stating "[b]ut it is equally impossible to deny that the
demand for and popularity of fiction focusing on protagonists beyond those categories is growing exponentially"
(8).

12 Frank Chin coined the term "food pornography" in his play The Year of the Dragon and used it to refer explicitly
to the Mama Fu Fu cookbook, which is a self-exploitative work that sells the "experience" of the Chinese family for
social and economic "gain." The Mama Fu Fu cookbook concept utilizes personal narrative and the cookbook genre
to appeal to the white mainstream with "charming" anecdotes and secrets behind Mama Fu Fu's "authentic" Chinese
cooking. Fred Eng, the protagonist of the play, describes the Mama Fu Fu cookbook as a combination between his
sister's recipes and his "smut," "a new literary form," that "tell[s] the story of a Chinese family" (Chin 86). He states
that the cookbook should include such instructions for lo\\ to make a toasted cheese sandwich without a sound,"
which would have a story of Mama Fu Fu "eating it listening to her parents slurp in their quiet little fucks..." (Chin
86). For more about "food pornography," see Sau-ling Cynthia Wong's Reading Asian American Literature: From
Necessity to Extravagance.

13 In fact, the market does not work consistently to control the way ethnicity is constructed or used. As Marilyn
Halter argues in "1/. 7 -,,i. for identity: "In effect, the market serves to foster greater awareness of ethnic identity,
offers immediate possibilities for cultural participation, and can even act as an agent of change in that process. Thus,
consumerism simultaneously disrupts and promotes ethnic community and can be both subversive and hegemonic"
(14)

14 Deborah Lupton argues that food is "both self and non-self simultaneously" (113), as the process of ingesting food
makes it part of the body and not part of the body at the same time. Sau-ling Cynthia Wong further clarifies that
"[i]ngestion is the physical act that mediates between self and not-self, native essence and foreign matter, the inside
an the outside. The mediating relationship is crucial: until eaten and absorbed into one's bodily system, food is no
more than a substance out there" (26).

15 As historian Donna Gabaccia states, "Even in the 1930s, the San Franciscan Clarence Edwords hesitated to
recommend many Chinese restaurants to middle-class eaters because of what he called Chinese chefs' disregard for
sanitation and 'the usual niceties of food preparation'" (103).

16 Several Asian American studies scholars have noted that Chinese male immigrants were relegated to performing
tasks that were considered "women's work" such as cooking so that they would not compete with the white men (Ho
27; Xu 10; Wong 56; Hooker 286, 324). As Jennifer Ho argues, "Because Chinese men were forced to perform work
associated with women, their gender identity became feminized neutralized by the socioeconomic restrictions
placed on them due to their ethnic status" (27). Asian American males have also been feminized through the food
that they eat. As Deborah Lupton argues in Food, the Body and the Self thereee is clearly a gendered division of
food in contemporary western societies" so that some food is considered feminine, others masculine. To that end,
there are foods that females prefer and foods that men prefer (Lupton 104). According to Margaret Visser (whom
Lupton includes in her gendered reading of food), there are foods that can be considered "almost totally female in
connotation" (Visser 19). One of these "female" foods that Visser classifies is rice, which she describes as "white,
delicate, even 'fluffy'" (19). Thus, by consuming "delicate" food, Asian American males are perceived as being
"delicate" as well. Their preference for rice puts them categorically with females who "are constructed as preferring
light, delicate foods and meals because they themselves hold and value these attributes" (Lupton 106).

17 Some examples of legislated discrimination against Asians: Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), California Alien Land
Law (1913), Immigration Act (1917), Immigration Act (1924), and the Hawes-Cutting Act (1932) (Okihiro 180-
185).











18 Panda Express, a popular Chinese fast food chain, has commodified Chinese food to become a model minority
fairy tale for the fast food generation. According to an article in USA Today titled "Panda Express spreads Chinese
food across USA," Panda Express has spread to all but 15 states and has succeeded in "tak[ing] fried rice from sea to
shining sea" (Krantz 3). On the Panda Express website, the appropriately titled "Panda Story," tells of "an inventive
young man from the picturesque Yangzhou region of China" who came to America with his father's recipes and
started his "dynasty" (Krantz 1).









CHAPTER 2
"A SUMPTUOUS CHINESE BANQUET": KIM WONG KELTNER'S THE DIM SUM OF
ALL THINGS AND BUDDHA BABY

One written memory recalled a woman's first experience of Chinese food at the age of 26
years, when she was taken to a restaurant by her husband. Marie would have preferred
any other cuisine, as she had heard rumours about the unconventional meat used in
Chinese food: 'The reason for Marie's aversion to Chinese was all the gruesome stories
of dog and cat skins found behind the local Chinese takeaway. Those images were indeed
difficult to overcome when faced with lemon chicken. Her thoughts were, "Is this really
chicken?"'

Deborah Lupton, Food, the Body, and the Self

Kim Wong Keltner's The Dim Sum of All Things (2004) and Buddha Baby (2005), like

many chick lit novels, focus on a twenty-something woman as she attempts to find personal

happiness and professional success while working a menial job and dating several "losers."

Keltner's protagonist, Lindsey Owyang, resembles other chick lit protagonists in her jaded

outlook on love and her increasing dissatisfaction with her work environment. However, the

covers of Keltner's books, as with many other Asian American chick lit novels, emphasize their

racial difference from mainstream chick lit texts by including images that are (stereo)typically

associated with Asians, such as Asian-ethnic food. What Asian American chick lit encourages its

audience to "consume" are not the designer shoes and handbags visible on mainstream chick lit

covers, but rather an ethnic culture made appealing in its images of curry spices and banquets.

For example, on the front cover of The Dim Sum of All Things, a hand holds a pair of chopsticks

above a Lazy Susan featuring a variety of items: a panda, a lantern, a pair of slippers, Tiger

Balm, a mahjong tile, a peach, a pot of tea, a chrysanthemum, and a fan. At the top, a quotation

from one of the reviewers calls the book "[a] sumptuous Chinese banquet... The minute you've

finished, you'll want to devour it all over again!" The back cover features the question "Have

you ever wondered..." with several possible end phrases such as "Why Asians love 'Hello

Kitty'?" and "Where Asian cuties meet the white guys who love them?" The "you" that is









addressed in this question constitutes the reader as someone outside of the Asian culture,

arguably the white, female reader for whom the majority of chick lit texts are written1. It is the

last question posed that is particularly relevant to this chapter: "Or will Lindsey realize that the

path to true love lies somewhere between the dim sum and the pepperoni pizza?"

Clearly, the dim sum and pepperoni pizza in this question are intended to represent the

seemingly irreconcilable cultural divide between the "East" and the "West." By using food to

convey the conflict between the "Asian" and the "American," the cover shows the significant

role food plays in identifying with a particular identity. Food simplifies the rift between these

two cultures, implying that by choosing dim sum over pizza, or vice versa, one thereby chooses

one identity over the other. As two ends of a continuum, the dim sum and pepperoni pizza cannot

technically meet or overlap, so therefore, identifying as both Asian and American appears to be

impossible. Though the question seems to imply that happiness (i.e., "the path to true love") lies

somewhere in the middle between these endpoints, these endpoints are nonetheless presented as

fixed in opposition rather than in flux.

This binary opposition between East and West defined in Keltner's cover does not only

show how food functions in establishing this dichotomy, but also how it plays a pivotal role in

commercializing an "ethnic" cultural product. Keltner's cover conflates reading the book with

consuming Asian food and culture, encouraging the reader to spin (metaphorically) the Lazy

Susan on the front cover around to eat morsels of the "authentic" Chinese experience. Rather

than discouraging the commodification of ethnicity, Keltner's cover seems to offer essentialized

representations of"Asianness," curios that might be familiar to readers as common items found

in the shops in Chinatown. Her cover appears to make the consumption of the "Other" as easy as

ordering takeout from a Chinese restaurant or purchasing "Chinese" items from a store.









Moreover, the questions posed on the back cover present the text as a cultural authority, which

looks like a targeted appeal to non-Asians who might want to understand more about Asian

culture. Most significantly, these questions do not merely suggest that the book serves as a native

informant for Chinese culture in particular, but rather Asian culture in general. Thus, Asian

culture is not only reductively portrayed in terms of cheap souvenirs from Chinatown, but also

the term "Asian" itself is presented as interchangeable with "Chinese."

While it is unknown what role Keltner played in selecting the cover designs, the cover

nonetheless frames her text and mediates the reader's engagement with the text itself. The cover

establishes certain expectations for the text, namely that its contents should provide some insight

into Asian culture. As part of the peritext, the cover is in "'an undecided zone' between the

inside and the outside... or as Philippe Lejeune said, 'the fringe of the printed text which, in

reality, controls the whole reading'" (Genette 261). The question becomes, how does the "fringe"

of Dim Sum affect a reading of the text? I contend that this cover ultimately functions ironically2

as part of Keltner's performative strategy to challenge essentialist notions of Asian American

culture and identity, as well as to problematize the (white) mainstream practice of racialized

consumption, or to use Anne Cheng's term, "white racial melancholia." According to Cheng,

white racial melancholia operates "as an elaborate identificatory system based on psychical and

social consumption-and-denial" (11). Within this system, white identity becomes constituted by

simultaneously excluding and retaining (what Cheng calls "swallowing") racialized others (8;

10).

In the context of Cheng's argument, Dim Sum 's front cover image of the hand posed to eat

Chinese souvenirs can be seen as articulating the cannibalistic relationship between dominant

white identity and the racialized subject. This image illustrates what Lindsey refers to in Dim









Sum and Buddha Baby (the sequel to Dim Sum) as the "hoarding" of Asian culture by the

"Hoarders of All Things Asian," who are defined as "white people" who have a fetish for Asian

objects (or perceive Asian women as objects) 3. Even as Keltner provocatively uses (and

seemingly promotes) an essentializing view of ethnicity through stereotypes such as "Hoarders"

and images of consumption (both eating and buying), she does not do so uncritically and without

qualifying, to a certain extent, the historical and social conditions which have informed

Lindsey's practice of stereotyping. I focus on images of food and eating specifically in this

section because they not only show how Lindsey has been constituted as a racialized subject

materially, but also how she expresses her ambivalence toward her Asian American identity. In

other words, consuming food becomes a way for Lindsey to symbolically assert and reject her

ethnicity. As my analysis of Dim Sum and Buddha Baby will show, Lindsey's negotiation of her

ethnic identity mirrors Keltner's negotiation of her status as "ethnic" writer with the chick lit

genre, a genre that melancholically consumes and retains racial difference in its identification of

ethnick lit" or "multicultural lit" novels.

Lindsey Owyang's Diary?

At the beginning of Dim Sum, Keltner situates the novel within the chick lit genre, yet

complicates its generic affiliation by identifying her protagonist's racial difference from the

white standard. In the first sentence of Dim Sum, the narrator states, "Many strange tales have

been told about sassy receptionists and their antics in the urban wild, but none so strange as the

story of Miss Lindsey Owyang, a Chinese American wage-slave who turned twenty-five last

summer" (Keltner 1). With this introduction, Keltner clearly establishes that her novel differs

from other chick lit novels ("many strange tales") not so much in its formulaic plot ("sassy

receptionists and their antics in the urban wild"), but rather with the ethnic identity of its

protagonist ("a Chinese American wage-slave"). Indeed, much of the plot of Dim Sum aligns









with the typical chick lit narrative: a twenty-something woman works at an unfulfilling (and

underpaid) job4, meets her love interest, dates some losers, and ends up with her love interest.

Lindsey lives with her grandma, Pau Pau, and works as a receptionist at the Vegan Warrior

magazine. During the course of the novel, Lindsey falls in love with Michael Cartier, her

coworker at the Vegan Warrior; goes on a series of blind dates with the grandsons of Pau Pau's

Mahjong friends; goes to China with Pau Pau; and eventually ends up dating Michael. In Buddha

Baby, the plot varies in the sense that Lindsey must choose between her fiance, Michael, and her

schoolmate from childhood, Dustin Lee (who is Chinese American), but it ends in much the

same way as other chick lit novels, with Lindsey happily engaged to Michael5.

Yet, while Dim Sum and Buddha Baby may appear like a Bridget Jones with a Chinese

American face, Lindsey's Chinese American identity does not simply offer a one-to-one

substitution of the average (white) chick lit heroine with a "China Doll." Rather, her atypical

identity shapes the narrative to address issues of race and ethnicity that largely remain

unacknowledged and unspoken in mainstream chick lit. Lindsey has an ambivalent attitude

toward her identity, which she often expresses through her practice of stereotyping people. Homi

Bhabha argues that "the stereotype...is a form of knowledge and identification that vacillates

between what is always 'in place', already known, and something that must be anxiously

repeated" and that "it is the force of ambivalence that gives the colonial stereotype its currency"

(66). The stereotype, then, is not as static as we perceive it to be, but rather is "a complex,

ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation, as anxious as it is assertive" (Bhabha 70).

According to Bhabha, it is important to shift the analysis of stereotypes from merely identifying

them as "positive or negative" to "an understanding of the processes ofsubjectification made

possible (and plausible) through stereotypical discourse" (67; emphasis in original). In this









respect, Lindsey's practice of stereotyping should not be relegated to a discussion of its positive

or negative effects, but rather should be interrogated for what it reveals about her own

subjectivity.

What becomes clear is that her stereotyping is a symptom, not the cause, of what Anne

Cheng calls the "racial grief' that forms her melancholic subjectivity. Her grief may be

cushioned with comic relief and obscured by the formulaic (i.e., romantic) aspects in these texts,

but it is the repressed narrative to what would otherwise be considered "lighthearted" chick lit

fare6. For example, the following description of Lindsey provided in Dim Sum reveals a

melancholic perspective of her racial identity:

Lindsey was a fairly clever receptionist, but she was more than just a worker bee who had
mastered the intricacies of voice mail and fax dialing. She was a third-generation San
Franciscan of Chinese descent who could not quote a single Han Dynasty proverb, but she
could recite entire dialogues from numerous Brady Bunch episodes. She knew nothing of
Confucius and did not speak any Cantonese or Mandarin, but she had spent years studying
the Western Canon and had learned to conjugate irregular French verbs. (Keltner 1).7

This description of Lindsey provides several critical insights into her character, as well as

Keltner's own conflicted feelings toward writing an "Asian American" novel. Keltner notably

undermines the predominant "perpetual foreigner" myth (Lindsey is a "third generation San

F/t/// iLtMn" after all) and tries to portray Lindsey as an average "American" girl, whose

preference for the Brady Bunch outweighs her interest in Confucius. In so doing, she

problematizes the exoticization on the cover, as well as her immediate identification of Lindsey's

ethnicity in the first sentence of the novel. Yet, while this performative move strategically

complicates (white) reader expectations to gain insight into (and fetishize) Chinese (not Chinese

American) culture, it also reveals Lindsey's racial melancholia and her exclusion from the

dominant culture that she emulates. Lindsey's preferences for European languages (instead of

Cantonese or Mandarin) and the "Western Canon" 8 can be viewed as attempts to negate her









racialized subjectivity by "consuming" European language and Eurocentric texts. Keltner's

decision to portray a Chinese American woman, rather than a Chinese American (emphasis on

the "Chinese") woman, represents her own defiance of a genre that would include her because

her racial difference, but also her melancholic desire to be accepted by the mainstream (even as a

"niche" author).

Covert Meat-eating and the "American Dream"

Lindsey's outsider status from the white protagonists found in other chick lit novels is

represented analogously through her own position as the covert meat-eater employed at Vegan

Warrior magazine. Her "infiltration" into this magazine of all white staff (she is the "only non-

white employee") can also be likened to Keltner's entry into the white-centered chick lit genre,

with both Lindsey and Keltner serving as token "Asian" representatives in largely homogenous

communities (Keltner, Dim Sum 2; 18). As the "outcast" at Vegan Warrior, Lindsey's

differences from the other staff members are primarily represented through their consumption

patterns (what she eats versus what the staff chooses not to eat) as well as through their racial

identities (Keltner, Dim Sum 2). The staff s limited consumption practices serve as a critical

parallel for the practices of exclusion that have negatively affected Chinese Americans as an

ethnic group. Just as allegations that Chinese people eat cats and dogs and other "strange" food9

have been used historically to show how they differ from (and hence do belong to) the white

majority, food is used at the magazine as a way of homogenizing and weeding out those who do

not "belong." As Sharon Peckham states, "Eating (and the etiquette that surrounds it) is a cultural

practice that marks off insiders from outsiders" (172). The magazine staff often functions like the

INS or the Department of Homeland Security in their attempts to find any illicit meat-eating,

with one humorous incident in Dim Sum depicting employees being subjected to breath tests by

Human Resources in order to "sniff out" any carnivorous activity (Keltner 152)0.









The analogy between the exclusionary environment of America and Vegan Warrior is

clearly articulated through the latter's hypocritical rhetoric of equality and its treatment of

Lindsey. Though the Vegan Warrior staff claims in their mission statement that they have a

"firm commitment to equality and social justice," this "commitment" does not "prevent them

from summoning Lindsey to perform all their menial tasks," which include "mopp[ing] spilled

rice milk" and "scour[ing] tofu cheese from the inside of the microwave" (Keltner, Dim Sum 2).

The food-oriented tasks that Lindsey performs, and the pretense of inclusivity that the Vegan

Warrior staff expounds, not only reflect the (food) service positions that Chinese Americans

have historically filled within the U.S11, but also critiques the disparity between the ideal of

"equality" versus its reality in America (which the Vegan Warrior portrays in a white, socially

liberal context)'.

The Vegan Warrior shows how both white social liberalism and racism function

melancholically, a manifestation of the "white guilt" that Keltner likens to "smog in the Bay

Area" (6). As Cheng argues, "[b]oth racist and white liberal discourses participate in [a diligent

system of melancholic retention], albeit out of different motivations" (11). For Cheng, though the

racist and the white liberal have separate aims in their melancholic actions, they both need

racialized subjects to either "develop elaborate ideologies in order to accommodate their actions

with official American ideals" (the racist) or "keep burying [them] in order to memorialize them"

(the white liberal) (11). Thus, Lindsey's presence at Vegan Warrior enables the staff to believe

(erroneously) that they are fulfilling their proclaimed mission statement, even though her role in

the magazine is as a "wage slave" and token minority. When Lindsey's boss, Howard, wants to

hold a potential donor luncheon, he decides that Lindsey should help him "research the

yummiest ethnic restaurants" and plan the event because he assumes that her "Asian" appearance









places her on "the pulse of the Asian restaurant scene" (Keltner, Dim Sum 251). Howard's

choice of food for the event, which includes items such as dim sum, sag paneer, and vegetable

tempura (Keltner, Dim Sum 252), represents what Peckham observes as a paradox of ethnic

cuisine:

The distinct categories of ethnic cuisine have been dismantled, but remain firmly in place,
suggesting that they are still potent. Today, it could be argued, commodified foreignness in
the form of world cooking is served up by a mainstream culture and consumed in a feast
that feeds the muscles of the ravenous nation, incorporating and finally annihilating all
difference. (181)

In this respect, Howard's decision to feature food at the luncheon from different Asian-ethnic

groups recognizes "distinct categories of ethnic cuisines" to the extent that having a variety of

food represents a kind of appreciation for diversity or multiculturalism. However, the differences

between these categories of food (and the ethnic groups they represent) are nullified because the

food items are lumped together under the same amorphous and problematic label "ethnic."

Through ingesting these "ethnic" food items, Howard and his fellow (white) Vegan Warrior

staffers can "fabricate multiculturalism" and consume difference, while retaining its essential

structure as Other (Fung 271).

The consumption patterns of the Vegan Warrior staff not only represent their attempt to

create a homogenous and exclusive community of eaters, but also their privileged position in

relationship to what Sau-ling Cynthia Wong calls the "big eaters" in Asian American literature.

The luxury that the staff members have in restricting their consumption according to their

ideological beliefs is not one that Asian Americans (specifically first-generation Asian

immigrants) necessarily share13. As Wong states:

Physical survival is incompatible with a finicky palate; psychological survival hinges on
the wresting of meaning from arbitrary infliction of humiliation and pain; survival of
family and the ethnic group not only presupposes individually successful eating but may
demand unusually difficult "swallowing" to ensure a continued supply of nourishment for
the next generation. (26)










"Big eating" can be viewed as symptomatic of the melancholic condition of Asian American

subjects, who must swallow their "humiliation and pain"14 (or "racial grief') in order to

survive1. Lindsey is not a "big eater" in the same way as Brave Orchid (the penultimate "big

eater") in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, but what she consumes reflects her

own desire to mitigate the "humiliation and pain" she experiences as a Chinese American16.

Lindsey cannot afford to have the "finicky palate" that the Vegan Warrior staff possesses, as her

"survival" in America is contingent on her an ability to assimilate through consumption. Thus,

just as she pretends to consume only vegetarian food in order to keep her job at Vegan Warrior,

so too does she pretend to consume only "American" food in order to assert her citizenship. In

that respect, her presence at the magazine represents, on the one hand, a subversive

"contamination" of the imaginatively homogeneous (white) community at Vegan Warrior, and

on the other, a melancholic response to her own exclusion from the white national identity.

Growing Pains and the "Era of Lost Chinese Children"

Lindsey's performative Americanization can be viewed as symptomatic of the pathology

over her racial identity that she develops as a child. Keltner includes flashbacks to Lindsey's

childhood in Dim Sum and Buddha Baby, which not only provide the origins of Lindsey's

melancholic subjectivity, but also show how food plays a critical role in the constitution of this

subjectivity. These flashbacks often feature incidences of racial injury that Lindsey cannot "get

over" (hence their reappearance throughout both novels). At the beginning of Buddha Baby, the

narrator describes Lindsey as having "spent her youth dodging the inconvenience of her

Asianness, but in the last three of her twenty-eight years she was forced to wake up and smell the

bock-fa oil" (Keltner 2). One painful incident described in both Dim Sum17 and Buddha Baby is

when two neighborhood boys throw "mushy berries and bologna sandwich crusts" at the









Owyangs' house and call them "Stupid chinks" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 130). How Lindsey and

her brother, Kevin, respond to this incident, in contrast to their parents, reflect the different levels

of assimilation that each character, or rather each generation, has undergone. When Lindsey's

parents find the mess, both deal with the incident by cleaning it up and not saying anything,

choosing instead to "swallow" the painful incident". As the narrative describes:

Lindsey was fully engaged in watching The Superfriends when she heard her mother go to
the door, and from the outside Lindsey heard her groan, "Oh, no." Her mother came back
in and woke Lindsey's dad. When they both emerged from the bedroom they were quiet.
Once again, her dad went out and cleaned up the mess, and pretty soon it was a normal
Saturday morning with her mom sipping coffee and her dad mixing Bisquick. (130-131).

The last sentence of this paragraph is particularly compelling, as the phrase "[o]nce again"

suggests that this form of racial injury has become normalized. To that end, the "normal

Saturday morning" that this passage describes with Lindsey's "mom sipping coffee and her dad

mixing Bisquick" reaffirms that the Owyangs are Americans, with both "coffee" and waffles

being typical American breakfast foods.

Unlike their parents, Lindsey and Kevin direct their humiliation and pain to humiliating

and causing pain to others they decide to throw dog shit at their Chinese American neighbor's

house, a neighbor whom they identify as more "Chinese" than themselves19. As the narrator

states:

The Ahchucks, so kind and gracious, had been an easy target. Lindsey was only nine and
didn't understand her emotions or the reason behind why did what she did. But feeling
conflicted about being Chinese and retaliating against other Chinese people was a lot easier
than blaming her tormentors. As illogical as it seemed, even after the neighborhood boys
had vandalized her house, in the weeks that followed, she still wanted them to like her
family and perhaps come over for sandwiches as if nothing ever happened. (Keltner,
Buddha Baby 132)

Kevin and Lindsey's actions in this passage can be viewed as what Anne Cheng argues as a form

of assimilation, which is "not the adaptation of behavior or customs per se but the repetition of a

violence (against an other that is also the self)... already experienced" (75)20. Kevin and Lindsey









are not empowered, within their tenuous American identity, to retaliate against the white boys

that hurt them, but they are empowered to hurt others like themselves. They replicate the boys'

actions exactly, except for what they throw (dog shit versus "mushy berries and bologna

sandwich crusts"). The symbolism behind what the white boys' throw and what Kevin and

Lindsey throw is critical: the boys mark the Owyang family as "Other" by staining their house

with "mushy berries" and implying that they don't belong with a literalized American weapon

(bologna), whereas Lindsey and Kevin throw what they identify with (dog shit)21, in order to

impose that feeling on someone else. Yet, despite these boys' actions, Lindsey still wants these

boys to come over for sandwiches (to illustrate how she is not a "Stupid [chink]"), which

indicates her capacity to keep swallowing grief.

Most of Lindsey's childhood experiences with racism occur at school, a place where the

Chinese American children seemed to vanish mysteriously in what Lindsey called the "Era of

Lost Chinese Children" 22 (Keltner, Buddha Baby 91). The school itself is depicted as

"consuming" the Chinese children that go there, as the narrator notes that "Chinese children had

a particular way of going bye-bye, and Lindsey had always feared she would be dropped down a

trap door to a fiery, dungeon furnace" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 91). Lindsey's fear of becoming

one of those "Lost Chinese Children" and being classified with the other Chinese "immigrant

outcasts" leads her to join in on the torment of another classmate of Chinese ancestry,

"immigrant-girl Dorcas Foo" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 96). The narrator states that Lindsey

participates in this abuse because "she knew she didn't want to be a helpless Chinese victim

lashed with Red Vines" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 96)23. Lindsey's fear is not unfounded, given that

another Chinese American girl, Gina Fang, is described as being "pummeled with Nutter Butters

during tournaments of freeze tag and four square" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 96). Keltner's decision









to make American food snacks the weapon of choice against the Chinese American children at

Lindsey's school articulates how food is used (literally in this case) to mark insiders and

outsiders of a culture. By being pelted with American food, Dorcas and Gina are marked as

Other and are denied the opportunity to consume the food (and become Americanized through

consumption). By throwing the American food at Dorcas and Gina, Lindsey shows that she has

assimilated as American.

Keltner not only articulates the violent cycle of assimilation by showing how food

functions as a cultural weapon against the Other, but also by showing how consumption figures

as a site of potential cultural degradation and Othering. In Buddha Baby, a new Chinese

American boy in school, Dustin24, tells Lindsey, "It's a well-known fact that Chinese people eat

rats. Do you eat rats?" (Keltner 42)25. Dustin's use of the phrase "Chinese people" in his racist

comment, when he is in fact Chinese American, shows how his disidentification from his

ethnicity is only made possible by identifying with Lindsey (Cheng 75). In using the word "you,"

he interpellates Lindsey as a racialized subject, imposing his own feeling of foreignness on her in

order to show that he belongs (whereas she does not). When Dustin begins to taunt Lindsey by

calling her "rat-eater" and a "rodent-eater," Lindsey responds by hitting him with her lunchbox.

After she does so, the other children who witness the exchange begin to taunt him, changing his

initial insult from "rat-eater" to "Rat Boy" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 44). Dustin responds to their

name-calling by stating, "I am not a rat. I am a homosapien" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 44). The

transformation that Dustin's insult undergoes from "rat-eater" to "Rat Boy" to "rat" shows how

people do not only become defined by what they eat (a "rat-eater") they can become identified

as what they eat (a "rat")26. Thus, the shift the children make from identifying (and insulting)









what a person consumes to identifying the person as what he or she consumes illustrates the

power of consumption in the formation of identity.

Spinning the Lazy Susan

Lindsey's awareness of how consumption patterns can influence how a person is identified

causes her to feign dislike for anything Chinese27. When she was a child, Lindsey would "never

let her grandmother, Pau Pau, put anything Chinese in her Bugs Bunny lunchbox," choosing to

fill it instead with "sandwiches with Safeway cold cuts" (Keltner, Dim Sum 6). For Lindsey,

consuming Chinese food is particularly fraught with identity issues, especially since food itself

"is potentially polluting because it passes through the oral boundary of the 'clean and proper

body'" (Lupton 113). As Doris Friedensohn states, "It's one thing to buy an 'alien' object as a

souvenir, another to ingest it" (166). Chinese food, specifically, has been historically been

treated as transgressive and abject28 (as Dustin's "rat-eater" insult suggests). Keltner does not

sanitize the image of Chinese food for her reading audience, but instead depicts it as variously

delectable and repellent, vacillating between food pornography and anti-food pornography29

Her heterogeneous portrayal of Chinese food contrasts with her depiction of homogeneous

and processed American food (which I will discuss later in the chapter), and subverts the

domestication that Chinese food has undergone to make it safe for "take-out." For example, in

the scene where Dustin calls Lindsey a "rat-eater," Lindsey reflects on what Chinese food would

be like with rodents:

Standing there she thought of all the different kinds of rodents and how they might be
prepared in Chinese cooking. She imagined marmots in black bean sauce, sweet 'n' sour
gerbils, Peking squirrel with hoisin sauce, chipmunks cubed in a dry wok, and chinchilla
chow fun. (Keltner, Buddha Baby 44)

In this decidedly anti-food-pomographic passage (which is reminiscent of Kingston's description

of Brave Orchid's cooking30), Keltner clearly portrays a repulsive image of Chinese food,









illustrating common (mis)apprehensions about this cuisine (the sentiment conveyed earlier in

Lupton's quotation, "Is this really chicken?")31. It is critical that this passage features rodents not

in their unadorned form, but with sauces commonly seen on Chinese menus, such as "black bean

sauce" and "sweet 'n' sour." Notably, "sweet 'n' sour" sauce appeared in Dim Sum, when

Lindsey and Michael go to a Chinese restaurant and she cautions him not to order "anything with

sweet-and-sour sauce, or egg rolls, or any of that tourist stuff" (Keltner 206). Thus, what Keltner

appears to be challenging through Lindsey's anti-food pornographic musings is the "sanitization"

(read: Americanization) of Chinese food (the "tourist stuff") which has made it easily

commodifiable and harmless. I use the word "sanitation" not to suggest that Keltner is claiming

that Chinese food is unhygienic, but rather to argue that Keltner is disrupting the symbolic order

of "cleanliness" that has structurally kept Chinese food in its defined place3. By combining the

"safe" ("sweet 'n' sour) with the "dirty"33 ("gerbils"), Keltner defamiliarizes Chinese food and in

doing so, contaminates not only its commodification, but also the commodification of Chinese

culture. Keltner's anti-food pornographic description of Chinese food with rodents does not so

much exoticize Chinese cuisine and culture as it reveals a resistance to playing the role of literary

"native," whose job is to "defamiliariz[e] [an ethnic specimen] of American likenesses as well as

the familiariz[e] of ethnic difference" (Bow 211).

What Keltner posits instead of the familiar "sweet and sour" combination of Chinese food

is an indescribable version of the cuisine that is unintelligible not only to the white reader, but

also to Lindsey herself. In Dim Sum, Lindsey lives with her grandmother Pau Pau who cooks

"hardcore what-the-hell-is-that kind of Chinese food," which includes "organ meats and

unrecognizable fish parts that had been sliced to bits with a cleaver as long as a human arm

earlier that morning in Chinatown" (Keltner, Dim Sum 6; emphasis in original). The phrase









"wIha t-th-hell-is-that" represents a critical breakdown in language, where the "details of real

Chinese food real Chinese anything" cannot be conveyed, according to Lindsey, to "white

people" (Keltner, Dim Sum 6). In contrast to the questions posed on the back cover ("Have you

ever wondered...Why Asians...?"), the phrase "what-i/w-hell-is-that" challenges that the "you"

addressed in the back cover (the white reader) can ever know the answer to these questions. To

that end, Lindsey's inability to articulate what the Chinese food is that Pau Pau prepares suggests

not only her alienation from her culture, but also that the complexity of Chinese food far exceeds

what fortune cookies and take-out menus imply. That Keltner does not make Chinese food

immediately "intelligible" to the reader further demonstrates her resistance to the literary

"native" role, which Leslie Bow analyzes in the context of Jade Snow Wong. As Bow states,

"While 'remoteness' is the catalyst for voyeuristic interest, an unintelligible native is of no use;

nor is one who remains absolutely indifferentn" (211). Unlike the "intelligible" native, Keltner

does not fully explicate the contents of Pau Pau's dishes, which leaves the reader with

incomplete information. In this respect, Keltner differs in her representation of Chinese food

from Jade Snow Wong, whom Frank Chin was clearly alluding to in his description of "food

pornography."34 Whereas Jade Snow Wong "[took] pains to explain the ritualistic significance of

certain meals and folk beliefs about the medicinal properties of certain ingredients" to lead "the

white reader on a verbal gastronomic tour," Lindsey does not know the names of the ingredients

that go into Pau Pau's dishes35 36 (S.C. Wong 63).

The unintelligibility of Pau's cooking makes it nonreproducible, which suggests that it is

the opposite of mass-produced American food. Moreover, the nonreproducibility of Pau Pau's

cooking makes it resistant to commodification in ways that "chop suey"37 and "dim sum" are not.

Pau Pau's dishes are depicted as "invented recipes" that appear on "no restaurant menu anywhere









in the city" (46). Pau Pau's cooking, though presented as "authentic" Chinese food, does not

actually look or taste like the food that Lindsey encounters in a trip to China:

When the food arrived, she scanned the lazy Susan for dishes she might want. But the
more she searched, the more she found that she didn't recognize anything. The mushy-
looking brown goo bore no resemblance to the mushy goo she was familiar with back
home. A couple of selections looked vaguely like seafood but lacked discernible parts that
could be verified as either animal or vegetable. A bowl of sauteed beef, upon close
inspection, was not beef at all but tiny severed duck tongues. (Keltner, Dim Sum 283)

We see in this passage the "lazy Susan" from the front cover, only this time it contains

unrecognizable Chinese food, rather than popular Chinatown souvenirs. What is critical to note

in this passage how nothing is as it appears to be in this particular lazy Susan; that is, what

Lindsey mistakes for recognizable and delicious food ("sauteed beef') is not what she expects at

all ("severed duck tongues"). Lindsey, in fact, is "almost convinced that this whole meal was a

joke on the tourists," who seem to happily enjoy the strange exoticism and do not perceive

anything amiss in their consumption of "authentic" Chinese food (Keltner, Dim Sum 284). I

would argue that the lazy Susan on the cover functions in a similar way, in that what appears to

be an open invitation to consume Chinese culture via Chinese souvenirs is actually a more

complex engagement with the power of consumption and what it means to be the melancholic

subject being consumed within the dominant white identity. Keltner's subversion of the

commodification of Chinese cuisine and her resistance to playing the literary "native" role allude

to the agency she possesses, even within a genre that appears highly commercialized for

audience appeal.

The All-American Owyangs

While Keltner portrays Chinese food as indescribable, she depicts American food as

heavily branded. Keltner consistently refers to the names of American food products (such as

"Nutter Butters" and "Red Vines"), which suggests that the Owyang family, by consuming









American food, is actually buying the "American" label implicit in these food names. As

Deborah Lupton argues,

To eat American food is to incorporate some of the desired attributes of American culture,
and at the same time to reject one's own cultural food practices. The nutritional value of
such food has little to do with the desire to consume it: such food signifies American
success, and thence is considered desirable. (27)

The question becomes, what "desired attributes of American culture" do the Owyangs wish to

incorporate? Lindsey's parents are depicted as believing in the "American Dream"38 and running

their household according to the standard of the idealized "American Family." In Buddha Baby,

Lindsey reflects on her home life as a child and notes how "her nuclear household had been like

a small factory in which conversation was designated by and limited to one's role in the family"

(Keltner 74). The image of the nuclear family as factory is critical in the characterization of the

Owyangs, who ingest processed American food in order to keep this "factory" running.

Significantly, Keltner provides a context for the Owyangs' methodical Americanization in the

beginning of a chapter in Dim Sum titled "Chinese + English = Chinglish":

When Chinese immigrants first came to San Francisco in the mid-1800s, laws excluded
them from bringing their wives or families to join them. As a result, the men formed
Benevolent and Family Associations that grouped men according to their homeland
villages or last names and provided services and sense of community to the immigrants,
who could not count on any city services to guide them. (Keltner 61)

This passage critically posits the "family" as a site of traumatic exclusion that Chinese

Americans have had to overcome. In this way, the Owyangs' smooth execution of the nuclear

family dynamic can be viewed as trying to regain the "family" that Chinese Americans were

historically denied. Thus, eating American food functions as a normative activity that reinforces

the Owyangs' position as the "All-American Family," in the respect that the "four main food

groups" that Lindsey was raised on ("frozen, canned, store-bought, or pimento loaf')

homogenize the Owyangs so that they can "blend in" with other American families (Keltner,









Dim Sum 212). Keltner noticeably uses brand names like "Swanson's frozen entrees" and "Oscar

Mayer luncheon loaves" when describing the American food that Lindsey was raised on, which

not only establishes the Owyangs as part of the American middle class39 (and thereby reinforces

their position as the "All American Family"), but also serves as a productive metaphor for what

the Owyangs seek to become (Keltner, Dim Sum 47). That is, "American" can be viewed as a

kind of brand name (like "Swanson" or "Oscar Mayer") which entails a certain amount of

processing and packaging. According to Claude Levi-Strauss, "cooking marks] the transition

from nature to culture"; thus, processed food, having theoretically been "cooked" multiple

times, becomes a marker of culture (164). In a similar way, the process of Americanization can

be seen as a process of "cooking," imposing modifications on racialized subjects so that they can

become "cultured" and have the "American" label appended to their ethnicity (as in Chinese

American). However, just as processed food lacks nutritional value40 (which Keltner alludes to in

Dim Sum)41, the "American" label lacks substance and disappears, specifically in the case of

Asian Americans. In this respect, the "American" label can be viewed as the Freudian "lost"

object that the Owyang family melancholically devours with their Swanson frozen entrees.

The Owyangs do not only assimilate by eating American food, but also by creating and

eating hybrid dishes with Chinese and American ingredients. As the narrator describes in Buddha

Baby, Lindsey's "parents did occasionally attempt to blend Chinese and American cultures

together by preparing meals such as bok choy with cut-up hot dogs, or macaroni salad with pai

don, Chinese preserved eggs" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 2). These fusion dishes illustrate how the

Owyangs attempt to negotiate the materiality of their Chinese side by combining Chinese and

American qualities to create hybrid identities42. Lindsey's mother, Lillian, is described as

wanting Lindsey and her brother, Kevin, to be "the perfect combination of qualities: well-









educated with good manners like upper-class Americans, but with the humility and toughness

like the Chinese" (Keltner, Dim Sum 65). However, combining cultures is obviously less simple

and clear-cut than combining cultural food, as ensuring that the "Chinese and American balance

[is] just right" can erroneously reduce the formation of identity to an essentialist process of give-

and-take (Keltner, Dim Sum 65).

Cooking (which I will discuss further in the next section) thus serves as an apt (if

problematic) metaphor for the Owyangs' approach to assimilation, as their attempt to mix

Chinese characteristics with American ones can be viewed as similar to combining ingredients in

order to create something palatable. However, combining cultures by combining ethnic

ingredients simplifies the psychic negotiation a racialized subject must enact in order to

assimilate, as well as elides the violence that such assimilation entails. The belief that blending

together cultures can be as simple as combining bok choy and hot dogs hints at a false and easy

utopic resolution to the messy problem of existing between cultures. Lindsey's attempt to

negotiate between her Chinese side and her American side is, for her, more like the process of

combining oil and water. Lindsey's perception that her two sides cannot blend provides a context

for why Lindsey is called a "Twinkie" (an Asian person who is "yellow" on the outside and

"white" on the inside"). This racial epithet, which is often used to denigrate Asian Americans

who act too "white," is a provocative example of how ethnicities are constructed as static entities

mutually exclusive to one another. In other words, with a "Twinkie," one can clearly see where

the "yellow" ends and the "white" begins; there is a visible line of separation between these two

elements. Calling someone a "Twinkie" implies that they have undergone a process of

Americanization (they are "processed" like an actual Twinkie), a culturalization that results in









imaginative closure of identity, where the "internal homogeneity" (to recall Stuart Hall) is

conceived as unified and "white."

For Lindsey, who resists being called a "Twinkie," the attempt to balance her Chinese and

American characteristics only implicates an inherent imbalance that she has internalized from an

early age. Her attempt to "get over" her race by compensating through consumption backfires to

the extent that she feels at crisis with her two opposing sides of her identity. Thus, Lindsey's

identity crisis, rather than her romantic troubles, is actually the primary conflict in both novels

that Keltner attempts to resolve and "get over" a critical plot deviation from the standard chick

lit formula. Though Keltner has received criticism for her handling of racial issues (some

reviewers found her work too stereotypical, others compared it to the only other commercial

Asian American text they were familiar with The Joy Luck Club), I would argue that her

provocative posturing of complicity and subversion thoughtfully grapples with what it means to

be interpellated as "Asian" in America, as well as the fraught position of the "ethnic" author in

the chick lit genre.

I want to end this section with a particular passage from Buddha Baby, which I believe

articulates Keltner's response not only to Asian American detractors who see her writing in the

chick lit genre as "selling-out" to a white audience (or as Dustin phrases it, "cater[ing] to

Western palates"), but also a response to her white readers, who fetishize her as an "ethnic"

author. In this passage, an older version of Dustin (the boy who called Lindsey a "rat-eater") is

talking to Lindsey about her experience of being an alienated (assimilated) Asian American, as

well as his own:

See, if you were a beverage, I bet you would be a peppy soda pop rather than a heavy,
murky tea...When white people see you and realize you wear the same kind of clothes as
you do and you don't speak with an accent, they probably welcome your hint of Chinese
flavor, assuming you're filled with empty calories but are nonetheless... refreshing. They










like that you're different enough to be entertaining, but not strong enough to upset their
stomachs. On the other hand, some Chinese people, Angry Asian Men included, take one
look at your packaging and immediately judge you. They assume you're too bubbly, or
have some kind of gimmick. They might think you're to sweet to be any good, or think
you've designed yourself to cater to Western palates. In all of two seconds of seeing you,
they take it upon themselves to proclaim that your character consists of inferior ingredients
devoid of any authentic Chinese flavor. (Keltner, Buddha Baby 88)

Like Lindsey, chick lit is often perceived as a "peppy soda pop" that is devoid of any kind of

substance. As Keltner's passage insightfully illustrates, Asian American chick lit authors often

must straddle the fence between subversion and complicity in order to appease their two

contingents of the chick lit reading audience, both of whom seek Asian American chick lit for

conflicting reasons. I find it critical here that Keltner uses food and consumption imagery to

show what Lindsey, and arguably she, is viewed as, as well as what both Asian American and

white outsiders (readers) want from her, suggesting that she is not only aware of herself as

commodity, but how racialized subjects are specifically constituted as commodities for

consumption in everyday life.

Notes


1 Ferriss and Young argue that "chick culture can be productively viewed as a group of mostly American and British
popular culture media forms focused primarily on twenty- to thirtysomething middle-class women" (Chick Flicks 1).
What is not explicitly stated is that the categories "American" and "British" are normatively white.

2 One Amazon.com reviewer called The Dim Sum ofAll Things "one long inside joke," stating "[i]t seems that the
non-Asian reviewers disliked this book because they 'don't get it'" (A Customer). This comment insightfully locates
Dim Sum within the discourse of comic racial representation, which as Minh-Ha Pham argues in her dissertation
"Playing (with) Stereotypes," is an equally fraught area within Asian American studies largely due to the way
comedyey has been a useful means of shepherding even the most malicious racial representations into the
mainstream" (4). Arguably, like images of food and eating within Asian American literature and the genre of Asian
American chick lit itself, "comedy whether externally or internally produced is notoriously difficult to categorize
as either resistant or accommodating, either racist or good-natured, it does not lend itself easily to any one set of
politics" (Pham 7).

3 Lindsey identifies "Hoarder" males and "Hoarder" females, with the former being defined in Dim Sum and the
latter being defined in Buddha Baby. "Hoarder" males, who have a much longer nickname ("Hoarders of All Things
Asian") are described as Ishi, Caucasian beta-males with dirty blond hair and sallow complexions" and "stealthy
predators who [feign] interest in Asian cuisine, history, and customs in hopes of attracting an exotic porcelain doll
like those portrayed so fetchingly in pop culture movies and advertisements" (Keltner, Dim Sum 2-3). (Cara
Lockwood also has a similar stereotype in her book Dixieland Sushi; she describes white men who have a fetish for
Asian women as possessing an AO (Asian Obsessed) blood type.) In Buddha Baby, Lindsey encounters "Hoarder"











females while working for a museum. In contrast to "Hoarder" men that are "focused mainly on the procurement of
Asian love slaves, Hoarder Ladies seemed more concerned with the acquisition of fashion and home items,
preferring to feather their nests with a healthy dose of oriental razzmatazz" (Keltner 33-34). Keltner goes into great
detail describing both "Hoarder" males and females, constructing ethnographic accounts of what they are like and
their recognizable features. (Keltner even describes a scene where Lindsey meets a "Hoarder" male who admits that
he fetishizes Asian women in this fashion.) While the concept of "Hoarders" is problematically stereotypical, the
way that Keltner writes about them is quite similar to how Chinese Americans have historically been represented
within popular culture that is, as one-dimensional caricatures (e.g., "lily-footed celestials, geishas, fan-tan dancers,
and singsong girlies") (Keltner, Dim Sum 3). As Robert Lee argues in his seminal work Orientals: Asian Americans
in Popular Culture, Asian Americans have been stereotypically represented by the "six faces of the Oriental": "the
pollutant, the coolie, the deviant, the yellow peril, the model minority and the gook" (8). What is critical about Lee's
argument is that each of these faces "portray the Oriental as an alien body and a threat to the American national
family" (8). What Keltner observes in Lindsey's "Hoarder" theory is that the threat the Oriental body poses has been
mediated through commodification and objectification of that body. The Oriental body is perceived as attractive by
Hoarder males precisely because it is alien and the same is true for Oriental objects that Hoarder females buy.

4 Lindsey's unfulfilling career is a condition of what Michelle Sidler calls "McJobdom." As she writes in her essay
"Living in McJobDom," "The McJobdom inhabited by so many twentysomethings is but a local manifestation of a
growing economic condition. The condition is so subtle and pervasive that women and men of my generation do not
know how to fight it" (37).

5 Michael initiates his relationship with Lindsey largely because he wants to "understand better what it means to be
Chinese" (Keltner, Dim Sum 205). He asks Lindsey to be his "cultural guide," an obviously problematic request that
nonetheless implicates Michael's, and arguably the white reader's, desire to have Lindsey (and Keltner) play the role
of "native informant." Lindsey responds to his request with agitation, stating "Well, there's no guidebook or
anything" (Keltner, Dim Sum 205). Lindsey's comment significantly problematizes reading Keltner's work as a
guidebook to Chinese life, which is a direct contradiction to what the cover of Dim Sum encourages.

6 The romantic relationships in both Dim Sum and Buddha Baby often emphasize (rather than de-emphasize) the
racial issues within the text. According to an interview with asianconnections.com, Keltner stated that she
constructed the relationships very intentionally to highlight the racial issues. As she articulates in the interview,
"Well, in The Dim Sum ofAll Things, [Lindsey's] attracted to this guy who she thinks is just this run-of-the mill
white guy. I was concentrating on the Asian-white thing. I really wanted to talk more about the Asian-Asian thing
with an Asian girl and an Asian guy [in Buddha Baby], and how that can be sticky. Specifically with Lindsey and
Dustin, neither of them had dated anybody Asian before. They're wondering if I'm liking this person because I like
them or because I'm so hooked into this I-have-to-date-an-Asian person thing. It's an unspoken pressure." Of
course, Michael is not a "run-of-the-mill white guy" because he is also a quarter Chinese. His Chinese heritage
serves as a critical plot point that not only disrupts the common heterosexual relationship in Asian American chick
lit novels (that is, between an Asian American woman and a white man), but also illustrates the material conditions
that race engenders. In Dim Sum, Lindsey reflects on how Michael's "white" appearance has allowed him to escape
from the "subtle mistreatment or outright hostility due to race," where "she could never escape being identifiably
Asian" (Keltner, Dim Sum 257).

7 Keltner uses a similar opening in her follow-up novel about Lindsey, Buddha Baby: "She had been born and bred
in San Francisco, raised on Cocoa Puffs and Aaron Spelling productions. As a kid she never wore silk slippers or
mandarin-collared pajamas, but rather was more often outfitted in checkerboard Vans and an "I'm With Stupid" T-
shirt. Confucian proverbs eluded her, but she was well versed in the spunky aphorisms of great philosophers such as
Fonzie and Fred Sanford, whose Nick-at-Nite reruns taught her handy phrase such as "Sit on it, Malph," and "Bring
me some ripple, Dummy" (1).

8 Cheng cites the "formation of canonical literature" as an example of how racialil melancholia plays itself out not
only in national formation" (12). As Cheng argues: "The canon is a melancholic corpus because of what it excludes
but cannot forget" (12).











9 The tales of Chinese and other Asian ethnic groups eating "unconventional meat" such as dogs and cats has
become prevalent to the point that whenhn a sizeable number of Vietnamese refugees settled recently in a small
Kentucky city, a rumor began circulating that people's cats and dogs were disappearing. The rumor suggested that
the strange food habits of the Vietnamese were responsible for the vanishing pets" (KalCik 37).

10 In Buddha Baby, the narrator reveals that Lindsey has been fired from herjob at Vegan Warrior because she is
"caught red-handed gnawing on a pork chop" (Keltner 48).

1 Many of Lindsey's family members are described as having worked or currently work in a food-related industry:
Lindsey's aunt Shirley is "a part-time file clerk at the corporate office of Whole Foods"; her mother used to "[shell]
pounds of shrimp for a local restaurant" when she was younger; her paternal grandparents own a grocery store (they
also previously "worked in the asparagus and pear fields" and her grandfather, specifically, worked as a cook at a
private residence) (Dim Sum 64; Buddha Baby 109). The popular association of Chinese with food service industries
leads Lindsey to be mistaken for a restaurant worker while buying some green beans: "As she stood in line clutching
her baggie of Blue Lakes, the man behind her suddenly spoke. 'For the restaurant, eh?' he asked. She was unaware
that he was addressing her, and she didn't turn around. A moment passed before he tapped her on the shoulder and
repeated, 'Need those for the restaurant, huh?' Had this man mistaken her for someone he knew from his local take-
out place? Or did he just assume that a Chinese person holding a large sack of string beans worked in a restaurant?"
(Keltner, Dim Sum 116).

12 According to Cheng, "American melancholia is particularly acute because America is founded on the very ideals
of freedom and liberty whose betrayals have been repeatedly covered over" (10).

13 As Sau-ling Cynthia Wong states, "The references to the stereotype of cat- and dog-eating Asians recall other
Chinese American stories...that portray attachment to pets (farm animals, 'dove birds,' crabs) as an indulgence
disdained by the hard-boiled immigrant generation (61).

14 Wong provides some examples of the "humiliation and pain" that Asian Americans have experienced: "No
wonder, then, that big eaters abound in the literature of Asian Americans, who at various points in their history have
been kept out of America by discriminatory immigration legislation; exploited as cheap, dispensable labor;
ghettoized while being faulted for refusal to Americanize; denied citizenship, landownership, or a chance to raise
families in the United States; scapegoated during hard times; run out of town, lynched, and slain; forcibly interned,
relocated, and dispersed on no evidence of disloyalty; deprived of property by confiscation or virtual confiscation;
and, even in an era of liberalized immigration, subjected to stereotyping and racial violence" (26).

Is As Cheng describes the process of melancholic consumption, "The 'swallowing' does not go down easily. As the
libido turns back on the ego, so do the feelings of guilt, rage, and punishment (Freudian melancholia is anything but
mild!) originally attached to the initial object of loss and disappointment" (8).

16 In Dim Sum, Lindsey reflects on the "humiliation and pain" caused by race when she receives a plain white
envelope with the phrase "The Slant" and perceives it as a racial slur directed against her. She notes that "[i]t had
been a long time since anyone had called her a slant, or any other racial epithet, for that matter" (Keltner, Dim Sum
254). Michael later informs her that this is not a racial slur against her at all, but the title of his new humor column.
Lindsey becomes upset at what she perceives as his lack of sensitivity toward a racially charged word, which causes
her to reflect on not only the difference between Michael's "Chineseness" and hers, but also on how the visibility of
one's race changes one's experience. As the narrator states, "[Lindsey] had tried to ignore these humiliations, but
each incident had stayed with her" (Keltner, Dim Sum 257).

17 In Dim Sum, the incident is described in one short sentence: "[Lindsey] remembered neighborhood teenagers
pelting the house with mushy blackberries, and she recalled the glare from a boutique saleslady when she'd shopped
for her junior prom dress" (Keltner 257).

18 Keltner portrays Lindsey's parents as stereotypically quiet: "Like most Chinese families, they never talked about
feelings" (Buddha Baby 75). However, she complicates this portrayal by going on to state, "Or, perhaps, like











everybody else in the rest of the country, they were just bored with each other and were more interested in watching
American Idol" (Buddha Baby 75). The latter statement seems to undermine that there is anything necessarily
"Chinese" about the Owyangs' silence, by recasting silence as American apathy. What Keltner articulates in her
portrayal aligns with King-Kok Cheung's argument inArticulate Silence that "[m]odalities of silence need to be
differentiated" (3).

19 In a scene before the vandalism, the narrator describes Lindsey's feelings toward the Ahchucks: "When Lindsey
was young she hated the Ahchucks' house. She loathed visiting them, and was embarrassed by how Chinese their
home was. She felt that the Ahchucks were purposely calling attention to their otherness, and was uncomfortable in
the midst of all the Asian motifs" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 128; emphasis added). Lindsey clearly differs from the
Ahchucks in trying to not call attention to her otherness by conforming to normative American standards of
consumption and behavior.

20 The context for Anne Cheng's argument is the famous bathroom scene in The Woman Warrior where the
protagonist inflicts the same humiliation and shame that she formerly experienced by the hands of a teacher onto
another Chinese American girl. As Cheng argues, "The narrator suffers the trauma not of being a victim but of being
the aggressor. The juxtaposition of these two scenes (the narrator in the bathroom with the other little girl and earlier
in the classroom with the teacher) not only plays out the autobiographical coercion but also acts out the
internalization of that coercion and its subsequent epistemological aporia" (75).

21 This dog shit is from a "neighbor across the street who always let his German shepherd take a huge crap in front
of the Owyangs' house" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 131). Lindsey's dad consistently cleans the mess up, but "every day
there was more shit, and they all knew it was the same guy and his same damn dog" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 131).

22 Allegorically, this "Era of Lost Chinese Children" seems to represent the historical exclusion of Chinese children
from white schools in San Francisco and throughout California, which occurred "well until into the 1930s" (Chan
58). According to Sucheng Chan, in San Francisco, Chinese children were segregated from white children in
schools. In 1859, "a separate school for Chinese children was opened in the city" but was closed in 1871 (57). After
1871, the "only education available to children of Chinese ancestry... would be private tutors hired by their parents
or in a few English and Bible classes taught by Protestant missionaries working in Chinatown" (Chan 57). Joseph
and Mary Tape famously challenged the "school board's denial of the right of their daughter, Mamie, to a public
education" resulting in the creation of yet another school, the "Oriental School,' in 1885 (Chan 57-58).

23 Significantly, Keltner does not state that Lindsey was afraid of being a "Chinese [American] victim lashed with
red vines" but rather a "Chinese victim." By eliding the "American" hyphenate, Keltner articulates how in the
playground (and in other contexts as well), it does not matter to what degree a Chinese American has been
assimilated or what citizenship status that person holds, but rather that the person is Chinese.

24Dustin's desire to assimilate is apparent from when Dustin first arrives at St. Maude's and he insists[] that he
[isn't] Chinese at all, but a direct descendant of the great general, Robert E. Lee" (Keltner, Buddha Baby 40).

25According to David Sibley in his book Geographies ofExclusion, "Rats, pigs, and cockroaches have had a
particular place in the racist bestiary because all are associated with residues food waste and human waste and in
the case of rats, there is an association of spaces which border civilized society...The potency of the rat as an abject
symbol is heightened though its role as a carrier of disease" (28). Rats and other rodents are known to spread the
bubonic plague, a disease that became associated with Chinese and Japanese immigrants and justified their removal
from San Francisco and Honolulu in the 1890s (Chan 56). Sucheng Chan states that "Chinese and Japanese...were
singled out for detention in quarantine because the ports of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Yokohama, and Kobe, according
to the medical officials in San Francisco, were 'infected'" (56). In addition, "Chinese and Japanese were forbidden
to travel outside of California without certificates issued by the surgeon general of the U.S. Marine Hospital Service,
the federal agency responsible for quarantine" (Chan 57).











26 According to historian Nayan Shah, Chinese immigrants were often compared to farm animals such as "rats, hogs,
and cattle" (27). The animals chosen for comparison were deliberate, as "[t]he choice of animals underscored a
relationship to waste and an imperviousness to crowding" (27).

27 In Dim Sum, Lindsey remembers visiting a Sanrio store when she was younger for a "brief shoplifting pick-me-
up," but only "walk[ing] out with a gluestick, fearing that any Sanrio product would associate her with the
immigrant outcasts who snacked on Pocky sticks at recess" (Keltner 6). Even though Lindsey's "white friends" like
(and shoplift) Sanrio products, Lindsey is aware that her consumption of the same products would remind the others
of her "Chineseness" and affirm her racialized status. Significantly, what is figured as a crime in this scenario is not
the act of shoplifting, but the act of being "Chinese."

28 In Powers ofHorror, Julia Kristeva defines the abject as "the jettisoned object" which draws a person "toward a
place where meaning collapses" (2). According to Kristeva, abjection is not caused by "the lack of cleanliness or
health...but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the
ambiguous, the composite" (4).

29 Sau-ling Cynthia Wong's clarification about "food pornography" is critical here: "Food pornography consists not
in any particular menu of intrinsically 'pornographic' or even intrinsically 'ethnic' items but in a certain posture of
presentation. This ingratiating posture, having arisen in response to a set of oppressive interracial relationships,
cements it in turn by reassuring the patron that the unsettling implications of 'eating ethnic' can be arrested" (67;
emphasis added). Thus, by stating that Keltner vacillates between "food pornographic" and "anti-food
pornographic" descriptions, I am arguing that she is positioning herself in relationship to the audience in a specific
way: either by capitulating to the audience's desire to read delicious, yet exotic, passages of "authentic" Chinese
food or by subverting that desire with defamiliarized (sometimes repulsive) depictions of Chinese food.

30 This passage is similar to a description of Brave Orchid's cooking in Woman Warrior: "My mother has cooked for
us: raccoons, skunks, hawks, city pigeons, wild ducks, wild geese, black-skinned bantams, snakes, garden snails,
turtles that crawled about the pantry floor and sometimes escaped under refrigerator or stove, catfish that swam in
the bathtub... She boiled the weeds we pulled up in the yard" (90).

31 According to Gabaccia, "B.E. Lloyd's 1876 guide to the 'lights and shades' of San Francisco scarcely mentioned
Chinese food as a viable option for visitors. It noted instead that the Chinese while usually penurious eaters often
staged great banquets where exotic and rare, but sometimes also disgusting, foods were consumed. At this date,
Chinese food was mentioned as a curiosity but not yet recommended for consumption by tourists" (103).

32 As Nayan Shah states, "During the 1870s, [San Francisco] had passed ordinances regulating...the sanitary
condition of [Chinese] food vendors" (35). These regulations not only implied that Chinese immigrants were
unsanitary, but they also imposed a homogenization of Chinese food.

33 Mary Douglas argues in Purity and Danger, "As we know it, dirt is essentially disorder. There is no such thing as
absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder...Dirt offends against order. Eliminating it is not a negative
movement, but a positive effort to organise the environment" (2).

34 In Frank Chin's short story, "Railroad Standard Time," he refers directly to Jade Snow Wong, as well as other
authors he considers "food pornographers": "I hated after reading Father and Glorious Descendant, Fifth Chinese
Daughter, The House That Tai Ming Built. Books scribbled up by a sad legion of snobby autobiographical
Chinatown saps all on their own...Part cookbook, memories of Mother in the kitchen slicing meat paper-thin with a
cleaver. Mumbo jumbo about spices and steaming, The secret of Chinatown rice. The hands come down toward the
food. The food crawls with culture. The thousand-year-old living Chinese meat makes dinner a safari into the
unknown, a blood ritual. Food pornography" (3).

35 Lindsey's favorite dish by Pau Pau is described as "a melange of shrimp, tofu, bean paste, and a smattering of
other ingredients with Chinese names she could never remember" (Keltner, Dim Sum 47).











36 This is not to say that Keltner is completely different form Jade Snow Wong or to deny that Keltner has food
pornographic passages that are ingratiating, rather than subversive. For example, Lindsey identifies Chinese food as
one of the reasons why being Chinese American is positive, rather than negative. In a highly food pornographic
scene, Keltner describes Lindsey's feelings about her Chinese identity: "And what good Chinese things had Michael
skipped?...He had not spent years tasting the flavors of ancient recipes that soaked form the taste buds into the heart;
he had missed out on the fortifying crunch of every bamboo shoot, the soothing reassurance in each swallow of
faintly tinted broth, and the surge of love in every pungent bit of dinner. She knew that she gained a certain strength
in not being able to hide who she was. And now that she reflected on her upbringing filled with Empress of China
dinners, New Year's parades, and calligraphy lessons, she realized that each experience had formed an impression
on her identity, augmenting her development layer by layer, like an intricate design carved over a thousand hour of
soft cinnabar" (Dim Sum 258). The last sentence, specifically, is quite similar to the sentiment Jade Snow Wong
expresses in Fifth Chinese Daughter at the end of a chapter titled "Lucky to Be Born a Chinese": "Yes, it was
sometimes very lucky to be born a Chinese daughter. The Americans, Jade Snow heard, did not have a Moon
Festival nor a seven-day New Year celebration with delicious accompaniments" (43).

7 Chop suey is one dish that has ambiguous and unconfirmed origins and is largely responsible for the early
popularity of Chinese restaurants. According to Richard Hooker in Food and Drink: A History: "Among the rapidly
growing foreign restaurants, those of the Chinese made the greatest gains. The Chinese-Americans did not have to
face hostile labor unions as restaurateurs, and chop suey gave them a dish acceptable to Caucasians. Beginning
about 1900 Chinese restaurants were opened in towns and cities across the country. For several decades these
remained modest and invariably featured chop suey" (324). In Dim Sum, Lindsey subversively rewrites the origins
of chop suey by telling Michael "in the gold rush days, Chinese cooks picked scraps out of the garbage and fed it to
surly miners. They called it 'chop suey,' and foreigners have been ordering it every since" (Keltner 206). In We Are
What We Eat, Gabaccia does not relate the same story as Lindsey, but she does illustrate chop suey's questionable
origins by asking "Was chop suey left-overs cooked for drunken American miners or a special dish prepared for a
Chinese visitor?" (103). Chop suey has changed from being a familiar, but still exotic, Chinese dish to the
quintessential Amercanized, inauthentic Chinese staple, as Heather Schell illustrates in her description of eating at a
Chinese restaurant: "Once I step into a Chinese restaurant, my personal standards change. I am reluctant to betray
any kind of ignorance, even when this pretense is to my disadvantage. If the table is set with silverware, I request
chopsticks. I shun chop suey and chow mein; similarly, I avoid places that offer a small 'American' selection
(usually featuring hot dogs or mashed potatoes or other embarrassing food): any Chinese restaurant more tolerant
than I of unenlightened American diners must be awful" (208).

38 In Buddha Baby, the narrator states that Lindsey's "mom and dad would freak out if they knew her liberal high-
school and college curricula were teaching her that the American Dream was fraught with ennui, alienation, and
personal malaise" (Keltner 75).

39 Monica Domosh states: "The tactics [Post and Kellogg] pursued in promoting their new products served as
important lessons for other food-manufacturing companies: link your product to abstract qualities considered
desirable by middle-class Americans, and advertise those linkages aggressively. In addition, given that there was
little in the way of taste or quality to distinguish between most mass-produced food products (the standardization of
technologies of food manufacturing led to uniform products), the only way to distinguish, for example, one type of
corn flake from the other, was the development and promotion of brand names" (11).

40 Lupton notes that advertisementsns and packaging seek to create an image around the foodstuff into which
consumers can fit themselves, and which is not necessarily related to its nutritional properties, its taste or its form.
This is most obvious with highly processed foods such as soft drinks, confectionary, bottled sauces, frozen and
canned foods, snacks and fast foods, which have few well-established, distinguishable, 'natural' characteristics
giving them meaning" (24; emphasis added). The notion that consumers "fit themselves" into the image surrounding
the foodstuffs is critical to understanding that the Owyangs' ingestion of American food products is more
complicated than "eating" American means "being" American; rather, this consumption of American food should be
seen as a psychological investment in which the Owyangs modify themselves according to the "American" image
they wish to project.











41 The narrator states that "[f]or years Lindsey's standard school lunch had been two slices of any variety of
luncheon loaf on white bread with ketchup and Miracle Whip" but whenn her school tried to kick off Nutrition
Week twice a year, she conceded to eating vegetables when her mom packed a Ziploc of sweet pickles and cocktail
gherkins" (Keltner, Dim Sum 212).

42 Frank Chin and Jeffrey Chan referred to this hybridity as "The Concept of the Dual Personality," which they
perceived as a debilitating and fragmenting influence on the Chinese American identity (72). Chin and Chan argue
that "[t]he conflict between the 'Chinese' part and the 'American' part has been a source of white entertainment for
the whole of the twentieth century," and thus virtuallyly every book-length work by a Chinese American China-
or American-born published in America has stated the concept of the dual personality" (73). According to Chin
and Chan, "The concept of the dual personality successfully deprived the Chinese American of all authority over
language and thus a means of codifying, communicating, and legitimizing his experience" (76). They perceived the
notion of the "dual personality" as effectively precluding the creation of a unique, Chinese American (masculine)
identity. Other Asian American scholars have critiqued Chin and Chan's nationalist position (which is clearly
posited against an assimilationist position) and have articulated non-essentialist conceptions of ethnic identity. In
particular, Lisa Lowe has argued for recognizing that "[a]n Asian American subject is never purely and exclusively
ethnic, for that subject is always of a particular class, gender, and sexual preference, and may therefore feel
responsible to movements that are organized around these other designations" ("Heterogeneity" 32).









CHAPTER 3
CHANGING THE CHICK LIT "RECIPE": GENDER, MELANCHOLIA, AND COOKING IN
AMULYA MALLADI' S SERVING CRAZY WITH CURRY

Cookbooks, which usually belong to the humble literature of complex civilizations, tell
unusual cultural tales.

Arjun Appadurai, "How to Make a National Cuisine"

In the previous chapter, I argued that cooking provides an apt metaphor for the Owyangs'

approach to assimilation, as combining cultures by combining cultural foods becomes a way to

achieve some imaginative closure to their hyphenated identity. Whereas I found Keltner's

articulation of cultural resolution through cooking as lacking in conviction (which arguably was

a point that she was trying to illustrate), in this chapter, I explore an Asian American chick lit

novel, Amulya Malladi's Serving Crazy i/ ih Curry, that presents a nuanced and insightful view

of how cooking, as a trope, becomes a productive way to express the racial melancholia and

gendered experience of Asian American women. In this section, I explore the ways in which

gender and ethnicity intersect through cooking, particularly by examining the recipes in Serving

Crazy and analyzing the relationships formed, reinforced, and deconstructed through the act of

cooking.

What I find particularly significant in Serving Crazy is Malladi's manipulation of the key

"ingredients" (if you will) of both the Asian American and chick lit literary genres, so that even

though there are certain formulaic aspects that align with other Asian American and chick lit

texts (mother/daughter relationships, traditional/modem familial conflicts, romantic pursuits),

they deviate critically from one another in their representations of ethnicity, familial

relationships, and gendering. I want to invoke here the argument Lisa Lowe makes in her

important essay, "Heterogeneity, Hybridity, and Multiplicity," which claims that

interpreting Asian American culture exclusively in terms of master narratives of
generational conflict and filial relation essentializes Asian American culture, obscuring the









particularities and incommensurabilities of class, gender, and national diversities among
Asians; the reduction of ethnic cultural politics to struggles between first and second
generations displaces (and privatizes) inter-community differences into a familial
opposition. (24)

In a similar way to Lowe, I contend that the relationships constructed within Asian American

chick lit novels are complex and should not be viewed only within the framework of "master

narratives of generational conflict and filial relation." Specifically, I argue that the trope of

cooking within Malladi's novel reveals nuances within familial and extrafamilial relationships.

Recipes, in particular, "[imply] an exchange, a giver and a receiver," which suggests that they do

not only articulate the complexities of relationships, they also create those relationships

(Leonardi 340). As Susan Leonardi argues, "[a] recipe is...an embedded discourse" rather than a

simple list of instructions on how to create a dish (340)1.

Thus, what makes recipes in the novel especially productive to examine is not only what

they suggest about the characters' relationships, but also how they create relationships between

the reader, author, and characters that further establish a dynamic web of entanglements in which

connections are founded on multiple sites: shared gender, shared ethnicity, shared race, and, of

course, shared love of cooking and food. Arjun Appadurai's argument that "[c]ookbooks allow

women from one ground to explore the tastes of another, just as cookbooks allow women from

one group to be represented to another," though contextually referring to middle-class, urban

women in India2, nonetheless articulates how cookbooks, and I would argue culinary literature in

general, can be instrumental in the formation of relationships across regional and ethnic

specificities (6)3. Therefore, the relationships depicted (and enacted through the recipes) are not

only those of mother-daughter stereotypically associated with Asian American novels4, but also

sister-sister, father-daughter, grandmother-granddaughter, and reader-author. In this way, the

argument that Lowe makes that "Joy Luck multiplies the sites of cultural conflict, positing a









number of struggles-familial and extrafamilial-as well as resolutions, without privileging the

singularity or centrality of one," can also be made about these Asian American chick lit novels

("Heterogeneity" 25).

Recipes therefore add complexity to the characters in Serving Crazy and make their

relationships multidimensional in ways that popular criticism of chick lit has often overlooked.

In addition, these recipes provide a way for the characters to challenge the abstract boundaries

created through ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural affiliations, as well as the material realities

that these boundaries engender. Since recipes clearly produce something, they enable symbolic

and material critiques of different sites of power (race, gender, class). While I concede that

recipe creation, as presented in this novel, may provide too simplistic of a resolution to the

identity crises that these characters face between cultures (specifically, between the Orientalist

division of "East" and "West"), I contend that the negotiation that these characters perform in the

construction of these recipes (specifically the negotiation between their individual and collective

identities) articulate and challenge the ways in which we imagine global subjectivity, American

citizenship, and multiculturalism. I would argue that by incorporating recipes within the

narrative, though used as a selling tactic, Malladi politicizes the novel in ways that exceed the

generic formula and commercial limitations. In other words, these chick lit characters do not

quite perform as predictably as commercial appeal demands; like Keltner, Malladi does not shy

away from characters who speak critically about discriminatory practices or the stigma of

immigration. While the blow of these critiques is arguably softened by their fictionalized

settings, they nonetheless allude to injuries incurred as a racialized woman that, despite the

novel's happy ending, become the trauma that these recipes attempt to work through and "get

over."









While this novel does participate in a kind of food pornography, not unlike what Frank

Chin imagined in his Mama Fu Fu caricature, I do not limit my analysis to this particular frame5,

but instead situate it within the generative discourses populated by scholars such as Arjun

Appadurai, Anita Mannur, and Parama Roy, who have examined the role of cooking and

cookbooks in a South Asian context, as well as Pamela Butler and Jigna Desai, who have argued

persuasively for transnational feminist and critical race critiques of chick lit (specifically South

Asian American chick lit). As the term "Asian American" often homogenizes "Asian" to mean

people of East Asian descent, it is critical to demonstrate that the genre "Asian American chick

lit" is not homogeneous or entirely composed of East Asian American writers. South Asian

American chick lit6 writers, in particular, have been instrumental in shaping the genre.

Ultimately, I argue that South Asian American chick lit writers improvise the chick lit "recipe"

of love, career, and family and, to quote Appadurai, "tell unusual cultural tales" of Asian

America, being a woman of color, and living the "American Dream."

Spicing up Silence in Amulya Malladi's Serving Crazy with Curry

In her author's note of Serving Crazy i/ ih Curry, Amulya Malladi states, "I didn't want

tell the story about immigrants and how they adjust to life in a foreign country. Neither is this the

story of the Indian Diaspora and their travails. This is just the story of four women, spanning

three generations and two cultures" ("Author's Note"). Malladi's author's note is interesting for

several reasons: it emphasizes gender (and de-emphasizes race); it privatizes the immigration and

assimilation politics in the novel; and it thematizes the narrative as an intergenerational and

cross-cultural story. By stating that Serving Crazy is not "the story of the Indian Diaspora and

their travails," but "just the story of four women," Malladi highlights gender to appeal to a

broader audience of women readers, but still underscores her ethnic difference by mentioning the









"Indian Diaspora." In other words, Malladi appeals to what Leslie Bow identifies as the

multicultural appetite for "spice," which "ethnic and gender content" both satisfy (111).

This author's note provides some critical insight into how Malladi would classify her text

and how she is negotiating her ethnic and racial difference as an "Ethnick lit" author. Notably,

what is absent from her description is the standard chick lit plot: a story of a single, young

woman protagonist in pursuit of Mr. Right. Admittedly, Serving Crazy represents somewhat of a

generic outlier in Asian American chick lit because of its noticeable absences: there is no

romantic pursuit, no Mr. Right, very little to no workplace politics, and no shopping sprees. I

have chosen to include Malladi's text despite these generic deviations not merely because it was

marketed as a chick lit novel (which it was)7, but because it is probably the best example of what

Tania Modleski articulated as the difference between romance novels and chick lit: "In sum, if

romances are novels of illusion, upholding belief in the perfect man, perfect sex, and a life lived

happily ever after, many chick-lit novels may be called novels of disillusionment" (xxiv). To

clarify, Malladi's novel may not have the generic elements that I mentioned above, but what it

does have is the aftermath of the romantic pursuit, the failure of the McJob8, and the debt that

accompanies such activities as shopping. In addition, Devi Veturi, the protagonist, shares certain

characteristics with other chick lit protagonists: she is in her late twenties, she is struggling with

her identity, and she has experienced a series of professional and personal failures. Thus,

although Malladi's novel does not follow the stereotypical formula attributed to (mainstream)

chick lit, it is a melancholic version of chick lit with much of the same elements and a darker

point of view (and protagonist). It is chick lit that includes a lover (but the lover is married),

where the desire for a baby is fulfilled (only to be quickly taken away by a miscarriage), and

where a "perfect" marriage happens (and ends in divorce).









By suggesting that this novel is chick lit, I am not trying to devalue its merit, but quite the

opposite: I am suggesting that chick lit, specifically Asian American chick lit, consists of more

than a list of ingredients (young woman, dead-end job, Mr. Right) assembled in the same

predictable way. Rather, it is more productive to think of the generic conventions of chick lit like

a recipe to avoid essentializing and eliding the textual nuances of the genre. In a recipe, context

is important9; a cook can improvise and substitute ingredients (obviously limited to a certain

extent); order does not necessarily always matter; and the result is not always the same-there

can be critical differences in taste and texture 1. In a similar way, context (the author's

background, the tools available to her) is important in chick lit, the author can change elements

around, and what results may still look like chick lit (and packaged as such), but with noticeable

and critical nuances from the original "recipe." In the case of Asian American chick lit, many of

these nuances exist because of the way that Asian American women have been specifically

racialized and gendered.

We see these nuances at the beginning of Serving Crazy, which ironically starts with a

contemplation of the end (that is, of Devi's life). A basic summary of the novel could be

described as follows: a young woman attempts suicide, moves back in with her parents, begins

cooking "crazy" (but good) food, and ultimately decides to go to cooking school. Thus, while the

novel has the essential plot of a mainstream chick lit novel (i.e., a young woman finding her

identity, a post-adolescence bildungsroman"), Malladi critically changes the paradigm so that

Devi does not "find her identity" as a consequence of increased independence from her parents,

but rather the opposite: her returning home allows her to work through past trauma and articulate

a new identity.









In comparison to Keltner's beginning, Malladi's does not begin with an enumeration of

who Devi is and is not-at least, not in the typical sense. When we first meet Devi, she is on the

verge of suicide and has created a list divided into two categories: "Reasons to Die" and

"Reasons Not to Die" (Malladi 4). This list is simultaneously informative and vague, providing a

framework for understanding the relationships in the novel, while still leaving out critical details:

REASONS TO DIE REASONS NOT TO DIE
1. Have disappointed the father and 1. Have a loving family (sort of, if mother and
grandmother who love me sister are not included)
2. Laid oeffagain 2. 1ave my health
3. Completely in debt 3-. mm...
4-Can't Iyen
5. ,Have had nly failed relationships
6. Slept with a married man
7. Had a relationship with a married man
-. Fell in love with a married man
9. Lost a baby
(Malladi 4)

The reasons that are crossed out in the list are explained as the reasons that Devi decided "didn't

make sense" to kill herself over (Malladi 3). However, their persistence on the list (they are not

erased, merely stricken through) suggest that Devi is still melancholically grieving over them.

Despite what Devi suggests, the crossed out items do matter and they, and the questions they

present, haunt the rest of the narrative. What these crossed-out items indicate is Devi's

ambivalence toward these particular losses, an ambivalence, which, "must not be overlooked

among the preconditions of melancholia" (Freud 588)12. In the context of Freud's theory of

melancholia, Devi's losses do not lead to a "normal" kind of mourning, where the desire for

these objects are displaced onto new objects; rather, they lead to her melancholically devouring

these losses at her own self impoverishment (586-588). As the narrative states, "[Devi] knew that

the losses she incurred had eaten away everything joyous within her" (Malladi 4). Her desire to

commit suicide shows how she has turned her love for these "lost objects" (specifically her lost









baby) into hatred against herself, which thereby enables her to not only to contemplate, but also

attempt, suicide13. Her suicide attempt is the culmination of her transgressive behavior, or

perhaps more accurately, an inability to reconcile her identity with the demands of dominant

culture. Thus, what begins as teenage rebellion ultimately becomes self-destructive and leads to

her having an affair with, and becoming impregnated by, her sister's husband, Girish4.

Finding "Home" and Gendered Spaces: The Paradox of (Diasporic) Domesticity

Devi's suicide attempt15 clearly results in a critical and transformative shift not only in her

life, but also in the Veturi family structure. After her suicide attempt, Devi moves back into her

parents' house to recover, which effects two notable changes:

1. Devi completely stopped talking
2. Devi started cooking
Two things she did with such intensity and consistency that it drove her already shaken
family up the wall. (Malladi 12)

In other words, Devi appears to become the traditional model of femininity through her cooking

and silence16. However, Devi's cooking and silence are not capitulations to ideas of femininity or

returns to prefeminism, but rather are rewritten as subversive acts that upset her family dynamic.

In addition, the agency she asserts through these acts subverts the idea that a woman's liberation

lies in the (Westernized) teleological movement toward greater independence from one's

family7. Prior to her suicide attempt, Devi was, in the Americanized sense, "liberated" from her

family, but such "liberation" did not bring happiness (as chick lit novels and other Asian

American novels assert), but rather increased feelings of alienation. Her suicide attempt and

subsequent retreat into silence and cooking could be viewed as a patriarchal form of

"punishment" for "fuck[ing] everything that moves," but I would argue that Malladi is

questioning the (white) liberal feminist narrative that female empowerment lies in the

denunciation of traditionally feminine activities (such as cooking) and in the rejection of









silence" (Malladi 52). Butler and Desai argue that "[i]n South Asian American chick lit...the

protagonist's desire is not to sever ties of dependency, but to reform those connections to allow

for the satisfaction of both the protagonist and her family" (15). What Malladi appears to be

articulating is the power of family that is often denigrated and devalued as an obstacle to

becoming an "individual."19 I would argue that Malladi's text, therefore, does not portray the

cliched clash between traditionalism and modernity, but a negotiation between those constructs

and a rewriting of the "prefeminist-but-becoming-enlightened" narrative (Bow 73).

Upon returning to her parents' home, food and silence thus serve as Devi's primary means

of her communication with her family. However, Devi's silence did not only begin after her

suicide attempt; she is described as going into "silence mode...whenever she got upset or

whenever she didn't want to say anything to anyone" (Malladi 62). Notably, she only goes into

"silence mode" when she is at her mother's house (Malladi 62). Devi first went into "silence

mode" in the fourth grade, when she was accused of stealing her "pretty as Barbie" classmate's

"dollar and twenty-three cents" and breaking her nose (Malladi 62; 29). Devi notes that she

"maintained silence rather than defend herself," knowing that "if she protested too much, they'd

blame her for lying on top of stealing" (Malladi 62). What Devi does not say is that her "pretty as

Barbie" classmate had called her "a thief and a 'brown-skinned refugee'" (Malladi 62). Devi's

decision not to speak shows that she has internalized the notion that somehow her "pretty as

Barbie" classmate's words mean more, that they would be received as "Truth" while hers would

only count as lies. Her internalization, as Cheng would argue, "expresses agency as well as

abjection" (17). Her racial grief prevents her from speaking, but this is not to suggest that her

silence is not subversive; rather, I would suggest, in the context of Cheng's argument of racial









melancholia, that her silence is a complex articulation of agency, which is "a convoluted,

ongoing, generative, and at times self-contradicting negotiation with pain" (15)2.

Yet, more than silence in the novel, cooking becomes the way that Devi primarily

exercises her agency and conveys her feelings toward her family. When she moves back in with

her parents, Devi becomes the household cook, thereby displacing Saroj (her mother) from what

had traditionally been her role21. Devi was never allowed to cook growing up because "Saroj

lived in fear that Devi, Shobha, or even Vasu would put things away in the wrong place or ruin

her perfectly managed kitchen" (Malladi 70). For Saroj, the kitchen is her domain and cooking

provides a way to return "home" to India. When Saroj first came to the U.S., back when there

were not "a hundred Indian restaurants all over the Bay Area and an Indian grocery store within

sneezing distance," what she seemed to miss the most was the community that cooking provided

her in India (Malladi 85). The narrative describes Saroj as "want[ing] to go home where she

could chat with the milkman in the morning and buy vegetables in her front year from the

vendors" (Malladi 85). Saroj does not have the same community in the U.S., or any supportive

community for that matter, which intensifies her loneliness and nostalgia for India22. Although

she "made a few friends...it wasn't the same... whenn she stepped out of her house there was

nothing familiar, no vegetable vendor selling coriander and mint, no coconut vendor selling

coconut water" (Malladi 86)23. Thus, what Malladi conveys in her characterization of Saroj is not

only the alienation that diasporic women experience from their adopted homes, but also the sense

of homelessness that uniquely defines their condition. Unlike her husband and her children, Saroj

does not have communities outside of the home to assimilate her (or help her become

assimilated). Instead, Saroj develops friendships with other diasporic Indian women, who

maintain their ties to India by havingn] marathon movie sessions" of Hindi movies (Malladi









139). It is not simply that Devi and Shobha are more assimilated because they are second

generation, but as Butler and Desai argue, in the absence of an "ethnic community," they have

"[relied] entirely on a white support system" which "often replicates the experience of

assimilation" (18). In this respect, Saroj's limited community outside of the home also limits the

extent of her assimilation.

Even though Saroj gradually realizes that "there was nothing to go back to"-that is, no

"home" as she has idealized it-cooking becomes a way to reclaim the homeland that she has

lost (Malladi 86). Yet, in a more complicated sense, cooking is also the way she negotiates an

identity and articulates a space within a country that is closed to her as an immigrant and a

woman. As Anita Mannur argues:

The domestic arena...becomes a space to reproduce culture and national
identity... immigrants often invent an image of the homeland as an unchanging and
enduring cultural essence and are often singular about the ontological coherency of their
national cuisines. ("Culinary Nostalgia" 14)24

Therefore, the kitchen becomes a place where Saroj can claim her "culinary citizenship" to India,

which Mannur describes as a "form of affective citizenship which grants subjects the ability to

claim and inhabit certain subject positions via their relationship to food" ("Culinary Nostalgia"

13). In addition to providing Saroj access (if constructed) to her "home," the kitchen also serves

as the primary place where Saroj has control, a space that becomes entirely hers due to her

banningn] everyone from using" it (Malladi 70). The kitchen thus represents a forbidden space

to Devi, which her suicide attempt suddenly makes accessible. It gives Devi "immense pleasure

to walk into her mother's kitchen and start cooking" (Malladi 70).

By cooking, Devi disrupts the orderliness of the kitchen, and in doing so, challenges what

gendered discourse has deemed valuable masculinizedd labor) and dismissed as invaluable

(feminized work). Not only does Devi come to appreciate the paradoxically visible, yet invisible,









products of Saroj's labors as a homemaker (namely food), she also comes to see how her

cooking is not a practice that returns to a prefeminist feminine sensibility, but one though which

she, and other women such as Saroj, can find a place in the world, even if that place is confined

within the parameters of stereotypical femininity. The kitchen is an example of the "domestic

paradox" that Benay Blend describes, a place where "[o]n the one hand, it defines territory in

which women are honored as the carriers of tradition. On the other, it encloses women within a

female space defined by external assumptions" ("I Am An Act" 46). Like her kitchen, Saroj is

depicted as constructing and "[feeling] stifled within the boundaries she'd set for herself"

(Malladi 83). Yet, the kitchen is the one place where she is empowered, where she defines who

goes in and out of the space, what actions are performed within the space, and what products are

created there.

What Malladi appears to be negotiating within her novel are the limited forms of agency

available to racialized, young women, who seem to be given an either/or choice of renouncing

"feminine" activities such as cooking in order to compete within a masculinized workforce or

marrying and becoming homemakers. While this either/or choice can be viewed as similar to the

choice offered to white, young women, I would argue that race and ethnicity critically inflects

this "choice" so that for racialized women, it is not merely a choice to be "feminist" or not (or

perhaps less provocatively, to be modern or not) but more insidiously, a "choice" to be

assimilated or not. Choosing the stereotypically "feminine" route of homemaking is particularly

fraught for the racialized woman, whose citizenship to contemporary femininity (as expounded

by mainstream chick lit texts and popular television shows such as Sex and the City) seems

contingent upon her willingness to adopt a "progressive" view of female autonomy, which is

figured as incompatible with her "traditional" (read: repressive), ethnic heritage25. Thus,









mainstream chick lit, and the criticism that it engenders, often problematically propagates, in its

appeal to a female universality, a construct of "liberation" that is naturalized as desirable for

every woman, regardless of race, ethnicity, or class26

Malladi thus critiques liberal feminism and the "postfeminist" label often leveled against

chick lit by showing how the framework such feminism establishes can become another kind of

repression, where engagement in stereotypically feminine behaviors implies a backwardness or

laziness on the part of the woman. Through her critique, Malladi suggests that cooking offers a

form of empowerment that challenges the devaluation of feminized labor, as well as the denial of

one's ethnic heritage. The question underlying Malladi's characterization of Devi and Shobha as

a "closet feminist" and a "postfeminist," respectively, seems to be "What is wrong with

cooking?," or, more specifically, "What is wrong with cooking 'ethnic' food?" Devi's and

Shobha's perspectives of feminists and feminism reproduce a problematic dynamic often seen in

popular criticisms of chick lit; that is, they both blame other women (specifically homemakers)

for perpetuating or creating problems for working women27. Malladi describes Devi as a "closet

feminist" who, like her sister Shobha, "had developed a healthy disrespect for homemakers"

(Malladi 132). Shobha is described as "wish[ing] things were different and accusing] feminists

for screwing up her lot in life" (Malladi 132). As Shobha says, "Some bitch burns her bra and

now all of a sudden I have to work for a living and keep house. If it were the good old days I

could happily sit at home doing nothing while Girish brought home the money" (Malladi 132).

Clearly, Shobha's depiction of homemakers problematically devalues their labor and

presents an oversimplified view of what they do (women who "sit at home doing nothing").

Shobha crudely conveys what Michelle Sidler argues is the condition of contemporary, middle

class, young women, "Most twentysomething women do not question the possibility of work,









and not necessarily because we feel particularly empowered or independent" (26). Malladi

suggests in her portrayals of Devi and Shobha, who are presented as quite different in their

respective careers and personal lives, that greater "independence" has not necessarily engendered

more security, either materially (in one's career or personal life) or abstractly (in one's sense of

self), for either of them. In a similar way to Shobha, Devi believes that "[homemakers]... made it

hard for career women like herself to break the glass ceiling. No matter what, every man who

hired a woman thought about the woman going away on maternity leave and not coming back to

work because she didn't want to leave her child in day care" (Malladi 132). In the configuration

of power that Devi describes, it is men who do the hiring and women who are hired. Notably,

what Shobha and Devi do not acknowledge are the institutional structures that have created and

fostered this unequal gender dynamic. Devi's generalization about the workforce, though too

simplistic, nonetheless alludes to the deep-seated structural inequalities that the second wave

feminist movement did not eliminate or change.

The kitchen, therefore, serves a space where a woman can challenge these inequalities and

exercise a certain amount of control over what she creates, so that what she produces in this

space becomes an expression of her creativity and her identity28. Devi notes how "[s]he, who had

never cooked, never been part of the kitchen militia, was a general now" (Malladi 133).

Malladi's use of a militaristic metaphor to describe Devi's cooking experience disrupts the

gendered division of masculine and feminine labor, inscribing value to the practice of cooking by

using the terms of dominant discourse that valorizes masculine (military) action. This metaphor

illustrates how Devi and her mother act as a team to cook Devi's recipes, a metaphor that departs

from the rigidly defined lines between homemaker and career woman that Devi and Shobha

identify. Whereas the masculinized workplace can lead to women becoming divided against one









another, the passing down of recipes and food traditions "[suggest] new ways to configure

community and family" (Blend, "I Am an Act" 46). Blend contends that "[t]o remember a recipe

is to honor the woman it comes from, how it was passed on to her, and where she situates herself

within a culinary female lineage that defies patriarchal notions of genealogy" ("I Am an Act"

46). Cooking can thus be viewed as both as an individualized act of identity articulation (which

includes such processes as recipe creation, development, and improvisation), as well as a

communal act that can build relationships across generational, racial, ethnic, regional, gender,

and class lines29

Add Trauma and Stir: Melancholic Recipes

Creating recipes and new dishes becomes a way for Devi to work through not only the

trauma of her suicide attempt, but also the lingering trauma of her childhood, her failed post-

adolescence, and the secrets she cannot tell her family. Devi begins cooking and creating recipes

shortly after finding an old notebook of her mother's that contains a recipe for "Girij a's goat

sabzi" (Malladi 66). Devi recognizes this recipe as "Saroj's 'famous' goat curry," which Saroj

"never revealed...belonged to some woman called Girija and that Saroj had acquired the recipe

in 1970 in Jorhat" (Malladi 66). Thus, this recipe, which is the first recipe in the novel, is the

bearer of a secret that Saroj has kept hidden from her family. Though minor, the notion of the

recipe as "secret" is critical in the context of the novel, which plot revolves around a multitude of

family secrets. Through this initial "secret," Malladi establishes a frame to read the rest of the

recipes that Devi creates.

Significantly, what Malladi also illustrates in the passage of the recipe from Girija to Saroj

to Devi is the transformation a recipe can undergo ("Girija's goat sabzi" has become "Saroj's

'famous' goat curry"). The use of the word "curry" instead of "sabzi" (which Malladi does not

define) indicates an adaptation of the recipe that marks it as Westernized. According to Uma









Narayan, "[c]urry exists of course in one fairly simple sense, on the menus of Indian restaurants,

and in bottles of curry powder to be found even in unpretentious US grocery stores. But search

through the shelves in an Indian kitchen, or grocery store, and you will find no bottles labeled

'curry powder.'" The recipe adaptation30 that Saroj makes from "sabzi" to "curry" shows how

she has assimilated through her cooking (in her use of the word "curry"31), but has also retained

an "ethnic" exoticism (as indicated in her use of goat meat32).

What is different about this recipe, compared to recipes typically found in cookbooks, is

that it does not provide list of ingredients or instructions. Instead, the recipe is written as one

would orally describe it:

Get good goat and clean it well. Chop out some of the thick fat but let the rest stay, it
doesn't hurt and the fat content will give sabzi more taste...Make sure you remove all the
stringy parts of the ginger; they don't harm, but still, why have that to get stuck in between
the teeth. Fry nicely on medium heat for a while. Don't hurry otherwise the sabzi won't
turn out right... After a while, add some ground jeera, dhaniya, and elaichi. You can also
add a little dal chini and lavang. (Malladi 66)

In this passage, Malladi is clearly trying to fabricate an authenticity, using the words "jeera" and

"dhaniya" instead of cumin and coriander (67). However, this fabrication also creates a

complication for the reader, as Malladi does not provide a list of what all the terms she uses

mean. The list that she provides on the next page is incomplete, so that if readers were to try to

replicate this recipe, they would be unsuccessful. Malladi seems to tantalize her audience with

the recipe instructions, yet the audience does not receive full satisfaction in knowing what all the

words mean nor the pleasure of being able to experience "Saroj's 'famous' goat curry" for

themselves. As Parama Roy argues, this "refusal of complete disclosure" can be the "most

productive of readerly gratification" (487; emphasis in original)33. In other words, the lengthy

descriptions of eating food are in some ways more pleasurable than eating the food itself. Yet,

Malladi does not describe fully what "Saroj's 'famous' goat curry" contains; she offers









translations for most of the Indian spices included in the recipe except for two. The absence of

these two spices suggests a subtle subversion, a certain unwillingness on Malladi's part to play

the culinary tour guide (at least in what Frank Chin might call the "food pornographic" sense).

This goat curry recipe is the only recipe that Devi finds in Saroj's notebook, which is

significant to consider since Jorhat was the last place in India that Saroj lived prior to leaving for

the U.S. In the history that Malladi provides about Saroj, Jorhat symbolically represents the last

time, at least for Saroj, that the Veturi family was happy (84). The fact that "Girija's Goat Sabzi"

(or "Saroj's 'famous' goat curry") is the only recipe included in Saroj's notebook is suggestive

of the object that Saroj lost and for which she is melancholically grieving. That is, this recipe

alludes to the beginning of a new life that Saroj had hoped would fulfill her longing for a stable

home life (which was denied to her as a child of divorced parents), as well as the "home" that

Saroj lost in her move to the U.S. Moreover, although Malladi never reveals who Girija was,

Girij a's recipe instructions convey a certain authority that suggests that she was a mother figure

to Saroj. Given Saroj's strained relationship with her mother, Vasu (and Vasu'a admitted lack of

"maternal instinct"), Girija's recipe seems to be important to Saroj because it represents the type

of "motherly" instruction that Vasu did not provide (Malladi 41). As Anne Goldman argues,

"The act of passing down recipes from mother to daughter, then, not only provides an apt

metaphor for the reproduction of culture across generations but also creates a figurative home

space from within which the 'I' can begin the process of self-articulation" (Goldman 9). Thus,

when Devi takes the notebook for herself and uses it to write down all of her recipes, not only is

she claiming a tie with her mother, she is also articulating her own trauma and fulfilling the

promise of self-realization that began the notebook34









When Devi begins cooking, the recipes that she creates are quite different from Saroj's

dishes and from the dishes one might find at a local Indian restaurant. With names like "Angry at

Vasu Grilled Chicken in Blueberry Curried Sauce" and "Lamb Clitoris," these recipes clearly

depart from familiar Indian dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala and Aloo Gobi. The question

becomes, what does Devi's divergence from "traditional" Indian recipe suggest? Benay Blend

states that "changing the recipe can be a formula for the construction of a creative space in which

to defy those limits imposed by society on women writers" ("In the Kitchen" 157). Thus, Devi's

act of changing the standard recipes can be viewed as analogous to Malladi's act of changing the

chick lit formula; both challenge genre conventions and in doing so, articulate new possibilities

for what counts, respectively, as "food" and "literature." To that end, Devi's recipe creations

seem less about intentionally hybridizing Saroj's standard Indian fare with "American" elements

(in other words, creating a fusion cuisine that neatly reconciles her Indian and American

identities) and more about resisting the limitations of labels, conventions, and formulas that

define one's role in life. Her suicide attempt was clearly a rejection of the life she previously led

(and the labels she was identified by), as well as a violation of social mores. As tragic as her

suicide attempt was, it was nonetheless a response to the limitations imposed on the racialized

woman, whose gender and ethnic identifications often lead to disempowered marginalization.

Malladi rewrites this marginalized space as potentially empowering, as Devi's status as "suicidal

mute" not only allows her a certain autonomy that was denied to her as a functioning, social

subject, but also enables her to be creative35 (Malladi 71).

It is through cooking that Devi primarily asserts her newfound autonomy; she makes new

dishes that deviate from her mother's standard South Indian fare36. The first recipe that Devi

creates in the aftermath of her suicide attempt is called "The Anti-Saroj Chutney" which, as its









name suggests, is a direct challenge to Saroj's chutney (and Saroj's way of cooking). Her recipe

includes mint, like Saroj's chutney, but also has unconventional chutney ingredients like apricot

and chipotle chili peppers. From "The Anti-Saroj Chutney" recipe onward, the end of the

chapters mostly include one of Devi's unique creations, written in first-person and detailing not

only the steps to create the recipes, but also the stories behind them37. In contrast to the first

recipe presented in the novel ("Girija's Goat Sabzi"), the voice in these latter recipes differs in

that they are less instructional and more contemplative. That is, Devi does not simply state that

the reader should soak the apricots in the water for the chutney, but rather describes the different

steps of the recipe as extended thought processes:

Soaking the apricots in water seemed a good way to make them mushy but soaking them in
sugar water seemed like an even better idea. It would make the chutney sweet. Surveying
the fridge, my eye caught the ginger. Mama buys big chunks of ginger. Lots of garlic and
ginger in her food. Maybe not garlic in the chutney, but definitely ginger. Lots of ginger
for a sharp tangy taste. (Malladi 78).

In this one recipe, Devi clearly shows her antagonism toward her mother (the recipe is called

"The Anti-Saroj Chutney" after all), but this antagonism is mixed with nostalgia for her mother's

food. Devi's rumination that Saroj has "[l]ots of garlic and ginger in her food" leads her to

incorporate ginger, but not garlic, into the chutney. The different flavors that this chutney seems

to possess-sweetness from the apricots and sharp tanginess from the ginger-are not only left

to the reader's imagination (Malladi does not provide any exact quantities), they are also

illustrative of Devi's complex feelings toward her mother.

The rest of the recipes in Serving Crazy vary in their unconventional tastes: at the

beginning of Devi's cooking, the recipes are more unusual (they combine unexpected ingredients

together, such as blueberries and curry) and do not have the elements typically found in recipes

(i.e., an ingredient list, numbered list of steps, etc.). However, as Devi begins to cook more and

develops an appreciation for her mother's culinary contributions, her recipe entries include some









of her mother's dishes ("Bread and Aloo Grenades with Tamarind-Yogurt Chutney") or combine

her mother's staples with her own modifications ("Mama's Rasam with My Pastry") (Malladi

195; 179). One recipe is not actually a recipe for food at all, but one for "Life" (Malladi 117).

The recipes that come earlier in the novel also mark a certain passage of time since Devi's

suicide attempt (e.g., Devi's "Cajun Prawn Biriyani" has the subtitle "Day 8 after coming home

from the hospital"), while the recipes that come later mark certain milestones in Devi's

convalescence (e.g., Devi's "Dosa with Sambhar" recipe has the subtitle "The day I decided my

future") (Malladi 93; 211).

The recipe for "Lamb Clitoris," in particular, marks a climactic turning point in the novel,

as Devi's secret miscarriage is revealed to her family. Devi's former lover and friend, Jay, comes

to the house while she is at a therapist's appointment and tells her family about the miscarriage.

He knows about the miscarriage because it was he, rather than her family, that Devi contacted to

take her to the hospital and hold her hand through the ordeal. Although Devi asked him to keep

her miscarriage a secret, he decides to tell her family after he learns of her suicide attempt. Devi

thus creates the recipe "Lamb Clitoris" "in honor of Jay, the clitoris, and of course the day when

my wall of secrets fell apart around me" (Malladi 163).

As the most sexualized recipe in the novel, "Lamb Clitoris" merges the symbol of

innocence (the lamb) with female genitalia (the clitoris) to articulate Devi's traumatic feelings

about her miscarried baby (the innocent who died) and her transgressivee" sex acts (her sexual

relationships with both her brother-in-law and Jay, whose skin color makes him an "unsuitable"

partner for Devi in Saroj's eyes) (Malladi 38). The sexualized overtones of this recipe suggest, at

least in part, that Devi blames her loss on her sexual behavior. The relationship between









transgressivee" sex acts and the baby is clear in the structure of the recipe, which begins with

sexual images and ends with a discussion of the lost baby:

Jay once told me that the pomegranate seed is sometimes compared to the clitoris for being
pink, succulent, and an aphrodisiac...

These days whenever I cook, I stop to think that if my baby were alive, what would I be
cooking? Where would I be? I think about it a lot. I think about it a lot while I cook and
then I imagine that the child was to be and the child was as old as me and I was as old as
my mother and everything was different. (Malladi 163).

The last paragraph of the recipe is particularly significant because it indicates the relationship

between Devi's cooking and the trauma she experienced. Clearly, cooking becomes a way for

Devi to melancholically grieve the loss of the baby by providing a way to fetishize what could

have been had the baby lived. The recipes in the novel can thus be seen as melancholic, as Devi

displaces her desire for the lost baby on the food she creates, which she then consumes and

begins the process of grieving again.

Devi's family's response to her secret miscarriage, specifically Saroj's response, is not like

Devi imagined, which effects a critical change in their relationship. The revelation of Devi's

secret, in fact, becomes a transformative event for the Veturi family, as her secret leads to the

revelation of other secrets, such as Devi's affair with Girish, the farce of Shobha and Girish's

marriage, and Saroj's abortion when Shobha was three months. In the aftermath of this critical

night, Devi and Saroj begin cooking together, making rasam from scratch. The recipe that Devi

creates with Saroj's rasam pays homage to Saroj's talent as a cook, but also adds her own

creative twist by putting puff pastry over the rasam (Malladi 165).

However, even as Devi rebuilds her relationship with her mother, she does not begin to

talk until after Shobha confronts her about her affair with Girish. Shobha decides to do so after a

series of life-changing events: she loses her job, decides to divorce Girish, and moves back into

her parents' house. In other words, Shobha loses everything that made her and her life appear









"perfect." Ultimately, the two Veturi daughters, who each made different (if not opposite)

decisions in their lives, end up in the same place: at their parents' home, in need of new

beginnings and familial support.

That Devi and Shobha seem to end up in the same place suggests that neither marriage nor

single life, the two statuses that come to define women in their contemporary lives, engender the

happiness one expects. Even Saroj and Avi, who have been married for a long time, are not

content in their situation and teeter on the edge of divorce throughout the novel. In contrast to

mainstream chick lit novels, Malladi challenges the idea that marriage is the ideal goal of a

woman's life. As Devi's cooking and recipes show, a woman has choices outside of

heteronormative relationships to define a subjectivity that brings happiness and satisfaction.

Moreover, simply because cooking has long been affiliated with the gendered construct of

femininity does not preclude, and should not preclude, the creative and resistant possibilities

within this practice. To that end, in response to the question I posited before, "What is wrong

with cooking ethnic food?," I would argue that Malladi is suggesting that there is nothing

"wrong" with cooking ethnic food. Cooking ethnic food is more complicated than gaining access

in mainstream society (as Chin would argue); rather, the process of cooking ethnic food is

significant in the context of diasporic nostalgia for one's "home," as well as the individual

negotiation of one's subjectivity in relationship to a larger ethnic and gendered community.

Notes


1 Susan Leonardi argues that such recipes, stripped of their context, would make for "an unpopular cookbook
indeed" (Leonardi 340).
2 Significantly, this phrase could describe the audience who reads chick lit as well.

3 This is not to disregard the importance of cultural context in reading cookbooks or recipes. In her critique of Susan
Leonardi's argument in "Recipes for Reading," Anne Goldman argues that "we read the 'embedded discourse' of
the cookbook not as an archetypally feminine language but rather as a form of writing which, if gender-coded, is
also a culturally contingent production" (7).











4 Leslie Bow argues that "The Joy Luck Club does not merely comment on the way the trope of the mother/daughter
relationship comes to symbolize Asian American culture but, in fact, participates in constructing this trope"
(Betrayal 110).

5 In her article "'Peeking Ducks' and 'Food Pornographers'," Anita Mannur states: "If it is possible read 'food
pornography' as a symbolic act, one that does not detour into heterosexism, sexism, and homophobia, the concept
retains usefulness for navigating Asian-American alimentary metaphors because it fashions a language for critiquing
self-Orientalizing gestures that rely on the active commodification of one's purposed exotic-ethnic appeal in order to
make a living" (24).

6 By using this designation "South Asian American," I am not intending to homogenize or ghettoize these novels
within Asian American chick lit, but rather to articulate this group's fraught positionality within the "Asian
American" pan-ethnic movement, which has historically had a west coast, East Asian-centric focus.

7 For example, the back cover of Serving Crazy features blurbs from reviews by other chick lit authors, such as
Kavita Daswani (For Matrimonial Purposes) and Sarah Salway (The ABCs ofLove).

8 See Michelle Sidler's "Living in McJobdom: Third Wave Feminism and Class Inequity."

9 Susan Leonardi argues that "[l]ike a story, a recipe needs a recommendation, a context, a point, a reason to be"
(340). She suggests that cookbooks which explain the context for the inclusion or exclusion of a particular
ingredient (or for that matter, recipe) and have highly embedded discourses is "more conducive to good cooking"
(343).

10 Lisa Heldke's "Recipes for Theory Making" provided me with a theoretical basis to think through this argument.
The main argument in Heldke's essay is that "cooking is a form of inquiry that is anti-essentialist, that successfully
merges the theoretical and the practice, and that promotes a self-reflective and interactive model of an inquiry
relationship" (16). Heldke describes a recipe as "a description or explanation of how to do something-specifically
how to prepare a particular kind of food. As such, it does not present itself as the way to make that food-the
opinion of some eaters notwithstanding" (23). Thus, a recipe has a certain level of flexibility depending on what
kind of result that you want and what limitations you face (Heldke 24). Moreover, Heldke argues that the decision
that what recipes one chooses to make are informed by external and internal factors, such as personal history,
"health/nutrition and environmental concerns" (Heldke 25). In this way, I see the way that Asian American chick lit
authors adapt the chick lit "recipe" as also informed by similar factors, which notably changes the result, not so
much in form, but in more abstract areas, what may be called the taste or texture when applied to food.

1 Pamela Butler and Jigna Desai describe the relationship between the chick lit novel and a bildungsroman as
follows: "Dominant white chick-lit novels, as bildungsromans, describe the coming of age of the modern subject
and narrate the integration of the citizen-subject into the nation-state...More specifically, the bildungsroman traces
the development and coming into maturation of the individual as she finds her proper location in community and
society...For women's bildungsromans, this usually means a conclusion in which identity, status, and position are
determined through a proper marriage sanctioned by family, society, and nation-state. In modern bildungsromans,
this maturation is increasingly marked as the ability to adapt oneself to a globalized society, to gain entrance into a
professional labor class and to access its corresponding bourgeois luxury and leisure consumption, and to develop a
comprehensive self-knowledge that is linked to a well articulated identity" (15).

12 Devi's ambivalence is apparent when her therapist, Dr. Berkeley, finds out about her miscarriage and asks Devi if
the baby was the reason for her suicide attempt. Devi is described as "nod[ding] again and then [shaking] her head
and then nod[ding] again" (Malladi 135).

13 have somewhat simplified Freud's argument, which he explains in detail in "Mourning and Melancholia": "If the
love for the object-a love which cannot be given up though the object itself is given up-take refuge in narcissistic
identification, then the hate comes into operation on this substitutive object, abusing it, debasing it, making it suffer
and deriving sadistic satisfaction from its suffering...It is this sadism alone that solves the riddle of the tendency to











suicide which makes melancholia so interesting-and so dangerous...The analysis of melancholia now shows that
the ego can kill itself only if, owing to the return of the object-cathexis, it can treat itself as an object-if it is able to
direct against itself the hostility which relates to an object and which represents the ego's original reaction to objects
in the external world" (588).

14 Devi and Shobha have a complicated relationship that stems from their respective roles as the "prodigal" daughter
and the "good daughter" (Malladi 33). Unlike Devi, Shobha appears (at the beginning of the novel) to be quite
professionally and personally successful. She is a "vice president of engineering at a software company" and
married to a Stanford professor in quantum mechanics (Malladi 7; 110). The narrative notes that "[f]or a very long
time Devi had beenjealous of Shobha; part of her still was" (Malladi 7). However, despite Shobha's successes, she
is unable to have children. Devi's pregnancy (with Shobha's husband no less), while unintentional, nonetheless
appears to be an appropriation of the life she envies, as well as the chance to have something that Shobha doesn't
(and can never) have. Eventually, the two sisters end up in the same place (living with their parents) after Shobha
decides to divorce her husband. Malladi shows, throughout the course of the novel, that the two sisters, despite being
portrayed and perceived as opposites of one another, are really not that different after all. As Shobha reflects after
Devi's suicide attempt, "She could in some way understand why Devi tried to end her life. Sometimes Shobha could
feel the pressure from within to finish it, to get away and not deal with deadlines, Girish, her ditzy mother, life. But
she didn't have the raw guts. Even in this, Shobha admitted, she was envious that Devi could do something about
her useless life, while Shobha could only pretend that hers was perfect, which made her life worse because it was
dishonest" (Malladi 53).

15 Interestingly, Devi's suicide attempt is not linked to any female figures in the family, which is seen in other Asian
American novels such as The Joy Luck Club; rather, it is connected to her maternal grandfather's suicide. He and
Devi's maternal grandmother, Vasu, divorced because of his abusive nature; shortly thereafter, he killed himself
(Malladi 8).

16 Butler and Desai argue that mostot chick lit novels rewrite the bildungsroman 's conventional relation between
the female self and family by suggesting that the female protagonist does not simply move from her parental home
to her marital home, but may instead live independently. In dominant white chick lit, this separation from family is
seen as essential for marking the self-sufficiency and maturation of the individual prior to marriage" (15).

17 As Leslie Bow states: "To some extent, narratives of gender progress that portray Asian women as prefeminist-
but-becoming-enlightened seem to promise a teleological movement toward modernization expressed through the
hope of increasingly democratic gender relationships" (Betrayal 73).

18 See King-Kok Cheung's Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Joy Kogawa.
Cheung contests the valorization of speech by both Anglo-American feminists and Asian American male critics (1).
Her text argues that Yamamoto, Kingston, and Kogawa "challenge blanket endorsements of speech and reductive
perspectives on silence," thereby demonstrating how "silences...can also be articulate" (3-4).

19 The novel recalls that when Devi was younger, she would ask her father what would happen if she was ever "left
in a lurch" (Malladi 61). Her father says that all Devi would have to do is state, "Daddy, come get me," and he
would come and "rescue" her (Malladi 61). While this scene undoubtedly reinforces a patriarchal narrative that
women need men to "save" them, I would suggest that Malladi also complicates the perception that one needs to
"cut the cord" with one's parents-that is, that family is essentially unimportant. Yet, for racialized subjects,
specifically racialized women, family is important because it provides a support structure that marginalized people
do not have access to within dominant culture (Butler and Desai 17).

20 Another racist incident that Malladi describes is when Devi was eleven and experienced her first kiss. A couple
days after the kiss, she attempts to kiss the boy again, only to be told that the boy's priest said it was wrong to kiss a
"brownie slut" (Malladi 55). Until that moment, Devi is described as "never really notic[ing] her skin color
compared to those around her" (Malladi 56). After that day, "she always knew she was brown" (Malladi 56). Three
years later, when she kisses a boy again, and he tries to kiss her a second time, "she told him that Father Velazquez,
from her church, told her that it was wrong to kiss boys, especially whites" (Malladi 60). Like Lindsey, Devi thus











repeats the violent cycle of assimilation, trying to inflict upon others the pain that was inflicted upon her. However,
because the boy is white, and not another racialized person, his response to her is quite different than what she
expected and instead of feeling vindicated, she can't "remember why it had seemed like the right think to do when
she'd rehearsed it in her head time and again for the past three years" (Malladi 60).

21 Clearly, Devi and Saroj's relationship is strained, even though Devi realizes certain similarities between her and
Saroj. Like Devi, Saroj "had no solid successes to her credit"; in this way, both Devi and Saroj differ from Devi's
sister (Shobha), her dad (Avi), and her grandmother (Vasu) (Malladi 6). It is critical to note that Shobha, Avi, and
Vasu are considered "successes" because they have excelled in the masculinized field of technology (in the case of
Shobha and Avi) and military (Vasu). Saroj's accomplishments as a mother or wife, because these successes are in
the private arena and feminized, are inherently less valued (Malladi 6). Notably, even though Saroj encourages Devi
to be successful like Shobha, Saroj herself chose to give up her schooling and a possible career when she got
married to Avi. Though Avi did not ask her to give up her these things, Saroj wanted to because she "wanted to be a
wife and a mother" (Malladi 83).

22 Appadurai notes that "In the contemporary Indian situation, and to some degree generically, cookbooks appear to
belong to the literature of exile, of nostalgia and loss. These books are often written by authors who now live outside
India, or at least away from the subregion about which they are writing" (18).

23 Malladi's descriptions of Saroj's activities as a homemaker in India suggest that Saroj had greater mobility in
India (she was not, in other words, confined to her home), as well as a more empowered sense of agency. Therefore,
the teleology that American mythology has popularly inscribed of the "Third World" woman becoming liberated
upon entering and living in America is challenged by Malladi's construction of Saroj feeling more confined, not
less, to her domestic space in America.

24 As Appadurai similarly argues, "[i]n the contemporary Indian situation, and to some degree generically,
cookbooks appear to belong to the literature of exile of nostalgia and loss" (18).

25 See "The Triumph of the Prefeminist Woman? Incorporating Racial Difference Through Feminist Narrative" in
Leslie Bow's Betrayal and Other Acts ofSubversion. Susan Koshy also argues convincingly in Sexual
Naturalization that the stereotypical femininity often attributed to Asian American women has made them more
attractive than white or African American women as partners. She states that in the wake of second wave feminism,
"the Asian American woman came to stand in for the more traditional model of family-centered femininity
challenged by feminists" (Koshy 16). Koshy argues that Asian American women have become the sci \tuI model
minority." According to Koshy, as the soi \uul model minority," an Asian American woman "cannot entirely
displace the white woman, whose appeal is reinforced by racial privilege and the power of embodying the norm, but
she does, nevertheless, represent a powerfully seductive form of femininity that can function as a mode of crisis
management in the cultural contest over different meanings in America" (17).

26 As Butler and Desai argue, the charges leveled against chick lit as "symptomatic of an apolitical 'postfeminism'"
mask "an inability to address the insidious ways in which empire, whiteness, and American nationalism are at the
center of both neoliberal and liberal feminisms in the U.S." (6). They contend that "[b]y focusing exclusively on
questions of gender and feminism, this framework re-centers white women as the subjects of feminism who must be
saved from the threat of postfeminist apoliticism, and from the popular culture that is imagined as a cause and/or
symptom of that apoliticism" (6).

27 Tania Modleski argues that chick lit's female detractors "would do well to stop blaming other women for their
misfortunes in the publishing world and to redirect their anger to its true source...the male-dominated literary
establishment that... supports and awards the 'big boy books' that get much more 'airtime' than 'women writers of
literary fiction'" (xxiii).

28 Of course, it is not always the case that the kitchen provides a woman with a certain level of freedom or
autonomy. Ketu Ketrak recalls her essay "Food and Belonging: At 'Home' in 'Alien-Kitchens'" that "cooking did
not give my mother any authority within the family hierarchy" (267). Although described as a "very fine and











intuitive cook," Ketrak's mother's "sprit of accomplishment was often snuffed by [her] father's critical palate"
(Ketrak 264). In Ketrak's essay, cooking is a source of pain and conflict as a child, a trauma that she eventually
overcomes to create a sense of "home" in "alien" locations (272).

29 As Blend states, "Particularly for ethnic women writers, reproducing a recipe, like retelling a story, requires that
they maneuver between personal and collective texts, between an autobiographical 'I' and various forms of a
political/cultural 'we'" ("In the Kitchen," 147).

30 According to Lucy Long, one of the strategies of negotiation that producers enact in order to make foreign or
unfamiliar food palatable to the consumer is through receipt adaptation (43). Long states that "recipe
adaptation... involves the manipulation of the ingredients and preparation methods of particular dishes in order to
adapt to the foodways system of the anticipated consumers" (43). In her discussion of food festivals, Long notes that
"festivals frequently adapted recipes to produce foods that would seem familiar yet still out of the ordinary and with
an aura of exoticness" (43).

31 Saroj's (or perhaps more accurately, Malladi's) use of the word "curry" therefore makes the recipe, which uses a
meat that is not typically eaten in American households (Saroj has to order the goat "special from the butcher"),
more recognizably palatable than "sabzi," a word that an average reader may not recognize (Malladi 66).

32 Within the U.S., goat meat has been considered an "ethnic" food staple, rather than something enjoyed by the
(white) mainstream (Alford; Raisfeld and Patronite). According to a recent article published for The New York
Times, goat meat is the "most widely consumed meat in the world, a staple of, among others, Mexican, Indian,
Greek and southern Italian cuisines." However, despite its worldwide popularity, goat meat has only recently
become popular outside of "ethnic" restaurants in the U.S. (Alford; Raisfeld and Patronite). In an August 2008
article published in New York Magazine, writers Robin Raisfeld and Ron Patronite note that using goat meat has
become a trend among fine dining establishments.

3 Roy argues that in Madhur Jaffrey'sA Taste of India, the audience "receive autobiography of the palate in place
of recipes and are invited to feast on words rather than read" so that for the audience, "[t]he imaginary delights of
these meals exist...primarily and exquisitely as a form of writing to be read" (488).

34 Although Saroj is described as not believing in cookbooks (she claims to believe in experience instead), the
narrative states that Saroj used this notebook when "she didn't believe she knew it all but needed to learn," a
sentiment that aptly describes Devi's current state (Malladi 66). Significantly, though we are told that Devi starts
writing in the notebook, we are not initially privy to her thoughts. Instead, Malladi inserts a letter from Avi (Devi's
father) to Devi, a narrative device that not only provides insight into Devi (through her father's observations and
memories), but also provides an intratext to read Devi's recipes. Like her recipes, Avi's letters do not quite comply
with the standard function that the genre delimits. That is, though the letters are written to specific recipients, they
are never actually given to those recipients. In this respect, his letters are honest in a way that letters that are actually
intended to be read by their recipients are not. Devi's notebook is similarly honest and provides the audience access
to the thoughts of the protagonist, who is largely silent throughout the novel. Malladi thus performs several critical
manipulations of the chick lit formula: she has a confessional narrative (but the confessions come in the form of
recipes), she interjects a "masculine" point of view that is often marginalized in these texts, and she doesn't
privilege the thoughts of her protagonist alone.

5 As the "suicidal mute," Devi embraces her status as "crazy" by disregarding such social pleasantries as table
manners. For example, after Devi creates and eats "The Anti-Saroj Chutney," she "pick[s] up her plate and [runs]
her tongue on it" (Malladi 78). She is described as "perversely pleased that she'd been able to do what she just did
without Saroj yelling the place down. As a child it was a treat to lick a plate smeared with remains of delicious
goodies and she used to have to do it stealthily, but now, now she was a basket case, she could do anything she
wanted to do" (Malladi 78).

36 Interestingly, Appadurai states that the category "South Indian" cuisine is an invented category that "collapse[s]
the distinctions between Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayali cuisines" (16). What I think is critical about











Malladi's usage of "south Indian" when describing Saroj's cuisine is that it is obviously more specific than simply
stating "Indian" food, yet its specificity also obscures the ethnic heterogeneity within India (Malladi 90).

3 The confessional nature of these recipes is similar to Bridget Jones's diary entries in Fielding's novels; they not
only provide a reader with the protagonist's thoughts, they also use food as a way to work through other issues in
their lives. For example, Bridget Jones obsessively counts calories because monitoring calories gives her a sense of
control that she lacks in other aspects of her life (both professionally and personally); Devi Veturi cooks unusual
food because deviating from her mother's standard recipes allows her to articulate an identity that both rejects and
affirms her ties to her mother.

38 We can assume that Jay is the "black man" referred to in other scenes in the novel when Devi's previous
transgressions are discussed. Devi was seen kissing Jay in public "for all to see," which is a scandal because of Jay's
race (Malladi 29). Devi's relationship with Jay is perceived as an Americanized act of rebellion, an indication that
she is not a "Pukka mix of East and West" like her sister (Malladi 51). As the narrative describes, "And when one
sister was praised, the other was disgraced. 'Oh and that Devi, no sharam that girl has, no shame. Did you hear?
Kissing some kallu, some black man, in front of Pasand, chee-chee" (Malladi 51). That Devi chooses to confide in
Jay, whose racialized status stigmatizes him in the eyes of her mother, suggests that she identifies with his status as
Other. When Jay comes to the house, Saroj treats him rudely, unnerved by "the idea of a black man sitting on her
sofa" (Malladi 154). Jay's intrusion into the Veturi familial space, not only as a literal "outsider" of the family, but
also as a symbolic outsider because of his race, performs the critical gesture of bringing the issue of race in the
novel. I find this moment significant because the issue of race relations, specifically between African Americans and
Asian Americans, is not typically discussed in Asian American chick lit novels (the race relations usually depicted
are between Asian Americans and white Americans).









CHAPTER 4
CONCLUSION

Asian American chick lit texts offer pertinent and important commentaries about race,

ethnicity, and gender in the late twentieth century/early twenty-first century America. In line

with Cheng's theory of race melancholia, I see the relationships depicted in the chick lit

narratives and the relationships developed between the author and her readers as complex,

racialized interactions through which subjectivity is formed. While the desire to find "Mr. Right"

is typically a driving force in Asian American chick lit, finding him is not the ultimate objective.

Rather, the romantic pursuit, despite being posited as primary narrative, is actually secondary to

the protagonist's search to define a subjectivity that is not constructed as "racialized" and "lost."

The psychic toll of being racialized, of presuming a loss but not being able to quite recognize

one's engagement with that loss, results in the "hunger pangs" that I allude to in my thesis title. I

see this "hunger" as specifically racialized, one that articulates in its implied physicality the

relationship between psychic trauma and its impact on the body.

In this conclusion, I want to address the two questions that drove my study: "What is the

future of Asian American literature?" and "Why is it critical to examine these works if their

popularity may be (or will be) ultimately ephemeral?" While I do not suggest that chick lit

represents the future of Asian American literature, I do argue that these texts represent a critical

commercialization that is important to consider in the Asian American literary study. Asian

American chick lit not only provides protagonists to whom younger generation of Asian

American women can relate (or in some cases, reject), but also constructs a new, viable genre

worthy of academic study that may expand mainstream conceptions of "Asian American"

literature beyond the figures of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston.









While there has yet to be an Asian American chick lit novel or protagonist that has

achieved the commercial success of Amy Tan or the icon status of Bridget Jones, there are

several writers and readers of Asian American chick lit texts. Online booksellers like

Amazon.com have made it quite easy to navigate and find other books within the same genre, so

that even if one particular author is not amassing a large reader base, the Asian American chick

lit genre is nonetheless acquiring a community of faithful readers. For example, according to

Amazon.com, customers who bought Serving Crazy i/ i/h Curry also purchased other Asian

American chick lit texts such as Imaginary Men by Anjali Banerjee and The Hindi-Bindi Club by

Monica Pradhan. Devices such as "AuthorTrackers" on publishers' and authors' websites allow

readers to follow their favorite authors online and make it even easier for the writer to acquire a

fan base.

From the reader reviews posted on Amazon.com, it is clear that these books are not only

selling to other Asian Americans, but that they have a kind of crossover appeal to those

interested in another culture or reading books that may speak to their own personal experience.

As one reader states in her review of Serving Crazy i/ ilh Curry, "I find Indian culture pretty

fascinating. Indian cuisine, too, is outstanding" (Teacher and Book Lover). Another reviewer

states:

Serving Crazy With Curry easily qualifies as one of my favorite books, ever. Being in my
mid-twenties, I can very easily identify with the way Devi feels, believing her life's not
worth living, and she should just take the easy way out. When her mother saves her, Devi
goes silent and expresses her frustration through Indian cooking, but with strange
ingredients.

Not only can one easily identify with the main character, you see characters who are
Indian-American struggle in being more Indian, or more American. Grandmother, mother,
and daughter; who knew their lives would be so complex? (Lee, C.)

The identification that this reviewer expresses with Devi and the question she asks with regard to

the lives of the Indian-American characters ("who knew their lives would be so complex") show









an intriguing tension and negotiation between Self and Other, in which the reviewer seems to see

Devi as Self, but views the rest of the characters as Other (the "their" in the question suggests to

me a racial dissociation).

Naturally, these reviews only show how some readers are responding to these texts and to

sites of similarity and difference (i.e, gender, race, class, and ethnicity) that they perceive in the

characters. However, what we can glean from these reviews is not only that readers across racial

lines are reading these works, but also that presumably non-Asian American readers are choosing

to read these books for reasons that simultaneously reinforce the construct of race (to read about

another culture) and subvert that construct (to read about oneself). Thus, Asian American chick

lit novels that feature recipes, such as Malladi's Serving Crazy /. i/h Curry, seem to sell better

than those that don't (like Keltner's novels). According to Amazon.com's sales rankings1 for

books, Serving Crazy ranked 152,122, while Dim Sum ranked 402,801 and Buddha Baby ranked

247,3752

Popularity is clearly important in lifespan of these novels, as they do not have the status of

canonical literary texts to ensure that they will still be in print beyond a certain time period. One

of the key questions I posed earlier ("Why is it critical to examine these works if their popularity

may be (or will be) ultimately ephemeral?"), can be addressed by looking at the questions and

issues posited by these texts as not restricted to the chick lit formula (which I have already

articulated does not account for the critical "excess" that can define these novels), but rather in

relationship to the questions and issues posited outside of the chick lit genre, within the larger

body of Asian American literature. Thus, I agree with Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young in

their assertion that evenvn if chick lit's popularity were to diminish, the body of work amassed









over the past decade alone raises issues and questions about subjectivity, sexuality, race, and

class in women's texts for another generation of women to ponder" (12).

The studies that Janice Radway and Tania Modleski conducted on women's cultural

productions in the eighties have not only been hugely influential, they are still relevant to our

understanding of chick lit today. Therefore, even if the romance novels that Radway studied are

not in print anymore, the cultural work she produced nonetheless challenged dominant discourse

and resulted in a paradigm shift in how we conceive of women, women's writing, and

domesticity. Examining Asian American chick lit represents a critical step towards

conceptualizing not only what the potential future of Asian American literature might be, but

also in conceiving what the current subjectivity of the Asian American woman is now and what

might be her future.

Notes


1 All sales rankings as of February 1, 2009.

2 Another South Asian American chick lit novel that features recipes, Monica Pradhan's The Hindi-Bindi Club, had
a sales rank of 26,098, making it the highest ranked Asian American chick lit novel of all those I reviewed. It was
the 15th most popular novel in the "Mothers and Children" category and the 24th most popular novel in the "Asian
American" literature category.









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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Kelly Adams earned her Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of California, Irvine

in 2003. She worked for four years and in 2007, returned to school to pursue her Master of Arts

in English at the University of Florida. She will be pursuing her doctorate in English at the

University of Wisconsin-Madison beginning fall 2009.





PAGE 1

1 HUNGER PANGS: FOODWAYS RACIAL MELANCHOLIA, AND GENDER IN ASIAN AMERICAN CHICK LIT By KELLY ADAMS A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE D EGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2009

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2 2009 Kelly Adams

PAGE 3

3 To My Family

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4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This thesis could not have been completed without the support of my faculty mentors, family, and fri ends. I would like to thank my thesis committee chair, Malini Schueller, for her incredible wisdom, kindness and rigorous commitment to helping me improve my writing and scholarly analysis. She has been instrumental in developing my breadth of knowledge i n Asian American, American, popular culture, and gender studies, for which I am extremely grateful. I would also like to thank my thesis committee re ader, Amy Ongiri, for providing me with superb critical mentorship both on this project as well as with my future academic career. Outside of UF I would like to thank those individuals who have encouraged me to pursue my graduate studies and who supported me throughout writing this project Erika Beck and Lois Becker ha ve been both friend s and mentor s to me. Abigail Sills has lent me her ear on too many occasions to count and has shared many chick lit books. M y sister, Megan, and her daughter, Lucy, ha ve provided much needed (and appreciated) breaks from writing in the forms of shopping, eating, and playing. M y partner, Daniel, has been a wonderful source of motivation. Finally, my parents, Paul and Melinda, have always encouraged me to do what I love I am forever indebted to them for giving me a home when I had none.

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5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...............................................................................................................4 LIST OF FIGURES .........................................................................................................................6 ABSTRACT .....................................................................................................................................7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ....................................................................................................................9 Defining Racial Melancholia: Whats Eating Asian America? ..............................................10 Excess and Erasure in Chick Lit: Th e Chick Lit Formula and Contemporary Chick Lit Scholarship ..........................................................................................................................12 Consuming Food, Fashioning Identities in Chick Lit and Asian American Chick Lit ..........18 Notes .......................................................................................................................................23 2 A SUMPTUOUS CHINESE BANQUET: KIM WONG KELTNERS THE DIM SUM OF ALL THINGS AND BUDDHA BABY .....................................................................26 Lin dsey Owyangs Diary? ......................................................................................................29 Covert Meat eating and the American Dream ....................................................................32 Growing Pains and the Era of Lost Chinese Children ........................................................35 Spinning the Lazy Susan ........................................................................................................39 The All American Owyangs ...................................................................................................42 Notes .......................................................................................................................................47 3 CHANGING THE CHICK LIT RECIPE: Gender, Melancholia, and COOKING IN AMULYA MALLADIS SERVING CRAZY WITH CURRY .................................................54 Spicing up Si lence in Amulya Malladis Serving Crazy with Curry ......................................57 Finding Home and Gendered Spaces: The Paradox of (Diasporic) Domesticity ........61 Add Trauma and Stir: Melancholic Recipes ...................................................................68 Notes .......................................................................................................................................75 4 CONCLUSION .......................................................................................................................81 WORKS CITED ............................................................................................................................85 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .........................................................................................................91

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6 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 11 Make Your Own Chick Lit Novel!. ...............................................................................15

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7 Abstract o f Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of The University of Florida i n Partial Fulfillment of t he Requirements for t he Degree of Master of Arts HUNGER PANGS: FO ODWAYS, RACIAL MELANCHOLIA, AND GENDER IN ASIAN AMERICAN CHICK LIT By Kelly Adams August 2009 Chair: Malini Schueller Major: English Th is thesis examines the Asian American chick lit genre and explores the ways in which Asian American chick lit writers negotiate thei r racialized position writing in the margins of the normatively white mainstream chick lit genre. Asian American chick lit texts provide critical insight in to how ethnicity is commercialized and commodified for ma instream consumption and art iculate the complex ways in which Asian Americans have been racialized and gendered. This thesis continues the work conducted on womens cultural productions published in the 1980s by Janice Radway and Tania Modleski, as well as contemporary studies on chi ck lit by scholars such as Suzanne Ferriss Mallory Young, and Caroline Smith However, my work differs critically from these studies in its focus on issues of race and ethnicity within the genre. While Radway and Modleski were influential in challenging m yths about popular womens narratives, their studies mainly focused on middle class, white women The same is true with recent scholarly publications on chick lit To engage with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in Asian American chick lit texts, this thesis explores the construction and articulation of foodways in Asian American chick lit. I contend that the way Asian American chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and create food is

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8 analogous to the ways in which mainstream (white) chick lit pro tagonists perceive, consume, and select material items such as clothes and accessories. The popularity of food pornography as a practice of Asian American authors and as a source of pleasure for white readers illustrates how Asian Americans have adapted melancholically to their exclusion from America by producing ethnic products for consumption and how the white majority, in turn, has responded by melancholically consuming these ethnic products. Thus, m y analysis of foodways is theoretically informed by A nne Chengs psychoanalytic critique of racialization in the U.S. and is situated in the discourses of Asian American studies, food studies, and gender studies. The texts I examine in this thesis include Kim Wong Keltners The Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby in Chapter 1 and Amulya Malladis Serving Crazy with Curry in Chapter 2. Through an examination of Asian American chick lit texts, I argue that food i s a productive site to articulate the contradictions within the genre, which texts both practice food pornography and challenge the commodification of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, the consumption and rejection of food, as well as the creation of recipes, become a critical means for these Asian American chick lit pro tagonists to form their identities. Ultimately, thi s thesis posits that an examination of Asian American chick lit represents a critical step towards conceptualizing not only what the potential future of Asian American literature might be but also in co nceiving what the current subjec tivity of the Asian American woman is now and what might be her future.

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9 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION She trained for hours in the gymnasium of her mind. She became adept at the double entendre, going out to dinner armed with impeccable table manners and a forke d tongue. She savored the chase but never actually tasted the food. By the end of the dating marathon, she was always left with hunger pangs. Kim Wong Keltner, The Dim Sum of All Things In this epigraph, Keltner is describing the romantic trials of he r protagonist, Lindsey Owyang. As this passage suggests, Lindsey s approach to dating entails a careful and contemplative negotiation with (or as Keltner describes manipulation of ) the opposite sex (31). In this respect, Pat Benatars eighties song, Lov e is a Battlefield, seems apt when describing Lindseys dating approach: she goes into dates trained and armed with impeccable ta ble manners and a forked tongue (Keltner 31). However, despite showing up at the dating ta ble, Lindsey never manages to tast e the food and experiences hunger pangs in her love life. I want to use this passage as a starting point for articulating my argument of what Asian American chick lit is about. Although I do not wish to assert that what this subgenre is about is some thing categorically static and fixed, I do want to suggest that there is a narrative often overlooked in popular criticism about chick lit that is, a narrative that exceeds the fo rmulaic boundaries of the genre. In contrast to what this passage purports to be about (i.e., Lindseys love life), I contend that the narrative is actually describing the complex negotiation that the racialized, young woman enacts with the normatively white mainstream. The hunger pangs that Lindsey experiences suggest her impoverished status as a racially melancholic subject in the U.S., whose man eating ways are actually indicative of her inability to properly mourn her exclusion from the dominant white identity. Thus, the narrative of Asian American chick lit does trace a r elationship, but this relationship is pathological rather than romantic.

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10 Defining Racial Melancholia: Whats Eating Asian America? By stating that the racialized woman is a racially melancholic subject, I am utilizing Anne Chengs theory of racial melan cholia, which complexly employs the theories posited by Sigmund Freud in Mourning and Melancholia1 to articulate how race and racialization function within the U.S. For Freud, mourning and melancholia, mourning is a healthy response to loss wher e the lost object can be relinquished and eventually replaced, while melancholia is a type of pathological mourning where the lost object is never replaced and in fact, haunts the subject (Cheng 78; Freud 587). As Freud explains, even though melanchol ia borrows some of its features from mourning (for example, both are a reaction to the real loss of a loved object), it nonetheless differs from mourning in its permanence (Freud 587). For the melancholic person, there is no end to melancholia; there i s no getting over ones loss (Cheng 8). As Freud states, the melancholic subject undergoes an impoverishment of his ego on a grand scale, which is a consequence of the subjects repetitive and self destructive devouring of the lost object (584; 587). As abstract as this devouring might sound (especially since there is nothing material that is being devoured per se), what Freud is illustrating through this image of consumption is how the ego is formed in relationship with the lost object2In an important nuance of Freuds argument, Cheng contends that the loss for which the melancholic grieves becomes figured as exclusion at the point that consuming this loss blurs the distinction of whether it is subject or object (9). Cheng argues that loss becomes exclusion The ego is constituted through incorporation of the lost object, but also in denying and maintaining its loss through exclusion; as Cheng clarifies, melancholia alludes not to loss per se but to the entangled relationship with loss (8 9). Thus, Chengs reading of Freuds Mourning and Melancholia and her articulation of racial melancholia relies on this interpretation of melancholia being an ongoing process of incorporation, denial, and loss.

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11 in the melancholic landscape because the m elancholic does not only deny, in psychically consuming the lost object, having lost the object, but also must maintain the object as lost by excluding it (9 ; emphasis in original). Thus, Cheng argues that it is exclusion, rather than loss, is the real st ake of melancholic retention (9). The distinction that Cheng draws between exclusion and loss becomes critical to understanding her contention that melancholia provides insight into how racialization operates, specifically the racialization of Asian Amer icans, in the U.S. The notion of melancholic exclusion is especially provocative in the case of Asian Americans, where the word exclusion not only speaks of a history of legislated immigration restrictions and internment of Japanese Americans, but also of the perception of the Asian American as the foreigner within. Cheng argues that melancholia enables us to conceptualize racialization in two ways: first, in understanding how the dominant white identity is formed and sustained; second, by providing i nsight into how the racialized other is produced as the foreigner within. According to Cheng, [r]acialization in America may be said to operate through the institutional process of producing a dominant, standard, white national ideal, which is sustained by the exclusion yet retention of racialized others (10). Racialized others are thus consumed by the dominant white identity in the sense that their difference is forcibly denied, yet retained, in the process of assimilation. Thus, as should be made cl ear, the dominant white identity is melancholic and racialization in the U.S. functions melancholically. Because Cheng, unlike Freud, does not dismiss what happens to the lost object once it has been consumed by the melancholic subject, she is able to theorize what happens to those racialized others consumed by the dominant white identity and what it means to think about the raced subject as melancholic (9). She argues that the lost object (i.e., the racialized other)

PAGE 12

12 become something in between object and subject upon its consumption and contends that its status as both subject and object aptly describes what racial melancholia is for the raced subject; that is, the internalization of discipline and rejection and the installation of a scripted contex t of perception, so that the raced subject is not only the melancholic object that is lost but also the melancholic subject who is losing (Cheng 17). Thus, the question that I posit in the title of this section, What is Eating Asian America?, can be answered as such: both the dominant white identity and Asian Americans are eating Asian America. To refer back to the introductory epigraph, hunger pangs that Lindsey experiences are a result of her attempting to prevent being dumped (or lost), but not realizing that she is already lost as a racialized other and, in this process of trying to prevent loss, is really the one losing. She has, to paraphrase Cheng, internalized this system in which she either rejects or will be rejected, as well as t he perception that her status is already predetermined as rejected, in the sense that she assumes that rejection will happen if she doesnt take measures to prevent it from happening. Lindseys dating approach, which as I argue earlier is actually her appr oach to life, can therefore be described as melancholic. Excess and Erasure in Chick Lit: The Chick Lit Formula and Contemporary Chick Lit Scholarship Lindsey is not alone in her melancholic engagement with the world; other protagonists in chick lit demonstrate similar melancholic responses to their racialized subjectivity. Asian American chick lit provides a critical site to examine how racialized subjectivity is negotiated and formed in relationship to the dominant white identity, since its status as s ubgenre to the normatively white mainstream chick lit genre produces a similar kind of consumption and exclusion. That is to say, Asian American chick lit is often subsumed as part of the mainstream genre, so much so that their plots are perceived to be only colored variations of the same,

PAGE 13

13 recycled, and normatively white chick lit plot. As Maureen Dowd states in her New York Times article Heels Over Hemingway: Please do not confuse these books with the love and marriage of Jane Austen. These are more like multicultural Harlequin romances. Theyre Cinderella bodice rippers Manolo trippers girls with long legs, long shiny hair and sparkling eyes stumbling through life, eating potato skins loaded with bacon bits and melted swiss, drinking cocktails, looking for the right man and dispensing nuggets of hardwon wisdom, like, Any guy who can watch you hurl Cheez Doodles is a keeper, and, You ca nt puke in wicker. It leaks. Dowds assessment that chick lit texts are more like multicultural Harlequin ro mances implies that they homogenously follow the same formula and only differ in terms of protagonists culture. In a similar way to Dowd, other critics of chick lit have argued that at best, the genre offers nothing more than fluff3 and at worst, the g enre reinforces patriarchal notions of gender that disempower women and result in a regression to prefeminist attitudes. Even Cris Mazza, who claims that she coined the phrase chick lit with her co writer Jeffrey DeShell4 What these detractors of chick lit fail to see in their broad generalizations of chick lit are the nuances that exist within the genre and provide critical insight into contemporary issues and constructions of gender, class, race, and ethnicity. There has been an overt failure in popular and academic discourse to uncover what is most compelling about chick lits success: specifically, why this genre has proven to be so adaptable and engaging to a broad spectrum of women across raci al, ethnic, and even geographical boundaries. Although the genre arguably began with the denounces chick lit as genre as nothing more than books flaunting pink, aqua, and lime covers featuring cartoon figures of long legged women wearing stiletto heels (18). She states that she and DeShell intended for the term chick lit to be ironic, a gesture not to embrace an old fr ivolous or coquettish image of women but to take responsibility for our part in the damaging, lingering stereotype (Mazza 19) According to Mazza, [t]he chicks in commercial chick lit, along with Hooters restaurants and celebrity boxing, have stripped themselves of irony (28).

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14 publication of Helen Fieldings Bridget Joness Diary in 1996, the paradigm of a thirty something, white, British woman looking for love and professional success has e volved into several different genres, featuring women from different ages, races, and ethnicities. However, in contrast to Dowds assessment that these protagonists are just multicultural (multicolored) versions of girls with long legs, long shiny hair and sparkling eyes stumbling through life, I contend that racial and ethnic differences complicate the chick lit paradigm in definitive and critical ways that cannot and should not be generalized or simplified as commercial multiculturalism. The chick li t paradigm can be described as follows: a twenty or thirty something (white) woman attempts to find Mr. Right and achieve professional success, while working a low end or relatively thankless job. The following figure, Make Your Own Chick Lit Novel!, appeared in Anna Weinbergs article Shes Come Undone5 and provides a useful (if sarcastic) illustration of the conventions of the genre.

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15 Figure 1 1. Make Your Own ChickLit Novel! b y Anna Weinberg, from Book Magazine July/August 2003.

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16 Clearly, this visual suggests that chick lit follows a predictable formula, which is interestingly enough (in the context of this thesis), presented like a recipe. The instructions given to Make Your Own Chick Lit Novel follows the same logic as a recipe: each elemen t (e.g., young urban female, anxiety about one or all of the following) can be viewed as an ingredient which, when mixed with other ingredients, produces a chick lit novel. I am intentionally conceiving the chick lit novel as analogous to a food product for consumption, the reason for which will become clearer later in my introduction. Although this visual implies that chick lit novels are essentially homogeneous in that they follow same structure, I want to suggest that it nonetheless articulates an excess to the formula that is not quite qualified. I see this excess in the word zaniness which indicates to me, even if it is the predictable result of the narrative, something that cannot quite be articulated and which is not always the same. Thus, a c hick lit novel might lead to zaniness, but this zaniness does not always take the same form. It is important to note the ways in which the ingredients in the chick lit recipe do not always result in the same product and that the deviations, the excess implied by zaniness, critically alter novel, just as any modifications to a recipe might alter the taste and texture of the final dish. Much of the homogenization imposed on chick lit is because of its commercialization, which as the illustration shows, often relies on recycling the same objects of feminine consumption: highheeled shoes, handbags, and cocktails. As Tania Modleski argues, Marketing strategieswork to obscure novels that may deviate in important ways from the original formula (xxii). Ch ick lit scholars such as Suzanne Ferriss, Mallory Young, and Caroline Smith6 have all examined such variations within the genre. Like their predecessors, Janice Radway ( Reading the

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17 Romance ) and Tania Modleski ( Loving With a Vengeance )7, they have challenge d popular and academic criticisms of chick lit that portray the womens popular cultural productions as too simplistic and superficial for substantive critique8. As Caroline Smith states: In the past, critics have been reluctant to take popular fiction seriously, and, as Radford and other feminist critics have concurred, all too often literary critics are quick to label womens fiction as low art, a term which, by default, often denies any thoughtful consideration of that art. (4) However, despite breaking critical ground in making chick lit the object of academic inquiry, chick lit scholars and their predecessors have arguably limited their analysis by assuming a normatively white perspective9 While I agree with Ferriss and Youngs contention, the anthology marginalizes chick lit written by women of color and does not interrogate fully how issues of race and ethnicity factor into the chick lit genre. There is a certain assumption, by eliding these issues from analysis, that there is a universal gendered position in the writing of and responses to chick lit. This assumption of universality not only masks the normative whiteness that lies at the core of such inquiry, but can also treat issues of race and ethnicity in superficial and problematic ways. Of the fourteen essays in Chick Lit there is only one essay dedicated to a discussion of a nonwhite chick lit ge nre: Sistah lit. What is problematic about this essay inclusion is not that it has been included, but that its inclusion appears to serve as a standin for the multitude of Asian American, Latina, and other African American chick lit that have been publi shed For example, Ferriss and Young were the first to compile essa ys focusing exclusively on chick lit into an anthology titled Chick Lit: A New Womans Fiction (2006). In their introduction to Chick Lit they argue that the genre is rife with possibilities and potentials, which not only offers new opportunities to young women writers, but also to young voices in scholarship (Ferriss and Young 12). 10. This tokenization not only further elides a critical discussion about race and ethnicity from the

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18 discourse of chick lit, but also reinforces chick lits association with whiteness11Consuming Food, Fashioning Identities in Chick Lit and Asian American Chick Lit What Ferriss and Young fail to acknowledge in their glossing over of race and ethnicity are the distinctive voices that these Other genres offer and the possibility that these genres deviate from the chick lit formula in critical ways, having been informed by the historical, social, and economic circumstances of racial ization in America. To engage with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in Asian American chick lit texts, I have chosen to examine the construction and articulation of foodways in Asian American chick lit for a couple reasons: the representation of foodways share certain similarities to the representation of consumerism prevalent in mainstream chick lit and foodways have been critically involved in the racialization of Asia n Americans in the U.S. By using the term foodways, I am specifically referring to what Carole Counihan calls the behaviors and beliefs surrounding the production, distribution, and consumption of food (6). In this respect, I contend that the way Asian American chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and create food is analogous to the ways in which mainstream (white) chick lit protagonists perceive, consume, and select material items such as clothes and accessories. Jessica Van Slooten argues that ch ick lit novels become objects of conspicuous consumption, allowing readers a safe outlet for their own consumerist fantasies, reinforcing the luxury lifestyle as a means of creating identity and achieving success in both personal and professional sphere s (220). While I agree with Van Slootens assessment in terms of mainstream chick lit, I argue that Asian American chick lit is consumable in similar, yet dissimilar, ways. On the one hand, Asian American chick lit often utilizes food pornography, which Frank Chin defined as the practice of exploiting ones ethnic food (and by extension, ones ethnicity) in order to gain acceptance within mainstream society12. The use of food pornography to appeal to a wider (whiter) audience in its marketing and

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19 paratext seems to encourage readers to not only consume these texts, but also participate in a racialized fantasy of the Other. Moreover, food, like fashion items in mainstream chick lit, is often used as a medium for identity construction in Asian American chic k lit. On the other hand, Asian American chick lit writers do not construct foodways homogenously, nor do they capitulate entirely to mainstream consumerist desire to be ethnic. They do not make the swallowing of their texts easy. Their role in constru cting race and ethnicity, as well as subversively showing the contradictions within contemporary articulations of race and ethnicity, should not be overlooked13That Asian American chick lit texts are marketed for to appeal to the (white) consumers hunge r for the ethnic is important to consider in the context of Anne Chengs theory of racial melancholia. Her theory frames my reading of these foodways, as I perceive the representations of them in Asian American chick lit as a melancholic response to th e subgenres marginalized position within chick lit discourse as well as to the relative invisibility of Asian Americans within popular culture. Cheng argues that racial melancholiahas always existed for raced subjects both as a sign of rejection and as a psychic strategy in response to that rejection (20; emphasis in original ). The popularity of food pornography as a practice of Asian American authors and as a source of pleasure for white readers illustrates how Asian Americans have adapted melancholi cally to their exclusion from America by producing ethnic products for consumption and how the white majority, in turn, has responded by melancholically consuming these ethnic products. According to Cheng, this consumption does not entail that raced subjec ts (in this case, Asian Americans) are incorporated into the dominant white identity as white, but rather are retained in this identity as the foreigner within (10). Chengs theory therefore

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20 provides a critical framework for my argument to show how foodways functions in Asian American chick lit texts as articulations of racial melancholia. Thus, by examining foodways in Asian American chick lit novels, the contradictory power relations that have defined not only Asian Americas relationship with food, but also Asian American identity, are revealed. By using the word identity in this capacity, I am not suggesting that Asian American identity is monolithic and fixed, but quite the opposite. Rather, I am agreeing with Stuart Halls argument that identities are never unified and, in late modern times, increasingly fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply constructed across different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices and positions (4). What I find critical about Halls argument, in the context of foodways, is his articulation that identities are constructed through, not outside, difference, so that the act of ingestion functions as a critical constitutive moment in which ones (imaginative) internal homogeneity be comes compromised and identity is formed through the negotiation of the outside and the inside (5) 14. Thus, foodways can act as destabilizing and disruptive influences, just as they can reinforce hegemonic practices that stratify and oppress ethnic g roups. Historically, food has been used as a tool against Asian Americans to cast them as unassimilable aliens, justify their exclusion from white America by invoking fears of physical contamination15, and (specifically in the case of Asian American men) to feminize them16Conversely, food has also become a means by which Asian Americans have sustained their livelihood, passed down their heritage, created a community, and acquired wealth ( a nd arguably power) in a society that has worked extremely hard to ex clude them 17. According to Jennifer Ho, Food has historically been a complex and fraught arena for Asian American subjectivity since Asians in America became coded by and through their relationship to the food they cultivated,

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21 picked, packaged, prepared, a nd served (Ho 11). In this respect, food has worked as a double edged sword in Asian America, both as a weapon to castrate Asian American identity and partition them as Other, and as an instrument to carve a space in mainstream society. As Sau ling Cynt hia Wong describes this quandary, Asian restaurant owners make their living on the knife edge between novelty and familiarity, risk and comfort (58)18In this thesis, I examine foodways in the following Asian American chick lit texts: Kim Wong Keltners The Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby and Amulya Malladis Serving Crazy with Curry While other Asian American chick lit texts have images of food and eating, these texts employ food as a central and selling feature (in other words, they are the most overtly food pornographic), either by including images of food in the paratext or recipes as part of the narrative. In Chapter 1, I analyze images of food and eating in Keltners Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby two novels that focus on the l ife of a twenty something Chinese American woman, Lindsey Owyang. Keltner uses images of food and eating frequently in both novels, such as including references to popular Chinese dishes in chapter titles (Egg Fool Young, and How She Learned to Stop Wor rying and Love Broccoli Beef), using food as metaphor (it was sprayed like a big, black shellacked ball of cotton candy), likening characters to food (one chapter title in Dim Sum is Bananas, Twinkies, and Eggs) and describing Chinese food in both Asian Americas relationship with food (specifically that of restaurant entrepreneurs) becomes an apt a nalogy for Asian Americ an chick lit writers, who face a similar dilemma of attempting to balance on the knife edge of capitulation and subversion. The balancing act that these writers must perform is not a simple one of deciding whether or not to sell out to sell books, but rather a complex negotiation of what it means to be an Asian American writer writing in a popular genre for a wider (whiter) audience.

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22 rep ulsive and delectable ways (Keltner, Buddha Baby 12). At first glance, Keltners novels appear to pander to commercial expectations of ethnic texts by using food pornographic details and exploiting their Asianness through stereotypes in the peritext. I argue that Keltners utilization of stereotypes and food pornography ironically critiques not only the stereotypes themselves and the practice of cultural commodification, but also the legacy of Asian American racialization in the U.S and her own vexed position as an ethnic (or Ethnick) author within the white centered chick lit genre. Keltners portrayal of foodways articulates Lindseys ambivalence toward her Chinese American identity, as well as illustrates the power of food in defining a racializ ed subjectivity. In Chapter 2, I examine recipes and the act of cooking in Amulya Malladis Serving Crazy with Curry I argue that the chick lit formula functions like a recipe, as the earlier Make Your Own Chick Lit Novel! illustration demonstrated. How ever, in contrast to this illustration, which implies that the recipe structure represents a generic limitation, I contend that viewing the chick lit formula as a recipe enables us to interrogate nuances and consider the excess that I described earlier i n my reading of the illustrations undefined zaniness. I argue that this excess politicizes the novel in ways that resist commercial limitations. Thus, though Malladi claims on her website that her novel is not about anything political, the acts of cooking and creating recipes are gendered and racialized in such a way that articulates and critiques the melancholic condition of racialized women. Malladi not only critiques feminism in her novel by showing how it can function as another form of oppression for the racialized woman, but also critiques the way cooking has been figured as an act of feminist betrayal for modern women. Ultimately, this thesis posits foodways as a productive site to examine the contradictions in

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23 Asian American chick lit and unde rstand the hunger pangs Asian Americans experience as consumers and melancholic subjects of America. Notes 1 This essay was written in 1915 and published in 1917 (Gay 584). 2 Freud states that the melancholics disorder allows us t o view the constitution of the human ego (585). 3 Beryl Bainbridge (six time Booker Prize shortlist recipient) and Doris Lessing (three time Booker Prize shortlist recipient) who both denounced chick lit on BBC Radio 4s Today program August 23, 2001 (Sm ith 3). 4 To provide more background on Cris Mazzas claim, i n 1995, she and Jeffrey DeShell published a collection of short stories by women and titled it Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction. 5 Given Weinbergs critical treatment of chick lit (as evident by t he illustration), it is surprising that this article appeared in a magazine that was co owned by Barnes & Noble (Goldstein). According to an article published in The New York Times, Book magazine featured items such as book reviews, author interviews and effusive features like Anita Shreve's Secret Passions and Hype! Hype! Hype! Wild Publicity Stunts (Goldstein). The magazine was created to be an Entertainment Weekly like magazine about the book world, but stopped publication in 2003 (Goldstein; Nat woka). 6 Caroline Smith wrote the first booklength study on chick lit titled Cosmopolitan Culture and Consumerism in Chick Lit, which was published in 2008. In her study, she examines consumerism in British and American chick lit texts, specifically how t hese texts question the consume and achieve offered promise bywomens advice manuals and in doing so challenge the consumer industry (5). Like Janice Radway and Tania Modleskis studies in womens cultural productions, Smiths study does not engage wi th issues of race or ethnicity in these texts, though she acknowledges that the genre has expanded, crossing racial and geographic boundaries and that the initial narrow definition of the chick lit protagonist (white, heterosexual, British or American) h as changed (Smith 136; 2). Her selection of texts reflect, as much of chick lit scholarship does, a normative whiteness that is not interrogated and critiqued. 7 Tania Modleskis Loving With a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women was originally pub lished in 1982 (republished in 2002) and Janice Radways Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature was published in 1982 (republished in 1991). Both studies broke critical ground by not only analyzing popular womens productions (such as soap operas and Harlequin romance novels), which have historically and still are often perceived as low art, but also by arguing that these texts do not simply reify or reinforce patriarchy and actually can be subversive. 8 As Modleski states, women s criticism of popular feminine narratives has generally adopted one of three attitudes: dismissiveness; hostility tending unfortunately to be aimed at the consumers of the narratives; or, most frequently, a flippant kind of mockery (4). 9 Though the im portance of Radways work should not be undermined, she nonetheless did not engage with issues of race and ethnicity. In her description of the subjects chosen for her ethnographic study on romance novels, she states, The reading habits and preferences of the Smithton women are complexly tied to their daily routines, which are themselves a function of education, social role, and class position. Most Smithton readers are married mothers of children, living in single family homes in a sprawling suburb of a c entral midwestern states second largest city (50; emphasis added).

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24 10 Ferriss and Young only briefly allude to the presence of Asian American chick lit authors by stating that chicklit works focusing on second generation Chinese American and Indian Amer ican protagonists have also made their debut (6). 11 Although Ferriss and Young attempt to justify their focus on white chick lit by stating [i]t is indeed impossible to deny that the overwhelming majority of chick lit continues to focus on a specific age, race, and class: young, white, and middle, they undermine this justification by further stating [b]ut it is equally impossible to deny that the demand for and popularity of fiction focusing on protagonists beyond those categories is growing exponential ly (8). 12 Frank Chin coined the term food pornography in his play The Year of the Dragon and used it to refer explicitly to the Mama Fu Fu cookbook which is a self exploitative work that sells the experience of the Chinese family for social and econo mic gain. The Mama Fu Fu cookbook concept utilizes personal narrative and the cookbook genre to appeal to the white mainstream with charming anecdotes and secrets behind Mama Fu Fus authentic Chinese cooking. Fred Eng, the protagonist of the play, d escribes the Mama Fu Fu cookbook as a combination between his sisters recipes and his smut, a new literary form, that tell[s] the story of a Chinese family (Chin 86). He states that the cookbook should include such instructions for how to make a to asted cheese sandwich without a sound, which would have a story of Mama Fu Fu eating it listening to her parents slurp in their quiet little fucks (Chin 86). For more about food pornography, see Sau ling Cynthia Wongs Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. 13 In fact, the market does not work consistently to control the way ethnicity is constructed or used. As Marilyn Halter argues in Shopping for Identity: In effect, the market serves to foster greater awareness of ethnic identity, offers immediate possibilities for cultural participation, and can even act as an agent of change in that process. Thus, consumerism simultaneously disrupts and promotes ethnic community and can be both subversive and hegemonic (14) 14 Deborah Lupton argues that food is both self and nonself simultaneously (113), as the process of ingesting food makes it part of the body and not part of the body at the same time. Sau ling Cynthia Wong further clarifies that [i]ngestion is the physical act th at mediates between self and not self, native essence and foreign matter, the inside an the outside. The mediating relationship is crucial: until eaten and absorbed into ones bodily system, food is no more than a substance out there (26). 15 As historian Donna Gabaccia states, Even in the 1930s, the San Franciscan Clarence Edwords hesitated to recommend many Chinese restaurants to middle class eaters because of what he called Chinese chefs disregard for sanitation and the usual niceties of food preparat ion (103). 16 Several Asian American studies scholars have noted that Chinese male immigrants were relegated to performing tasks that were considered womens work such as cooking so that they would not compete with the white men (Ho 27; Xu 10; Wong 56; Hooker 286, 324). As Jennifer Ho argues, Because Chinese men were forced to perform work associated with women, their gender identity became feminized neutralized by the socioeconomic restrictions placed on them due to their ethnic status (27). Asian A merican males have also been feminized through the food that they eat. As Deborah Lupton argues in Food, the Body and the Self [t]here is clearly a gendered division of food in contemporary western societies so that some food is considered feminine, oth ers masculine. To that end, there are foods that females prefer and foods that men prefer (Lupton 104). According to Margaret Visser (whom Lupton includes in her gendered reading of food), there are foods that can be considered almost totally female in co nnotation (Visser 19). One of these female foods that Visser classifies is rice, which she describes as white, delicate, even fluffy (19). Thus, by consuming delicate food, Asian American males are perceived as being delicate as well. Their pref erence for rice puts them categorically with females who are constructed as preferring light, delicate foods and meals because they themselves hold and value these attributes (Lupton 106). 17 Some examples of legislated discrimination against Asians: Chin ese Exclusion Act (1882), California Alien Land Law (1913), Immigration Act (1917), Immigration Act (1924), and the Hawes Cutting Act (1932) (Okihiro 180185).

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25 18 Panda Express a popular Chinese fast food chain, has commodified Chinese food to become a model minority fairy tale for the fast food generation. According to an article in USA Today titled Panda Express spreads Chinese food across USA, Panda Express has spread to all but 15 states and has succeeded in tak[ing] fried rice from sea to shining se a (Krantz 3). On the Panda Express website, the appropriately t itled Panda Story, tells of an inventive young man from the picturesque Yangzhou region of China who came to America with his fathers recipes and started his dynasty (Krantz 1).

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26 CHAPTER 2 A SUMPTUOUS CHINESE BANQUET: KIM WONG KELTNERS THE DIM SUM OF ALL THINGS AND BUDDHA BABY One written memory recalled a womans first experience of Chinese food at the age of 26 years, when she was taken to a restaurant by her husband. Marie would have preferred any other cuisine, as she had heard rumours about the unconventional meat used in Chinese food: The reason for Maries aversi on to Chinese was all the gruesome stories of dog and cat skins found behind the local Chinese takeaway. Those images were indeed difficult to overcome when faced with lem on chicken. Her thoughts were, Is this really chicken? Deborah Lupton, Food, t he Body, and the Self Kim Wong Keltners The Dim Sum of All Things (2004) and Buddha Baby (2005), like many chick lit novels, focus on a twenty something woman as she attempts to find personal happiness and professional success while working a menial job and dating several losers. Keltners protagonist, Lindsey Owyang, resembles other chick lit protagonists in her jaded outlook on love and her increasing dissatisfaction with her work environment. However, t he covers of Keltners books, as with many other Asian American chick lit novels, emphasize their racial difference from mainstream chick lit texts by including images that are (stereo)typically associated with Asians, such as Asian ethnic food. What Asian American chick lit encourages its audience to consume are not the designer shoes and handbags visible on mainstream chick lit covers, but rather an ethnic culture made appealing in its images of curry spices and banquets. For example, o n the front cover of The Dim Sum of All Things a hand holds a pa ir of chopsticks above a Lazy Susan featuring a variety of items: a panda, a lantern, a pair of slippers, Tiger Balm, a mahjong tile, a peach, a pot of tea, a chrysanthemum, and a fan. At the top, a quotation from one of the reviewers calls the book [a] s umptuous Chinese banquetThe minute youve finished, youll want to devour it all over again! The back cover features the question Have you ever wondered with several possible end phrases such as Why Asians love Hello Kitty? and Where Asian cuties meet the white guys who love them? The you that is

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27 addressed in this question constitutes the reader as someone outside of the Asian culture, arguably the white, female reader for whom the majority of chick lit texts are written1This binary opposition between East and West defined in Keltners cover does not only show how food functions in establishing this dichotomy, but also how it plays a pivotal role in commercializing an ethnic cultural product. Keltners cover conflates reading the book with consuming Asian food and culture, encouraging the reader to spin (metaphorically) the Lazy Susan on the front cover around to eat morsels of the authentic Chinese experience. Rather than discourag ing the commodification of ethnicity, Keltners cover seems to offer essentialized representations of Asianness, curios that might be familiar to readers as common items found in the shops in Chinatown. Her cover appears to make the consumption of the O ther as easy as ordering takeout from a Chinese restaurant or purchasing Chinese items from a store. It is the last question posed that is particularly relevant to this chapter: Or will Lindsey realize that the path to true love lies somewhere between the dim sum and the pepperoni pizza? Clearly, the dim sum and pepperoni pizza in this question are intended to represent the seemingly irreconcilable cultural divide between the East and the West. By using food to convey the conflict between the Asian and the American, the cover shows the significant role food plays in identifying with a particular identity. Food simpli fies the rift between these two cultures, implying that by choosing dim sum over pizza, or vice versa, one thereby chooses one identity over the other. As two ends of a continuum, the dim sum and pepperoni pizza cannot technically meet or overlap, so therefore, identifying as both Asian and American appears to be impossible. Though the question seems to imply that happiness (i.e., the path to true love) lies somewhere in the middle between these endpoints, these endpoints are nonetheless presented as fixe d in opposition rather than in flux.

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28 Moreover, the questions posed on the back cover present the text as a cultural authority, which looks like a targeted appeal to nonAsians who might want to understand more about Asian culture. Most significantly, these questions do not merely suggest that the book serves as a native informant for Chinese culture in particular, but rather Asian culture in general. Thus, Asian culture is not only reductive ly portrayed in terms of cheap souvenirs from Chinatown, but also the term Asian itself is presented as interchangeable with Chinese. While it is unknown what role Keltner played in selecting the cover designs, the cover nonetheless frames her text an d mediates the readers engagement with the text itself. The cover establishes certain expectations for the text, namely that its contents should provide some insight into Asian culture. As part of the peritext, the cover is in an undecided zone between the inside and the outsideor as Philippe Lejeune said, the fringe of the printed text which, in reality, controls the whole reading (Genette 261). The question becomes, how does the fringe of Dim Sum affect a reading of the text? I contend that this cover ultimately functions ironically2In the context of Chengs argument, Dim Sums front cover image of the hand posed to eat Chinese souvenirs can be seen as articulating the cannibalistic relat ionship between dominant white identity and the racialized subject. This image illustrates what Lindsey refers to in Dim as part of Keltners performative strategy to challenge essentialist notions of Asian American culture and identity, as well as to problematize the (white) mainstream practice of racialized consumption, or to use Anne Chengs term, white racial melancholia. According to Cheng, white racial melancholia operates as an elaborate identificatory system based on psychical and social consumptionand denial (11 ). Within this system, white identity becomes constituted by s imultaneously excluding and retaining (what Cheng calls swallowing) racialized others (8; 10).

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29 Sum and Buddha Baby (the sequel to Dim Sum ) as the hoarding of Asian culture by the Hoarders of All Things Asian, who are defined a s white people who have a fetish for Asian objects (or perceive Asian women as objects) 3Lindsey Owyangs Diary? Even as Keltner provocatively uses (and seemingly promotes) an essentializing view of ethnicity through stereotypes such as Hoarders and images of consumption (both eating and buying), she does not do so uncritically and without qualifying, to a certain extent, the historical and social conditions which have informed Lindseys practice of stereotyping. I focus on images of food and eating specifically in this sect ion because they not only show how Lindsey has been constituted as a racialized subject materially, but also how she expresses her ambivalence toward her Asian American identity. In other words, consuming food becomes a way for Lindsey to symbolically asse rt and reject her ethnicity. As my analysis of Dim Sum and Buddha Baby will show, Lindseys negotiation of her ethnic identity mirrors Keltners negotiation of her status as ethnic writer with the chick lit genre, a genre that melancholically consumes an d retains racial difference in its identification of ethnick lit or multicultural lit novels. At the beginning of Dim Sum Keltner situates the novel within the chick lit genre, yet complicates its generic affiliation by identif ying her protagonists racial difference from the white standard. In the first sentence of Dim Sum the narrator states, Many strange tales have been told about sassy receptionists and their antics in the urban wild, but none so strange as the story of M iss Lindsey Owyang, a Chinese American wage slave who turned twenty five last summer (Keltner 1). With this introduction, Keltner clearly establishes that her novel differs from other chick lit novels (many strange tales) not so much in its formulaic pl ot (sassy receptionists and their antics in the urban wild), but rather with the ethnic identity of its protagonist (a Chinese American wage slave). Indeed, much of the plot of Dim Sum aligns

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30 with the typical chick lit narrative: a twenty something wom an works at an unfulfilling (and underpaid) job4, meets her love interest, dates some losers, and ends up with her love interest. Lindsey lives with her grandma, Pau Pau, and works as a receptionist at the Vegan Warrior magazine. During the course of the n ovel, Lindsey falls in love with Michael Cartier, her coworker at the Vegan Warrior ; goes on a series of blind dates with the grandsons of Pau Paus Mahjong friends; goes to China with Pau Pau; and eventually ends up dating Michael. In Buddha Baby the plot varies in the sense that Lindsey must choose bet ween her fianc, Michael and her schoolmate from childhood, Dustin Lee (who is Chinese American), but it ends in much the same way as other chick lit novels, with Lindsey happily engaged to Michael5Ye t, while Dim Sum and Buddha Baby may appear like a Bridget Jones with a Chinese American face, Lindseys Chinese American identity does not simply offer a one to one substitution of the average (white) chick lit heroine with a China Doll. Rather, her aty pical identity shapes the narrative to address issues of race and ethnicity that largely remain unacknowledged and unspoken in mainstream chick lit. Lindsey has an ambivalent attitude toward her identity, which she often expresses through her practice of s tereotyping people. Homi Bhabha argues that the stereotypeis a form of knowledge and identification that vacillates between what is always in place, already known, and something that must be anxiously repeated and that it is the force of ambivalence that gives the colonial stereotype its currency (66). The stereotype, then, is not as static as we perceive it to be, but rather is a complex, ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation, as anxious as it is assertive (Bhabha 70). According to Bhabha, it is important to shift the analysis of stereotypes from merely identifying them as positive or negative to an understanding of the processes of subjectification made possible (and plausible) through stereotypical discourse (67; emphasis in original). In this

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31 respect, Lindseys practice of stereotyping should not be relegated to a discussion of its positive or negative effects, but rather should be interrogated for what it reveals about her own subjectivity. What becomes clear is that her stereoty ping is a symptom, not the cause, of what Anne Cheng calls the racial grief that forms her melancholic subjectivity. Her grief may be cushioned with comic relief and obscured by the formulaic (i.e., romantic) aspects in these texts, but it is the repress ed narrative to what would otherwise be considered lighthearted chick lit fare6. For example, the following description of Lindsey provided in Dim Sum reveals a melancholic perspective of her racial identity: Lindsey was a fairly clever receptionist, but she was more than just a worker bee who had mastered the intricacies of voice mail and fax dialing. She was a third generation San Franciscan of Chinese descent who could not quote a single Han Dynasty proverb, but she could recite entire dialogues from n umerous Brady Bunch episodes. She knew nothing of Confucius and did not speak any Cantonese or Mandarin, but she had spent years studying the Western Canon and had learned to conjugate irregular French verbs. (Keltner 1). This description of Lindsey provi des several critical insights into her character, as well as Keltners own conflicted feelings toward writing an Asian American novel. Keltner notably undermines the predominant perpetual foreigner myth (Lindsey is a third generation San Franciscan a fter all) and tries to portray Lindsey as an average American girl, whose preference for the Brady Bunch outweighs her interest in Confucius. In so doing, she problematizes the exoticization on the cover, as well as her immediate identification of Lindse ys ethnicity in the first sentence of the novel. Yet, while this performative move strategically complicates (white) reader expectations to gain insight into (and fetishize) Chinese (not Chinese American) culture, it also reveals Lindseys racial melancho lia and her exclusion from the dominant culture that she emulates. Lindseys preferences for European languages (instead of Cantonese or Mandarin) and the Western Canon7 8 can be viewed as attempts to negate her

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32 racialized subjectivity by consuming European language and Eurocentric texts. Keltners decision to portray a Chinese American woman, rather than a Chinese American (emphasis on the Chinese) woman, represents her own defiance of a genre that would include her because her racial difference, but also her melancholic desire to be accepted by the mainstream (even as a niche author). Covert Meat eating and the American Dream Lindseys outsider status from the white protagonists found in other chick lit novels is represented analogously through her own position as the covert meat eater employed at Vegan Warrior magazine H er infiltration into this magazine of all white staff (she is the only non white employee) can also be likened to Keltners entry into the white centered chick lit genre, wi th both Lindsey and Keltner serving as token Asian representatives in largely homogenous communities (Keltner, Dim Sum 2; 18) As the outcast at Vegan Warrior Lindseys differences from the other staff members are primarily represented through their consumption patterns (what she eats versus what the staff chooses not to eat) as well as through their racial iden tities (Keltner, Dim Sum 2) The staffs limited consumption practices serve as a critical parallel for the practices of exclusion that have ne gatively affected Chinese American s as an ethnic group. Just as allegations that Chinese people eat cats and dogs and other strange food9 have been used historically to show how they differ from (and hence do belong to) the white majority, food is used a t the magazine as a way of homogenizing and weeding out those who do not belong. As Sharon Peckham states, Eating (and the etiquette that surrounds it) is a cultural practice that marks off insiders from outsiders (172). The magazine staff often functi ons like the INS or the Department of Homeland Security in their attempts to find any illicit meateating, with one humorous incident in Dim Sum depicting employees being subjected to breath tests by Human Resources in order to sniff out any carnivorous activity (Keltner 152)10.

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33 The analogy between the exclusionary environment of America and Vegan Warrior is clearly articulated through the latters hypocritical rhetoric of equality and its treatment of Lindsey. Though the Vegan Warrior staff claims in their mission statement that they have a firm commitment to equality and social justice, this commitment does not prevent them from summoning Lindsey to perform all their menial tasks, which include mopp[ing] spilled rice milk and scour[ing] tofu chee se from the inside of the microwave (Keltner, Dim Sum 2). The foodoriented tasks that Lindsey performs, and the pretense of inclusivity that the Vegan Warrior staff expounds, not only reflect the (food) service positions that Chinese Americans have historically filled within the U.S11, but also critiques the disparity between the ideal of equality versus its reality in America (which the Vegan Warrior portrays in a white, socially liberal context)12The Vegan Warrior shows how both white social liberali sm and racism function melancholically, a manifestation of the white guilt that Keltner likens to smog in the Bay Area (6). As Cheng argues, [b]oth racist and white liberal discourses participate in [a diligent system of melancholic retention], albeit out of different motivations (11). For Cheng, though the racist and the white liberal have separate aims in their melancholic actions, they both need racialized subjects to either develop elaborate ideologies in order to accommodate their actions with o fficial American ideals (the racist) or keep burying [them] in order to memorialize them (the white liberal) (11). Thus, Lindseys presence at Vegan Warrior enables the staff to believe (erroneously) that they are fulfilling their proclaimed mission sta tement, even though her role in the magazine is as a wage slave and token minority. When Lindseys boss, Howard, wants to hold a potential donor luncheon, he decides that Lindsey should help him research the yummiest ethnic restaurants and plan the event because he assumes that her Asian appearance

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34 places her on the pulse of the Asian restaurant scene (Keltner, Dim Sum 251). Howards choice of food for the event, which includes items such as dim sum, sag paneer, and vegetable tempura (Keltner, Dim Sum 252), represents what Peckham observes as a paradox of ethnic cuisine: The distinct categories of ethnic cuisine have been dismantled, but remain firmly in place, suggesting that they are still potent. Today, it could be argued, commodified foreignness in the form of world cooking is served up by a mainstream culture and consumed in a feast that feeds the muscles of the ravenous nation, incorporating and finally annihilating all difference. (181) In this respect, Howards decision to feature food at the luncheon from different Asianethnic groups recognizes distinct categories of ethnic cuisines to the extent that having a variety of food represents a kind of appreciation for diversity or multiculturalism. However, the differences between these categor ies of food (and the ethnic groups they represent) are nullified because the food items are lumped together under the same amorphous and problematic label ethnic. Through ingesting these ethnic food items, Howard and his fellow (white) Vegan Warrior staffers can fabricate multiculturalism and consume difference, while retaining its essential structure as Other (Fung 271). The consumption patterns of the Vegan Warrior staff not only represent their attempt to create a homogenous and exclusive comm unity of eaters, but also their privileged position in relationship to what Sau ling Cynthia Wong calls the big eaters in Asian American literature The luxury that the staff members have in restricting their consumption according to their ideological be liefs is not one that Asian Americans (specifically firstgeneration Asian immigrants) necessarily share13P hysical survival is incompatible with a finicky palate; psychological survival hinges on the wresting of meaning from arbitrary infliction of humiliation and pain; survival of family and the ethnic group not only presupposes individually successful eating but may demand unusually difficult swallowing to ensure a continued supply of nourishment for the next generation. (26) As Wong states:

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35 Big eati ng can be viewed as symptomatic of the melancholic condition of Asian American subjects, who must swallow their humiliation and pain14 (or racial grief) in order to survive15. Lindsey is not a big eater in the same way as Brave Orchid (the penultimate big eater) in Maxine Hong Kingstons The Woman Warrior but what she consumes reflects her own desire to mitigate the humiliation and pain she experiences as a Chinese American16Growing Pains and the Era of Lost Chinese Children Lindsey cannot afford to have the finicky palate that the Vegan Warrior staff possesses, as her survival in America is contingent on her an ability to assimilate through consumption. Thus, just as she pretends to consume only vegetarian food in order to keep her job at Vegan Warrior so too does she pretend to consume only American food in order to assert her citizenship. In that respect, her presence at the magazine represents, on the one hand, a subversive contamination of the imaginatively homogeneous (white) community at Vegan Warrior and on the other, a melancholi c response to her own exclusion from the white national identity. Lindseys performative Americanization can be viewed as symptomatic of the pathology over her racial identity that she develops as a chi ld. Keltner includes flashbacks to Lindseys childhood in Dim Sum and Buddha Baby which not only provide the origins of Lindseys melancholic subjectivity, but also show how food plays a critical role in the constitution of this subjectivity. These flashb acks often feature incidences of racial injury that Lindsey cannot get over (hence their reappearance throughout both novels). At the beginning of Buddha Baby the narrator describes Lindsey as having spent her youth dodging the inconvenience of her Asi anness, but in the last three of her twenty eight years she was forced to wake up and smell the bock fa oil (Keltner 2). One painful incident described in both Dim Sum17 and Buddha Baby is when two neighborhood boys throw mushy berries and bologna sandwic h crusts at the

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36 Owyangs house and call them Stupid chinks (Keltner, Buddha Baby 130). How Lindsey and her brother, Kevin, respond to this incident, in contrast to their parents, reflect the different levels of assimilation that each character, or rather each generation, has undergone. When Lindseys parents find the mess, both deal with the incident by cleaning it up and not saying anything, choosing instead to swallow the painful incident18. As the narrative describes: Lindsey was fully engaged in wat ching The Superfriends when she heard her mother go to the door, and from the outside Lindsey heard her groan, Oh, no. Her mother came back in and woke Lindseys dad. When they both emerged from the bedroom they were quiet. Once again, her dad went out a nd cleaned up the mess, and pretty soon it was a normal Saturday morning with her mom sipping coffee and her dad mixing Bisquick. (130131). The last sentence of this paragraph is particularly compelling, as the phrase [o]nce again suggests that this fo rm of racial injury has become normalized. To that end, the normal Saturday morning that this passage describes with Lindseys mom sipping coffee and her dad mixing Bisquick reaffirms that the Owyangs are Americans, with both coffee and waffles being typical American breakfast foods. Unlike their parents, Lindsey and Kevin direct their humiliation and pain to humiliating and causing pain to others they decide to throw dog shit at their Chinese American neighbors house, a neighbor whom they identify as more Chinese than themselves19Kevin and Lindseys actions in this passage can be viewed as what Anne Cheng argues as a form of assimilation, which is not the adaptation of behavior or customs per se but the repetition of a violence (against an other that is also the self)already experienced (75) As the narrator states: The Ahchucks, so kind and gracious, had been an easy target. Lindsey was only nine and didnt understand her emotions or the reason behind why did what she did. But feeling conflicted about being Chinese and retaliating against other Chinese people was a lot easier than blaming her tormentors. As illogical as it seemed, even after the neighborhood boys had vandalized her house, in the weeks that followed, she still wanted them to like her family a nd perhaps come over for sandwiches as if nothing ever happened. (Keltner, Buddha Baby 132) 20. Kevin and Lindsey

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37 are not empowered, within their tenuous American identity, to retaliate against the white boys that hurt them, but they are empowe red to hurt others like themselves. They replicate the boys actions exactly, except for what they throw (dog shit versus mushy berries and bologna sandwich crusts). The symbolism behind what the white boys throw and what Kevin and Lindsey throw is critical: the boys mark the Owyang family as Other by staining their house with mushy berries and implying that they dont belong with a literalized American weapon (bologna), whereas Lindsey and Kevin throw what they identify with (dog shit)21Most of Lindseys childhood experiences with racism occur at school, a place where the Chinese American children seemed to vanish mysteriously in what Lindsey called the Era of Lost Chinese Children in order to impose that feeling on someone else. Yet, despite these boys actions, Lindsey still wants these boys to come over for sandwiches (to illustrate how she is not a Stupid [chink]), which indicates her capacity to keep swallowing grief. 22 (Keltner, Buddha Baby 91). The school itself is depicted as consuming the Chinese children that go there, as the narrator notes that Chinese children had a particular way of going bye bye, and Lindsey had always feared she would be dropped down a trap door to a fiery, dungeon furnace (Keltner, Buddha Baby 91). Lindseys f ear of becoming one of those Lost Chinese Children and being classified with the other Chinese immigrant outcasts leads her to join in on the torment of another classmate of Chinese ancestry, immigrant girl Dorcas Foo (Keltner, Buddha Baby 96). The n arrator states that Lindsey participates in this abuse because she knew she didnt want to be a helpless Chinese victim lashed with Red Vines (Keltner, Buddha Baby 96)23. Lindseys fear is not unfounded, given that another Chinese American girl, Gina Fang is described as being pummeled with Nutter Butters during tournaments of freeze tag and four square (Keltner, Buddha Baby 96). Keltners decision

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38 to make American food snacks the weapon of choice against the Chinese American children at Lindseys school articulates how food is used (literally in this case) to mark insiders and outsiders of a culture. By being pelted with American food, Dorcas and Gina are marked as Other and are denied the opportunity to consume the food (and become Americanized through consumption). By throwing the American food at Dorcas and Gina, Lindsey shows that she has assimilated as American. Keltner not only articulates the violent cycle of assimilation by showing how food functions as a cultural weapon against the Other, but a lso by showing how consumption figures as a site of potential cultural degradation and Othering. In Buddha Baby a new Chinese American boy in school, Dustin24, tells Lindsey, Its a wellknown fact that Chinese people eat rats. Do you eat rats? (Keltner 42)25. Dustins use of the phrase Chinese people in his racist comment, when he is in fact Chinese American, shows how his disidentification from his ethnicity is only made possible by identifying with Lindsey (Cheng 75). In using the word you, he inter pellates Lindsey as a racialized subject, imposing his own feeling of foreignness on her in order to show that he belongs (whereas she does not). When Dustin begins to taunt Lindsey by calling her rat eater and a rodent eater, Lindsey responds by hitti ng him with her lunchbox. After she does so, the other children who witness the exchange begin to taunt him, changing his initial insult from rateater to Rat Boy (Keltner, Buddha Baby 44). Dustin responds to their namecalling by stating, I am not a rat. I am a homosapien (Keltner, Buddha Baby 44). The transformation that Dustins insult undergoes from rat eater to Rat Boy to rat shows how people do not only become defined by what they eat (a rat eater) they can become identified as what th ey eat (a rat)26. Thus, the shift the children make from identifying (and insulting)

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39 what a person consumes to identifying the person as what he or she consumes illustrates the power of consumption in the formation of identity. Spinning the Lazy Susan Lin dseys awareness of how consumption patterns can influence how a person is identified causes her to feign dislike for anything Chinese27. When she was a child, L indsey would never let her grandmother, Pau Pau, put anything Chinese in her Bugs Bunny lunchbox choosing to fill it instead with sandwiches with Safeway cold cuts (Keltner, Dim Sum 6). For Lindsey, consuming Chinese food is particularly fraught with identity issues, especially since food itself is potentially polluting because it passes throug h the oral boundary of the clean and proper body (Lupton 113). As Doris Friedensohn states, Its one thing to buy an alien object as a souvenir, another to ingest it (166). Chinese food, specifically, has been historically been treated as transgress ive and abject28 (as Dustins rat eater insult suggests). Keltner does not sanitize the image of Chinese food for her reading audience, but instead depicts it as vari ously delectable and repellent, vacillating between food pornography and anti food pornography29In this decidedly anti food pornographic passage (which is reminiscent of Kingstons description of Brave Orchids cooking Her heterogeneous portrayal of Chinese food contrasts with her depiction of homogeneous and processed American food (which I will discuss later in the chapter), and subverts the domestication that Chinese food has undergone to make it safe for ta ke out. For example, in the scene where Dustin calls Lindsey a rat eater, Lindsey reflects on what Chinese food would be like with rodents: Standing there she thought of all the different kinds of rodents and how they might be prepared in Chinese cooking. She imagined marmots in black bean sauce, sweet n sour gerbils, Peking squirrel with hoisin sauce, chipmunks cubed in a dry wok, and chinchilla chow fun. (Keltner, Buddha Baby 44) 30), Keltner clearly portrays a repulsive image of Chinese food,

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40 illustrating common (mis)apprehensions about this cuisine (the sentiment conveyed earlier in Luptons quotation, Is this really chicken?)31. It is critical that this passage features rodents not in their unadorned form, but with sauces commonly seen on Chinese menus, such as black bean sauce and sweet n sour. Notably, sweet n sour sauce appeared in Dim Sum when Lindsey and Michael g o to a Chinese restaurant and she cautions him not to order anything with sweet and sour sauce, or egg rolls, or any of that tourist stuff (Keltner 206). Thus, what Keltner appears to be challenging through Lindseys anti food pornographic musings is the sanitization (read: Americanization) of Chinese food (the tourist stuff) which has made it easily commodifiable and harmless. I use the word sanitation not to suggest that Keltner is claiming that Chinese food is unhygienic, but rather to argue that Keltner is disrupting the symbolic order of cleanliness that has structurally kept Chinese food in its defined place32. By combining the safe (sweet n sour) with the dirty33What Keltner posits instead of the familiar sweet and sour combination of Chinese food is an indescribable version of the cuisine that is unintelligible not only to the white reader, but also to Lindsey herself. In Dim Sum Lindsey lives with her grandmother Pau Pau who cooks hardcore what the hell is that kind of Chinese food, which include s organ meats and unrecognizable fish parts that had been sliced to bits with a cleaver as long as a human arm earlier that morning in Chinatown (Keltner, Dim Sum 6; emphasis in original ). The phrase (gerbils), Keltner defamiliarizes Chinese food and in doing so, contaminates not only its commodification, but also the commodification of Chinese culture. Keltners anti food pornographic description of Chinese food with rodents does not so much exoticize Chinese cuisine and culture as it reveals a resistance to playing the r ole of literary native, whose job is to defamiliariz [e] [an ethnic specimen] of American likenesses as well as the familiariz[e] of ethnic difference (Bow 211).

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41 what the hell is that represents a critical breakdow n in language, where the details of real Chinese food real Chinese anything cannot be conveyed, according to Lindsey, to white people (Keltner, Dim Sum 6). In contrast to the questions posed on the back cover (Have you ever wonderedWhy Asians?), the phrase what the hell is that challenges that the you addressed in the back cover (the white reader) can ever know the answer to these questions. To that end, Lindseys inability to articulate what the Chinese food is that Pau Pau prepares suggests not only her alienation from her culture, but also that the complexity of Chinese food far exceeds what fortune cookies and take out menus imply. That Keltner does not make Chinese food immediately intelligible to the reader further demonstrates her resistance to the literary native role, which Leslie Bow analyzes in the context of Jade Snow Wong. As Bow states, While remoteness is the catalyst for voyeuristic interest, an unintelligible native is of no use; nor is one who remains absolutely (in)diff erent (211). Unlike the intelligible native, Keltner does not fully explicate the contents of Pau Paus dishes, which leaves the reader with incomplete information. In this respect, K eltner differs in her representation of Chinese food from Jade Snow Wong whom Frank Chin was clearly alluding to in his description of food pornography.34 Whereas Jade Snow Wong [took] pains to explain the ritualistic significance of certain meals and folk beliefs about the medicinal properties of certain ingredients to lead the white reader on a verbal gastronomic tour, Lindsey does not know the names of the ingredients that go into Pau Paus dishes35 36The unintelligibility of Paus cooking makes it nonreproducible, which suggests that it is the opposit e of mass produced American food. Moreover, the nonreproducibility of Pau Paus cooking makes it resistant to commodification in ways that chop suey ( S.C. Wong 63). 37 and dim sum are not. Pau Paus dishes are depicted as invented recipes that appear on no restaurant menu anywhere

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42 in the city (46). Pau Paus cooking, though presented as authentic Chinese food, does not actually look or taste like the food that Lindsey encounters in a trip to China: When the food arrived, she scanned the lazy Susan for dishes she mi ght want. But the more she searched, the more she found that she didnt recognize anything. The mushy looking brown goo bore no resemblance to the mushy goo she was familiar with back home. A couple of selections looked vaguely like seafood but lacked disc ernible parts that could be verified as either animal or vegetable. A bowl of sauted beef, upon close inspection, was not beef at all but tiny severed duck tongues. (Keltner, Dim Sum 283) We see in this passage the lazy Susan from the front cover, only this time it contains unrecognizable Chinese food, rather than popular Chinatown souvenirs. What is critical to note in this passage how nothing is as it appears to be in this particular lazy Susan; that is, what Lindsey mistakes for recognizable and delic ious food (sauted beef) is not what she expects at all (severed duck tongues). Lindsey, in fact, is almost convinced that this whole meal was a joke on the tourists, who seem to happily enjoy the strange exoticism and do not perceive anything amiss in their consumption of authentic Chinese food (Keltner, Dim Sum 284). I would argue that the lazy Susan on the cover functions in a similar way, in that what appears to be an open invitation to consume Chinese culture via Chinese souvenirs is actually a more complex engagement with the power of consumption and what it means to be the melancholic subject being consumed within the dominant white identity. Keltners subversion of the commodification of Chinese cuisine and her resistance to playing the liter ary native role allude to the agency she possesses, even within a genre that appears highly commercialized for audience appeal. The All American Owyangs While Keltner portrays Chinese food as indescribable, she depicts American food as heavily branded. Keltner consistently refers to the names of American food products (such as Nutter Butters and Red Vines), which suggests that the Owyang family, by consuming

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43 American food, is actually buying the American label implicit in these food names. As Debor ah Lupton argues, To eat American food is to incorporate some of the desired attributes of American culture, and at the same time to reject ones own cultural food practices. The nutritional value of such food has little to do with the desire to consume i t: such food signifies American success, and thence is considered desi rable. ( 27) The question becomes, what desired attributes of American culture do the Owyangs wish to incorporate? Lindseys parents are depicted as believing in the American Dream38This passage critically posits the family as a site of traumatic exclusion that Chinese Americans have had to overcome. In this way, the Owyangs smooth execution of the nuclear family dynamic can be viewed as trying to regain the family that Chinese Americans were historically denied. Thus, eating American food functions as a normative activity that reinforces the Owyangs position as the All American Family, in the respect that the four main food groups that Linds ey was raised on (frozen, canned, store bought, or pimento loaf) homogenize the Owyangs so that they can blend in with other American families (Keltner, and running their household according to the standard of the idealized American Family. In Buddha Baby Lindsey reflects on her home life as a child and notes how her nuclear household had been like a small factory in which conversation was designated by and limited to ones role in the family (Keltner 74 ). The image of the nuclear family as factory is critical in the characterization of the Owyangs, who ingest processed American food in order to keep this factory running. Significantly, Keltner provides a context for the Owyangs methodical Americanization in the beginning of a chapter in Dim Sum titled Chinese + English = Chinglish: When Chinese immigrants first came to San Francisco in the mid 1800s, laws excluded them from bringing their wives o r families to join them. As a result, the men formed Benevolent and Family Associations that grouped men according to their homeland villages or last names and provided services and sense of community to the immigrants, who could not count on any city services to guide them. (Keltner 61)

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44 Dim Sum 212). Keltner noticeably uses brand names like Swansons frozen entrees and Oscar Mayer luncheon loaves when describing the American food that Lindsey was raised on, which not only establishes the Owyangs as part of the American middle class39 (and thereby reinforces their position as the All American Family), but also serves as a productiv e metaphor for what the Owyangs seek to become (Keltner, Dim Sum 47). That is, American can be viewed as a kind of brand name (like Swanson or Oscar Mayer) which entails a certain amount of processing and packaging. According to Claude Lvi Strauss cooking mark[s] the transition from nature to culture; thus, processed food, having theoretically been cooked multiple times, becomes a marker of culture (164). In a similar way, the process of Americanization can be seen as a process of cooking, im posing modifications on racialized subjects so that they can become cultured and have the American label appended to their ethnicity (as in Chinese American ). However, just as processed food lacks nutritional value40 (which Keltner alludes to in Dim Sum )41The Owyangs do not only assimilate by eating American food, but also by creating and eating hybrid dishes with Chinese and American ingredients. As the narrator describes in Buddha Baby Lindseys parents did occasionally attempt to blend Chines e and American cultures together by preparing meals such as bok choy with cut up hot dogs, or macaroni salad with pai don, Chinese preserved eggs (Keltner, Buddha Baby 2). These fusion dishes illustrate how the Owyangs attempt to negotiate the materiality of their Chinese side by combining Chinese and American qualities to create hybrid identities the American label lacks substance and disappears, specifically in the case of Asian Americans. In this respect, the American label can be viewed as the Freudian lost object that the Owyang family melancholically devours with their Swanson frozen entres. 42. Lindseys mother, Lillian, is described as wanting Lindsey and her brother, Kevin, to be the perfect combination of qualities: well -

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45 educated with good manners like upper class Americans, but with the humility and toughness like the Chinese (Keltner, Dim Sum 65). However, combining cultures is obviously less simple and clear cut than combining cultural food, as ensuring that the Chinese and American balance [i s] just right can erroneously reduce the formation of identity to an essentialist process of give and take (Keltner, Dim Sum 65). Cooking (which I will discuss further in the next section) thus serves as an apt (if problematic) metaphor for the Owyangs approach to assimilation, as their attempt to mix Chinese characteristics with American ones can be viewed as similar to combining ingredients in order to create something palatable. However, combining cultures by combining ethnic ingredients simplifies th e psychic negotiation a racialized subject must enact in order to assimilate, as well as elides the violence that such assimilation entails. The belief that blending together cultures can be as simple as combining bok choy and hot dogs hints at a false and easy utopic resolution to the messy problem of existing between cultures. Lindseys attempt to negotiate between her Chinese side and her American side is, for her, more like the process of combining oil and water. Lindseys perception that her two sides cannot blend provides a context for why Lindsey is called a Twinkie (an Asian person who is yellow on the outside and white on the inside). This racial epithet, which is often used to denigrate Asian Americans who act too white, is a provocative e xample of how ethnicities are constructed as static entities mutually exclusive to one another. In other words, with a Twinkie, one can clearly see where the yellow ends and the white begins; there is a visible line of separation between these two el ements. Calling someone a Twinkie implies that they have undergone a process of Americanization (they are processed like an actual Twinkie), a culturalization that results in

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46 imaginative closure of identity, where the internal homogeneity (to recall Stuart Hall) is conceived as unified and white. For Lindsey, who resists being called a Twinkie, the attempt to balance her Chinese and American characteristics only implicates an inherent imbalance that she has internalized from an early age. Her at tempt to get over her race by compensating through consumption backfires to the extent that she feels at crisis with her two opposing sides of her identity. Thus, Lindseys identity crisis, rather than her romantic troubles, is actually the primary conflict in both novels that Keltner attempts to resolve and get over a critical plot deviation from the standard chick lit formula. Though Keltner has received criticism for her handling of racial issues (some reviewers found her work too stereotypical, ot hers compared it to the only other commercial Asian American text they were familiar with The Joy Luck Club ), I would argue that her provocative posturing of complicity and subversion thoughtfully grapples with what it means to be interpellated as Asian in America, as well as the fraught position of the ethnic author in the chick lit genre. I want to end this section with a particular passage from Buddha Baby which I believe articulates Keltners response not only to Asian American detractors who see her writing in the chick lit genre as selling out to a white audience (or as Dustin phrases it, cater[ing] to Western palates), but also a response to her white readers, who fetishize her as an ethnic author. In this passage, an older version of Dustin (the boy who called Lindsey a rat eater) is talking to Lindsey about her experience of being an alienated (assimilated) Asian American, as well as his own: See, if you were a beverage, I bet you would be a peppy soda pop rather than a heavy, murky teaWhen white people see you and realize you wear the same kind of clothes as you do and you dont speak with an accent, they probably welcome your hint of Chinese flavor, assuming youre filled with empty calories but are nonethelessrefreshing. They

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47 lik e that youre different enough to be entertaining, but not strong enough to upset their stomachs. On the other hand, some Chinese people, Angry Asian Men included, take one look at your packaging and immediately judge you. They assume youre too bubbly, or have some kind of gimmick. They might think youre to sweet to be any good, or think youve designed yourself to cater to Western palates. In all of two seconds of seeing you, they take it upon themselves to proclaim that your character consists of inferi or ingredients devoid of any authentic Chinese flavor. (Keltner, Buddha Baby 88) Like Lindsey, chick lit is often perceived as a peppy soda pop that is devoid of any kind of substance. As Keltners passage insightfully illustrates, Asian American chick l it authors often must straddle the fence between subversion and complicity in order to appease their two contingents of the chick lit reading audience, both of whom seek Asian American chick lit for conflicting reasons. I find it critical here that Keltner uses food and consumption imagery to show what Lindsey, and arguably she, is viewed as, as well as what both Asian American and white outsiders (readers) want from her, suggesting that she is not only aware of herself as commodity, but how racialized subj ects are specifically constituted as commodities for consumption in everyday life. Notes 1 Ferri ss and Young argue that chick culture can be productively viewed as a group of mostly American and British popular culture media forms focused primarily on twenty to thirtysomething middle class women ( Chick Flicks 1). What is not explicitly stated is that the categories American and British are normatively white. 2 One Amazon.com reviewer called The Dim Sum of All Things one long inside joke, stating [i] t seems that the non Asian reviewers disliked this b ook because they dont get it (A Custom er). This comment insightfully locates Dim Sum within the discourse of comic racial representation, which as Minh H Pham argues in her dissertation Playing (with) Stereotypes, is an equally fraught area within Asian American studies largely due to the w ay [c]omedy has been a useful means of shepherding even the most malicious racial representations into the mainstream (4). Arguably, like images of food and eating within Asian American literature and the genre of Asian American chick lit itself, comedy whether externally or internally produced is notoriously difficult to categorize as either resistant or accommodating, either racist or good natured, it does not lend itself easily to any one set of politics (Pham 7). 3 Lindsey identifies Hoarder m ales and Hoarder females, with the former being defined in Dim Sum and the latter being defined in Buddha Baby Hoarder males, who have a much longer nickname (Hoarders of All Things Asian) are described as shy, Caucasian beta males with dirty blond hair and sallow complexions and stealthy predators who [feign] interest in Asian cuisine, history, and customs in hopes of attracting an exotic porcelain doll like those portrayed so fetchingly in pop culture movies and advertisements (Keltner, Dim Sum 2 3). (Cara Lockwood also has a similar stereotype in her book Dixieland Sushi ; she describes white men who have a fetish for Asian women as possessing an AO (Asian Obsessed) blood type.) In Buddha Baby Lindsey encounters Hoarder

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48 females while working for a museum. In contrast to Hoarder men that are focused mainly on the procurement of Asian love slaves, Hoarder Ladies seemed more concerned with the acquisition of fashion and home items, preferring to feather their nests with a healthy dose of orien tal razzmatazz (Keltner 33 34). Keltner goes into great detail describing both Hoarder males and females, constructing ethnographic accounts of what they are like and their recognizable features. (Keltner even describes a scene where Lindsey meets a Ho arder male who admits that he fetishizes Asian women in this fashion.) While the concept of Hoarders is problematically stereotypical, the way that Keltner writes about them is quite similar to how Chinese Americans have historically been represented wi thin popular culture that is, as one dimensional caricatures (e.g., lily footed celestials, geishas, fan tan dancers, and singsong girlies) (Keltner, Dim Sum 3). As Robert Lee argues in his seminal work Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture As ian Americans have been stereotypically represented by the six faces of the Oriental: the pollutant, the coolie, the deviant, the yellow peril, the model minority and the gook (8). What is critical about Lees argument is that each of these faces port ray the Oriental as an alien body and a threat to the American national family (8). What Keltner observes in Lindseys Hoarder theory is that the threat the Oriental body poses has been mediated through commodification and objectification of that body. The Oriental body is perceived as attractive by Hoarder males precisely because it is alien and the same is true for Oriental objects that Hoarder females buy. 4 Lindseys unfulfilling career is a condition of what Michelle Sidler calls McJobdom. As she writes in her essay Living in McJobDom, The McJobdom inhabited by so many twentysomethings is but a local manifestation of a growing economic condition. The condition is so subtle and pervasive that women and men of my generation do not know how to fight it (37). 5 Michael initiates his relationship with Lindsey largely because he wants to understand better what it means to be Chinese (Keltner, Dim Sum 205). He asks Lindsey to be his cultural guide, an obviously problematic request that nonetheless implicates Michaels, and arguably the white readers, desire to have Lindsey (and Keltner) play the role of native informant. Lindsey responds to his request with agitation, stating Well, theres no guidebook or anything (Keltner, Dim Sum 205). Linds eys comment significantly problematizes reading Keltners work as a guidebook to Chinese life, which is a direct contradiction to what the cover of Dim Sum encourages. 6 The romantic relationships in both Dim Sum and Buddha Baby often emphasize (rather th an de emphasize) the racial issues within the text. According to an interview with asianconnections.com, Keltner stated that she constructed the relationships very intentionally to highlight the racial issues. As she articulates in the interview, Well, in The Dim Sum of All Things [Lindseys] attracted to this guy who she thinks is just this run of the mill white guy. I was concentrating on the Asian white thing. I really wanted to talk more about the Asian Asian thing with an Asian girl and an Asian guy [in Buddha Baby ], and how that can be sticky. Specifically with Lindsey and Dustin, neither of them had dated anybody Asian before. Theyre wondering if Im liking this person because I like them or because Im so hooked into this I have to date an Asian p erson thing. Its an unspoken pressure. Of course, Michael is not a run of the mill white guy because he is also a quarter Chinese. His Chinese heritage serves as a critical plot point that not only disrupts the common heterosexual relationship in Asian American chick lit novels (that is, between an Asian American woman and a white man), but also illustrates the material conditions that race engenders. In Dim Sum, Lindsey reflects on how Michaels white appearance has allowed him to escape from the su btle mistreatment or outright hostility due to race, where she could never escape being identifiably Asian (Keltner, Dim Sum 257). 7 Keltner uses a similar opening in her follow up novel about Lindsey, Buddha Baby : She had been born and bred in San Fr ancisco, raised on Cocoa Puffs and Aaron Spelling productions. As a kid she never wore silk slippers or mandarin collared pajamas, but rather was more often outfitted in checkerboard Vans and an Im With Stupid T shirt. Confucian proverbs eluded her, but she was well versed in the spunky aphorisms of great philosophers such as Fonzie and Fred Sanford, whose Nick at Nite reruns taught her handy phrase such as Sit on it, Malph, and Bring me some ripple, Dummy (1). 8 Cheng cites the formation of canonical literature as an example of how [r]acial melancholia plays itself out not only in national formation (12). As Cheng argues: The canon is a melancholic corpus because of what it excludes but cannot forget (12).

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49 9 The tales of Chinese and other Asi an ethnic groups eating unconventional meat such as dogs and cats has become prevalent to the point that [w] hen a sizeable number of Vietnamese refugees settled recently in a small Kentucky city, a rumor began circulating that peoples cats and dogs wer e disappearing. The rumor suggested that the strange food habits of the Vietnamese were respon sible for the vanishing pets ( 37). 10 In Buddha Baby the narrator reveals that Lindsey has been fired from her job at Vegan Warrior because she is caught red handed gnawing on a pork chop (Keltner 48). 11 Many of Lindseys family members are described as having worked or currently work in a food related industry: Lindseys aunt Shirley is a part time file clerk at the corporate office of Whole Foods; her mother used to [shell] pounds of shrimp for a local restaurant when she was younger; her paternal grandparents own a gro cery store (they also previously worked in the asparagus and pear fields and her grandfather, specifically, worked as a cook at a private residence) ( Dim Sum 64; Buddha Baby 109). The popular association of Chinese with food service industries leads Lind sey to be mistaken for a restaurant worker while buying some green beans: As she stood in line clutching her baggie of Blue Lakes, the man behind her suddenly spoke. For the restaurant, eh? he asked. She was unaware that he was addressing her, and she d idnt turn around. A moment passed before he tapped her on the shoulder and repeated, Need those for the restaurant, huh? Had this man mistaken her for someone he knew from his local take out place? Or did he just assume that a Chinese person holding a l arge sack of string beans worked in a restaurant? (Keltner, Dim Sum 116). 12 According to Cheng, American melancholia is particularly acute because America is founded on the very ideals of freedom and liberty whose betrayals have been repeatedly covered over (10). 13 As Sau ling Cynthia Wong states, The references to the stereotype of cat and dogeating Asians recall other Chinese American storiesthat portray attachment to pets (farm animals, dove birds, crabs) as an indulgence disdained by the hard boiled immigrant generation (61). 14 Wong provides some examples of the humiliation and pain that Asian Americans have experienced: No wonder, then, that big eaters abound in the literature of Asian Americans, who at various points in their history have been kept out of America by discriminatory immigration legislation; exploited as cheap, dispensable labor; ghettoized while being faulted for refusal to Americanize; denied citizenship, landownership, or a chance to raise families in the United States; sc apegoated during hard times; run out of town, lynched, and slain; forcibly interned, relocated, and dispersed on no evidence of disloyalty; deprived of property by confiscation or virtual confiscation; and, even in an era of liberalized immigration, subjected to stereotyping and racial violence (26). 15 As Cheng describes the process of melancholic consumption, The swallowing does not go down easily. As the libido turns back on the ego, so do the feelings of guilt, rage, and punishment (Freudian melancho lia is anything but mild!) originally attached to the initial object of loss and disappointment (8). 16 In Dim Sum, Lindsey reflects on the humiliation and pain caused by race when she receives a plain white envelope with the phrase The Slant and perceives it as a racial slur directed against her. She notes that [i]t had been a long time since anyone had called her a slant, or any other racial epithet, for that matter (Keltner, Dim Sum 254). Michael later informs her that this is not a racial slur aga inst her at all, but the title of his new humor column. Lindsey becomes upset at what she perceives as his lack of sensitivity toward a racially charged word, which causes her to reflect on not only the difference between Michaels Chineseness and hers, but also on how the visibility of ones race changes ones experience. As the narrator states, [Lindsey] had tried to ignore these humiliations, but each incident had stayed with her (Keltner, Dim Sum 257). 17 In Dim Sum, the incident is described in one short sentence: [Lindsey] remembered neighborhood teenagers pelting the house with mushy blackberries, and she recalled the glare from a boutique saleslady when shed shopped for her junior prom dress (Keltner 257). 18 Keltner portrays Lindseys parents as stereotypically quiet: Like most Chinese families, they never talked about feelings ( Buddha Baby 75). However, she complicates this portrayal by going on to state, Or, perhaps, like

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50 everybody else in the rest of the country, they were just bored with each other and were more interested in watching American Idol ( Buddha Baby 75). The latter statement seems to undermine that there is anything necessarily Chinese about the Owyangs silence, by recasting silence as American apathy. What Keltner articul ates in her portrayal aligns with King Kok Cheungs argument in Articulate Silence that [m]odalities of silence need to be differentiated (3). 19 In a scene before the vandalism, the narrator describes Lindseys feelings toward the Ahchucks: When Lindsey was young she hated the Ahchucks house. She loathed visiting them, and was embarrassed by how Chinese their home was. She felt that the Ahchucks were purposely calling attention to their otherness and was uncomfortable in the midst of all the Asian moti fs (Keltner, Buddha Baby 128; emphasis added). Lindsey clearly differs from the Ahchucks in trying to not call attention to her otherness by conforming to normative American standards of consumption and behavior. 20 The context for Anne Chengs argument is the famous bathroom scene in The Woman Warrior where the protagonist inflicts the same humiliation and shame that she formerly experienced by the hands of a teacher onto another Chinese American girl. As Cheng argues, The narrator suffers the trauma not of being a victim but of being the aggressor. The juxtaposition of these two scenes (the narrator in the bathroom with the other little girl and earlier in the classroom with the teacher) not only plays out the autobiographical coercion but also acts out the internalization of that coercion and its subsequent epistemological aporia (75). 21 This dog shit is from a neighbor across the street who always let his German shepherd take a huge crap in front of the Owyangs house (Keltner, Buddha Baby 131). Linds eys dad consistently cleans the mess up, but every day there was more shit, and they all knew it was the same guy and his same damn dog (Keltner, Buddha Baby 131). 22 Allegorically, this Era of Lost Chinese Children seems to represent the historical ex clusion of Chinese children from white schools in San Francisco and throughout California, which occurred well until into the 1930s (Chan 58). According to Sucheng Chan, in San Francisco, Chinese children were segregated from white children in schools. In 1859, a separate school for Chinese children was opened in the city but was closed in 1871 (57). After 1871, the only education available to children of Chinese ancestrywould be private tutors hired by their parents or in a few English and Bible cla sses taught by Protestant missionaries working in Chinatown (Chan 57). Joseph and Mary Tape famously challenged the school boards denial of the right of their daughter, Mamie, to a public education resulting in the creation of yet another school, the Oriental School, in 1885 (Chan 5758). 23 Significantly, Keltner does not state that Lindsey was afraid of being a Chinese [ American ] victim lashed with red vines but rather a Chinese victim. By eliding the American hyphenate, Keltner articulates how in the playground (and in other contexts as well), it does not matter to what degree a Chinese American has been assimilated or what citizenship status that person holds but rather that the person is Chinese. 24Dustins desire to assimilate is apparent f rom when Dustin first arrives at St. Maudes and he insist[s] that he [isnt] Chinese at all, but a direct descendant of the great general, Robert E. Lee (Keltner, Buddha Baby 40). 25According to David Sibley in his book Geographies of Exclusion, Rats, pigs, and cockroaches have had a particular place in the racist bestiary because all are associated with residues food waste and human waste and in the case of rats, there is an association of spaces which border civilized societyThe potency of the rat as an abject symbol is heightened though its role as a carrier of disease (28). Rats and other rodents are known to spread the bubonic plague, a disease that became associated with Chinese and Japanese immigrants and justified their removal from San Fra ncisco and Honolulu in the 1890s (Chan 56). Sucheng Chan states that Chinese and Japanesewere singled out for detention in quarantine because the ports of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Yokohama, and Kobe, according to the medical officials in San Francisco, were infected (56). In addition, Chinese and Japanese were forbidden to travel outside of California without certificates issued by the surgeon general of the U.S. Marine Hospital Service, the federal agency responsible for quarantine (Chan 57).

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51 26 Accordi ng to historian Nayan Shah, Chinese immigrants were often compared to farm animals such as rats, hogs, and cattle (27). The animals chosen for comparison were deliberate, as [t]he choice of animals underscored a relationship to waste and an imperviousne ss to crowding (27). 27 In Dim Sum, Lindsey remembers visiting a Sanrio store when she was younger for a brief shoplifting pick me up, but only walk[ing] out with a gluestick, fearing that any Sanrio product would associate her with the immigrant outca sts who snacked on Pocky sticks at recess (Keltner 6). Even though Lindseys white friends like (and shoplift) Sanrio products, Lindsey is aware that her consumption of the same products would remind the others of her Chineseness and affirm her racial ized status. Significantly, what is figured as a crime in this scenario is not the act of shoplifting, but the act of being Chinese. 28 In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva defines the abject as the jettisoned object which draws a person toward a place where meaning collapses (2). According to Kristeva, abjection is not caused by the lack of cleanliness or healthbut what disturbs identity, system, order. What does respect borders, positions, rules. The in between, the ambiguous, the composite (4). 29 Sau ling Cynthia Wongs clarification about food pornography is critical here: Food pornography consists not in any particular menu of intrinsically pornographic or even intrinsically ethnic items but in a certain posture of presentation. This ingr atiating posture, having arisen in response to a set of oppressive interracial relationships, cements it in turn by reassuring the patron that the unsettling implications of eating ethnic can be arrested (67 ; emphasis added). Thus, by stating that Keltn er vacillates between food pornographic and anti food pornographic descriptions, I am arguing that she is positioning herself in relationship to the audience in a specific way: either by capitulating to the audiences desire to read delicious, yet exot ic, passages of authentic Chinese food or by subverting that desire with defamiliarized (sometimes repulsive) depictions of Chinese food. 30 This passage is similar to a description of Brave Orchids cooking in Woman Warrior : My mother has cooked for u s: raccoons, skunks, hawks, city pigeons, wild ducks, wild geese, blackskinned bantams, snakes, garden snails, turtles that crawled about the pantry floor and sometimes escaped under refrigerator or stove, catfish that swam in the bathtubShe boiled the w eeds we pulled up in the yard (90) 31 According to Gabaccia, B.E. Lloyds 1876 guide to the lights and shades of San Francisco scarcely mentioned Chinese food as a viable option for visitors. It noted instead that the Chinese while usually penurious eaters often staged great banquets where exotic and rare, but sometimes also disgusting, foods were consumed. At this date, Chinese food was mentioned as a curiosity but not yet recommended for consumption by tourists (103). 32 As Nayan Shah states, D ur ing the 1870s, [San Francisco] had passed ordinances regulatingthe sanitary condition of [Chinese] food vendors (35). These regulations not only implied that Chinese immigrants were unsanitary, but they also imposed a homogenization of Chinese food. 33 M ary Douglas argues in Purity and Danger As we know it, dirt is essentially disorder. There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholderDirt offends against order. Eliminating it is not a negative movement, but a positive effor t to organise the environment (2). 34 In Frank Chins short story, Railroad Standard Time, he refers directly to Jade Snow Wong, as well as other authors he considers food pornographers: I hated after reading Father and Glorious Descendant, Fifth Chinese Daughter, The House That Tai Ming Built Books scribbled up by a sad legion of snobby autobiographical Chinatown saps all on their ownPart cookbook, memories of Mother in the kitchen slicing meat paper thin with a cleaver. Mumbo jumbo about spices and steaming, The secret of Chinatown rice. The hands come down toward the food. The food crawls with culture. The thousandyear old living Chinese meat makes dinner a safari into the unknown, a blood ritual. Food pornography (3). 35 Lindseys favorite dish b y Pau Pau is described as a mlange of shrimp, tofu, bean paste, and a smattering of other ingredients with Chinese names she could never remember (Keltner, Dim Sum 47).

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52 36 This is not to say that Keltner is completely different form Jade Snow Wong or to deny that Keltner has food pornographic passages that are ingratiating, rather than subversive. For example, Lindsey identifies Chinese food as one of the reasons why being Chinese American is positive, rather than negative. In a highly food pornographic s cene, Keltner describes Lindseys feelings about her Chinese identity: And what good Chinese things had Michael skipped?...He had not spent years tasting the flavors of ancient recipes that soaked form the taste buds into the heart; he had missed out on t he fortifying crunch of every bamboo shoot, the soothing reassurance in each swallow of faintly tinted broth, and the surge of love in every pungent bit of dinner. She knew that she gained a certain strength in not being able to hide who she was. And now t hat she reflected on her upbringing filled with Empress of China dinners, New Years parades, and calligraphy lessons, she realized that each experience had formed an impression on her identity, augmenting her development layer by layer, like an intricate design carved over a thousand hour of soft cinnabar ( Dim Sum 258). The last sentence, specifically, is quite similar to the sentiment Jade Snow Wong expresses in Fifth Chinese Daughter at the end of a chapter titled Lucky to Be Born a Chinese: Yes, it was sometimes very lucky to be born a Chinese daughter. The Americans, Jade Snow heard, did not have a Moon Festival nor a seven day New Year celebration with delicious accompaniments (43). 37 Chop suey is one dish that has ambiguous and unconfirmed origi ns and is largely responsible for the early popularity of Chinese restaurants. According to Richard Hooker in Food and Drink: A History : Among the rapidly growing foreign restaurants, those of the Chinese made the greatest gains. The Chinese Americans did not have to face hostile labor unions as restaurateurs, and chop suey gave them a dish acceptable to Caucasians. Beginning about 1900 Chinese restaurants were opened in towns and cities across the country. For several decades these remained modest and inv ariably featured chop suey (324). In Dim Sum, Lindsey subversively rewrites the origins of chop suey by telling Michael in the gold rush days, Chinese cooks picked scraps out of the garbage and fed it to surly miners. They called it chop suey, and fore igners have been ordering it every since (Keltner 206). In We Are What We Eat, Gabaccia does not relate the same story as Lindsey, but she does illustrate chop sueys questionable origins by asking Was chop suey left overs cooked for drunken American min ers or a special dish prepared for a Chinese visitor? (103). Chop suey has changed from being a familiar, but still exotic, Chinese dish to the quintessential Amercanized, inauthentic Chinese staple, as Heather Schell illustrates in her description of eating at a Chinese restaurant: Once I step into a Chinese restaurant, my personal standards change. I am reluctant to betray any kind of ignorance, even when this pretense is to my disadvantage. If the table is set with silverware, I request chopsticks. I s hun chop suey and chow mein; similarly, I avoid places that offer a small American selection (usually featuring hot dogs or mashed potatoes or other embarrassing food): any Chinese restaurant more tolerant than I of unenlightened American diners must be awful (208). 38 In Buddha Baby the narrator states that Lindseys mom and dad would freak out if they knew her liberal high school and college curricula were teaching her that the American Dream was fraught with ennui, alienation, and personal malaise ( Keltner 75). 39 Monica Domosh states: The tactics [Post and Kellogg] pursued in promoting their new products served as important lessons for other food manufacturing companies: link your product to abstract qualities considered desirable by middle class Am ericans, and advertise those linkages aggressively. In addition, given that there was little in the way of taste or quality to distinguish between most mass produced food products (the standardization of technologies of food manufacturing led to uniform pr oducts), the only way to distinguish, for example, one type of corn flake from the other, was the development and promotion of brand names (11). 40 Lupton notes that [a] dvertisements and packaging seek to create an image around the foodstuff into which co nsumers can fit themselves and which is not necessarily related to its nutritional properties, its taste or its form. This is most obvious with highly processed foods such as soft drinks, confectionary, bottled sauces, frozen and canned foods, snacks and fast foods, which have few well established, distinguishable, natural characteristics giving them meaning (24 ; emphasis added ). The notion that consumers fit themselves into the image surrounding the foodstuffs is critical to understanding that the Ow yangs ingestion of American food products is more complicated than eating American means being American; rather, this consumption of American food should be seen as a psychological investment in which the Owyangs modify themselves according to the Am erican image they wish to project.

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53 41 The narrator states that [f]or years Lindseys standard school lunch had been two slices of any variety of luncheon loaf on white bread with ketchup and Miracle Whip but [w]hen her school tried to kick off Nutrition Week twice a year, she conceded to eating vegetables when her mom packed a Ziploc of sweet pickles and cocktail gherkins (Keltner, Dim Sum 212). 42 Frank Chin and Jeffrey Chan referred to this hybridity as The Concept of the Dual Personality, which they perceived as a debilitating and fragmenting influence on the Chinese American identity (72). Chin and Chan argue that [t]he conflict between the Chinese part and the American part has been a source of white entertainment for the whole of the twentieth century, and thus [v]irtually every book length work by a Chinese American China or American born published in America has stated the concept of the dual personality (73). According to Chin and Chan, The concept of the dual personality successfu lly deprived the Chinese American of all authority over language and thus a means of codifying, communicating, and legitimizing his experience (76). They perceived the notion of the dual personality as effectively precluding the creation of a unique, Ch inese American (masculine) identity. Other Asian American scholars have critiqued Chin and Chans nationalist position (which is clearly posited against an assimilationist position) and have articulated non essentialist conceptions of ethnic identity. In p articular, Lisa Lowe has argued for recognizing that [a]n Asian American subject is never purely and exclusively ethnic, for that subject is always of a particular class, gender, and sexual preference, and may therefore feel responsible to movements that are organized around these other designations (Heterogeneity 32).

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54 CHAPTER 3 CHANGING THE CHICK LIT RECIPE: GENDER, MELANCHOLIA, AND COOKING IN AMULYA MALLADIS SERVING CRAZY WITH CURRY Cookbooks, which usually belong to the humbl e literature of complex civilizations, tell unusual cultural tales. Arjun Appadurai, How to Make a National Cuisine In the previous chapter I argued that cooking provides an apt metaphor for the Owyangs approach to assimilation as combining cultures by combining cultural foods becomes a way to achieve some imaginative closu re to their hyphenated identity. Whereas I found Keltners articulation of cultural resolution through cooking as lacking in conviction (which arguably was a point that she was trying to illustrate), in this chapter, I explore an Asian American chick lit novel, Amulya Malladis Serving Crazy w ith Curry that presents a nuanced and insightful view of how cooking, as a trope, becomes a productive way to express the racial melanchol ia and gendered experience of Asian American women. In this section, I explore the ways in which gender and ethnicity intersect through cooking, particularly by examining the recipes in Serving Crazy and analyzing the relationships formed, reinforced, and deconstructed through the act of cooking. What I find particularly significant in Serving Crazy is Malladis manipulation of the key ingredients (if you will) of both the Asian American and chick lit literary genres, so that even though there are certai n formulaic aspects that align with other Asian American and chick lit texts (mother/daughter relationships, traditional/modern familial conflicts, romantic pursuits), they deviate critically from one another in their representations of ethnicity, familia l relationships, and gendering. I want to invoke here the argument Lisa Lowe makes in her important essay, Heterogeneity, Hybridity, and Multiplicity, which claims that interpreting Asian American culture exclusively in terms of master narratives of gene rational conflict and filial relation essentializes Asian American culture, obscuring the

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55 particularities and incommensurabilities of class, gender, and national diversities among Asians; the reduction of ethnic cultural politics to struggles between first and second generations displaces (and privatizes) inter community differences into a familial opposition. (24) In a similar way to Lowe, I contend that the relationships constructed within Asian American chick lit novels are complex and should not be vi ewed only within the framework of master narratives of generational conflict and filial relation. Specifically, I argue that the trope of cooking within Malladis novel reveals nuances within familial and extrafamilial relationships. Recipes, in particul ar, [imply] an exchange, a giver and a receiver, which suggests that they do not only articulate the complexities of relationships, they also create those relationships (Leonardi 340). As Susan Leonardi argues, [a] recipe isan embedded discourse rathe r than a simple list of instructions on how to create a dish (340)1. Thus, what makes recipes in the novel especially productive to examine is not only what they suggest about the characters relationships, but also how they create relationships between t he reader, author, and characters that further establish a dynamic web of entanglements in which connections are founded on multiple sites: shared gender, shared ethnicity, shared race, and, of course, shared love of cooking and food. Arjun Appadurais arg ument that [c]ookbooks allow women from one ground to explore the tastes of another, just as cookbooks allow women from one group to be represented to another, though contextually referring to middle class, urban women in India2, nonetheless articulates how cookbooks, and I would argue culinary literature in general, can be instrumental in the formation of relationships across regional and ethnic specificities (6)3. Therefore, the relationships depicted (and enacted through the recipes) are not only those of mother daughter stereotypically associated with Asian American novels4, but also sister sister, father daughter, grandmother granddaughter, and reader author. In this way, the argument that Lowe makes that Joy Luck multiplies the sites of cultural con flict, positing a

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56 number of struggles familial and extrafamilialas well as resolutions, without privileging the singularity or centrality of one can also be made about these Asian American chick lit novels ( Heterogeneity 25). Recipes therefore add co mplexity to the characters in Serving Crazy and make their relationships multidimensional in ways that popular criticism of chick lit has often overlooked. In addition, these recipes provide a way for the characters to challenge the abstract boundaries created through ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural affiliations, as well as the material realities that these boundaries engender. Since recipes clearly produce something, they enable symbolic and material critiques of different sites of power (race, gen der, class). While I concede that recipe creation, as presented in this novel, may provide too simplistic of a resolution to the identity crises that these characters face between cultures (specifically, between the Orientalist division of East and West ), I contend that the negotiation that these characters perform in the construction of these recipes (specifically the negotiation between their individual and collective identities) articulate and challenge the ways in which we imagine global subjectivit y, American citizenship, and multiculturalism. I would argue that by incorporating recipes within the narrative, though used as a selling tactic, Malladi politicizes the novel in ways that exceed the generic formula and commercial limitations. In other wor ds, these chick lit characters do not quite perform as predictably as commercial appeal demands; like Keltner, Malladi does not shy away from characters who speak critically about discriminatory practices or the stigma of immigration. While the blow of the se critiques is arguably softened by their fictionalized settings, they nonetheless allude to injuries incurred as a racialized woman that, despite the novels happy ending, become the trauma that these recipes attempt to work through and get over.

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57 While this novel does participate in a kind of food pornography, not unlike what Frank Chin imagined in his Mama Fu Fu caricature, I do not limit my analysis to this particular frame5, but instead situate it within the generative discourses populated by scholar s such as Arjun Appadurai, Anita Mannur, and Parama Roy, who have examined the role of cooking and cookbooks in a South Asian context, as well as Pamela Butler and Jigna Desai, who have argued persuasively for transnational feminist and critical race criti ques of chick lit (specifically South Asian American chick lit). As the term Asian American often homogenizes Asian to mean people of East Asian descent, it is critical to demonstrate that the genre Asian American chick lit is not homogeneous or enti rely composed of East Asian American writers. South Asian American chick lit6Spicing up Silence in Amulya Malladis Serving Crazy with Curry writers, in particular, have been instrumental in shaping the genre. Ultimately, I argue that South Asian American chick lit writers improvise the chick lit recipe of love, car eer, and family and, to quote Appadurai, tell unusual cultural tales of Asian America, being a woman of color, and living the American Dream. In her authors note of Serving Crazy with Cur ry Amulya Malladi states, I didnt want tell the story about immigrants and how they adjust to life in a foreign country. Neither is this the story of the Indian Diaspora and their travails. This is just the story of four women, spanning three generation s and two cultures (Authors Note). Malladis authors note is interesting for several reasons: it emphasizes gender (and deemphasizes race); it privatizes the immigration and assimilation politics in the novel; and it thematizes the narrative as an in tergenerational and cross cultural story. By stating that Serving Crazy is not the story of the Indian Diaspora and their travails, but just the story of four women, Malladi highlights gender to appeal to a broader audience of women readers, but still underscores her ethnic difference by mentioning the

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58 Indian Diaspora. In other words, Malladi appeals to what Leslie Bow identifies as the multicultural appetite for spice, which ethnic and gender content both satisfy (111). This authors note provid es some critical insight into how Malladi would classify her text and how she is negotiating her ethnic and racial difference as an Ethnick lit author. Notably, what is absent from her description is the standard chick lit plot: a story of a single, youn g woman protagonist in pursuit of Mr. Right. Admittedly, Serving Crazy represents somewhat of a generic outlier in Asian American chick lit because of its noticeable absences: there is no romantic pursuit, no Mr. Right, very little to no workplace politics and no shopping sprees. I have chosen to include Malladis text despite these generic deviations not merely because it was marketed as a chick lit novel (which it was)7, but because it is probably the best example of what Tania Modleski articulated as th e difference between romance novels and chick lit: In sum, if romances are novels of illusion, upholding belief in the perfect man, perfect sex, and a life lived happily ever after, many chick lit novels may be called novels of disillusionment (xxiv). To clarify, Malladis novel may not have the generic elements that I mentioned above, but what it does have is the aftermath of the romantic pursuit, the failure of the McJob8, and the debt that accompanies such activities as shopping. In addition, Devi Veturi, the protagonist, shares certain characteristics with other chick lit protagonists: she is in her late twenties, she is struggling with her identity, and she has experienced a series of professional and personal failures. Thus, although Malladis novel does not follow the stereotypical formula attributed to (mainstream) chick lit, it is a melancholic version of chick lit with much of the same elements and a darker point of view (and protagonist). It is chick lit that includes a lover (but the lover is ma rried), where the desire for a baby is fulfilled (only to be quickly taken away by a miscarriage), and where a perfect marriage happens (and ends in divorce).

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59 By suggesting that this novel is chick lit, I am not trying to devalue its merit, but quite th e opposite: I am suggesting that chick lit, specifically Asian American chick lit, consists of more than a list of ingredients (young woman, deadend job, Mr. Right) assembled in the same predictable way. Rather, it is more productive to think of the gener ic conventions of chick lit like a recipe to avoid essentializing and eliding the textual nuances of the genre. In a recipe, context is important9; a cook can improvise and substitute ingredients (obviously limited to a certain extent); order does not nece ssarily always matter; and the result is not always the same there can be critical differences in taste and texture10. In a similar way, context (the authors background, the tools available to her) is important in chick lit, the author can change elements around, and what results may still look like chick lit (and packaged as such), but with noticeable and critical nuances from the original recipe. In the case of Asian American chick lit, many of these nuances exist because of the way that Asian American women have been specifically racialized and gendered. We see these nuances at the beginning of Serving Crazy which ironically starts with a contemplation of the end (that is, of Devis life). A basic summary of the novel could be described as follows: a y oung woman attempts suicide, moves back in with her parents, begins cooking crazy (but good) food, and ultimately decides to go to cooking school. Thus, while the novel has the essential plot of a mainstream chick lit novel (i.e., a young woman finding her identity, a post adolescence bildungsroman11), Malladi critically changes the paradigm so that Devi does not find her identity as a consequence of increased independence from her parents, but rather the opposite: her returning home allows her to work t hrough past trauma and articulate a new identity.

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60 In comparison to Keltners beginning, Malladis does not begin with an enumeration of who Devi is and is not at least, not in the typical sense. When we first meet Devi, she is on the verge of suicide and has created a list divided into two categories: Reasons to Die and Reasons Not to Die (Malladi 4). This list is simultaneously informative and vague, providing a framework for understanding the relationships in the novel, while still leaving out critic al details: REASONS TO DIE 1. Have disappointed the father and grandmother who love me 2. Laid off again 3. Completely in debt 4. Cant pay rent 5. Have had only failed relationships 6. Slept with a married man 7. Had a relationship with a married man 8. Fell in love with a marri ed man 9. Lost a baby REASONS NOT TO DIE 1. Have a loving family (sort of, if mother and sister are not included) 2. Have my health 3. Hmm (Malladi 4) The reasons that are crossed out in the list are explained as the reasons that Devi decided didnt make sense to kill herself over (Malladi 3). However, their persistence on the list (they are not erased, merely stricken through) suggest that Devi is still melancholically grieving over them. Despite what Devi suggests, the crossed out items do matter and they, and the questions they present, haunt the rest of the narrative. What these crossedout items indicate is Devis ambivalence toward these particular losses, an ambivalence, which, must not be overlooked among the preconditions of melancholia (Freud 588)12. In t he context of Freuds theory of melancholia, Devis losses do not lead to a normal kind of mourning, where the desire for these objects are displaced onto new objects; rather, they lead to her melancholically devouring these losses at her own self impove rishment (586588). As the narrative states, [Devi] knew that the losses she incurred had eaten away everything joyous within her (Malladi 4). Her desire to commit suicide shows how she has turned her love for these lost objects (specifically her lost

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61 baby) into hatred against herself, which thereby enables her to not only to contemplate, but also attempt, suicide13. Her suicide attempt is the culmination of her transgressive behavior, or perhaps more accurately, an inability to reconcile her identity wi th the demands of dominant culture. Thus, what begins as teenage rebellion ultimately becomes self destructive and leads to her having an affair with, and becoming impregnated by, her sisters husband, Girish14. Finding Home and Gendered Spaces: The Parad ox of (Diasporic) Domesticity Devis suicide attempt151. Devi completely stopped talking clearly results in a critical and transformative shift not only in her life, but also in the Veturi family structure. After her suicide attempt, Devi moves back into her parents house to recover, whic h effects two notable changes: 2. Devi started cooking Two things she did with such intensity and consistency that it drove her already shaken family up the wall. (Malladi 12) In other words, Devi appears to become the traditi onal model of femininity through her cooking and silence16. However, Devis cooking and silence are not capitulations to ideas of femininity or returns to prefeminism, but rather are rewritten as subversive acts that upset her family dynamic. In addition, t he agency she asserts through these acts subverts the idea that a womans liberation lies in the (Westernized) teleological movement toward greater independence from ones family17. Prior to her suicide attempt, Devi was, in the Americanized sense, liberat ed from her family, but such liberation did not bring happiness (as chick lit novels and other Asian American novels assert), but rather increased feelings of alienation. Her suicide attempt and subsequent retreat into silence and cooking could be viewe d as a patriarchal form of punishment for fuck[ing] everything that moves, but I would argue that Malladi is questioning the (white) liberal feminist narrative that female empowerment lies in the denunciation of traditionally feminine activities (such as cooking) and in the rejection of

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62 silence18 (Malladi 52). Butler and Desai argue that [i]n South Asian American chick litthe protagonists desire is not to sever ties of dependency, but to reform those connections to allow for the satisfaction of both t he protagonist and her family (15). What Malladi appears to be articulating is the power of family that is often denigrated and devalued as an obstacle to becoming an individual.19 I would argue that Malladis text, therefore, does not portray the clich d clash between traditionalism and modernity, but a negotiation between those constructs and a rewriting of the prefeministbut becoming enlightened narrative (Bow 73). Upon returning to her parents home, food and silence thus serve as Devis primary me ans of her communication with her family. However, Devis silence did not only begin after her suicide attempt; she is described as going into silence modewhenever she got upset or whenever she didnt want to say anything to anyone (Malladi 62). Notably she only goes into silence mode when she is at her mothers house (Malladi 62). Devi first went into silence mode in the fourth grade, when she was accused of stealing her pretty as Barbie classmates dollar and twenty three cents and breaking her nose (Malladi 62; 29). Devi notes that she maintained silence rather than defend herself, knowing that if she protested too much, theyd blame her for lying on top of stealing (Malladi 62). What Devi does not say is that her pretty as Barbie classm ate had called her a thief and a brown skinned refugee (Malladi 62). Devis decision not to speak shows that she has internalized the notion that somehow her pretty as Barbie classmates words mean more, that they would be received as Truth while h ers would only count as lies. Her internalization, as Cheng would argue, expresses agency as well as abjection (17). Her racial grief prevents her from speaking, but this is not to suggest that her silence is not subversive; rather, I would suggest, in t he context of Chengs argument of racial

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63 melancholia, that her silence is a complex articulation of agency, which is a convoluted, ongoing, generative, and at times self contradicting negotiation with pain (15)20Yet, more than silence in the novel, cooking becomes the way that Devi primarily exercises her agency and conveys her feelings toward her family. When she moves back in with her parents, Devi becomes the household cook, thereby displacing Saroj (her mother) from what had traditionally been her r ole 21. Devi was never allowed to cook growing up because Saroj lived in fear that Devi, Shobha, or even Vasu would put things away in the wrong place or ruin her perfectly managed kitchen (Malladi 70). For Saroj, the kitchen is her domain and cooking provides a way to return home to India. When Saroj first came to the U.S., back when there were not a hundred Indian restaurants all over the Bay Area and an Indian grocery store within sneezing distance, what she seemed to miss the most was the community that cooking provided her in India (Malladi 85). The narrative describes Saroj as want[ing] to go home where she could chat with the milkman in the morning and buy vegetables in her front year from the vendors (Malladi 85). Saroj does not have the same c ommunity in the U.S., or any supportive community for that matter, which intensifies her loneliness and nostalgia for India22. Although she made a few friendsit wasnt the same[w]hen she stepped out of her house there was nothing familiar, no vegetable vendor selling coriander and mint, no coconut vendor selling coconut water (Malladi 86)23. Thus, what Malladi conveys in her characterization of Saroj is not only the alienation that diasporic women experience from their adopted homes, but also the sense of homelessness that uniquely defines their condition. Unlike her husband and her children, Saroj does not have communities outside of the home to assimilate her (or help her become assimilated). Instead, Saroj develops friendships with other diasporic India n women, who maintain their ties to India by hav[ing] marathon movie sessions of Hindi movies (Malladi

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64 139). It is not simply that Devi and Shobha are more assimilated because they are second generation, but as Butler and Desai argue, in the absence of a n ethnic community, they have [relied] entirely on a white support system which often replicates the experience of assimilation (18). In this respect, Sarojs limited community outside of the home also limits the extent of her assimilation. Even though Saroj gradually realizes that there was nothing to go back to that is, no home as she has idealized it cooking becomes a way to reclaim the homeland that she has lost (Malladi 86). Yet, in a more complicated sense, cooking is also the way she negot iates an identity and articulates a space within a country that is closed to her as an immigrant and a woman. As Anita Mannur argues: The domestic arenabecomes a space to reproduce culture and national identityimmigrants often invent an image of the hom eland as an unchanging and enduring cultural essence and are often singular about the ontological coherency of their national cuisines. (Culinary Nostalgia 14)24By cooking, Devi disrupts the orderliness of the kitchen, and in doing so, challenges what gendered discourse has deemed valuable (masculinized labor) and dismissed as invaluable (feminized work). Not only does Devi come to appreciate the paradoxically visible, yet invisible, Therefore, the kitchen becomes a place where Saroj can claim her culinary citizenship to I ndia, which Mannur describes as a form of affective citizenship which grants subjects the ability to claim and inhabit certain subject positions via their relationship to food (Culinary Nostalgia 13). In addition to providing Saroj access (if construct ed) to her home, the kitchen also serves as the primary place where Saroj has control, a space that becomes entirely hers due to her ban[ning] everyone from using it (Malladi 70). The kitchen thus represents a forbidden space to Devi, which her suicide attempt suddenly makes accessible. It gives Devi immense pleasure to walk into her mothers kitchen and start cooking (Malladi 70).

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65 products of Sarojs labors as a homemaker (namely food), she also comes to see how her cooking is not a practice that returns to a prefeminist feminine sensibility, but one though which she, and other women such as Saroj, can find a place in the world, even if that place is confined within the parameters of stereotypical femininity. The kitchen is an ex ample of the domestic paradox that Benay Blend describes, a place where [o]n the one hand, it defines territory in which women are honored as the carriers of tradition. On the other, it encloses women within a female space defined by external assumption s (I Am An Act 46). Like her kitchen, Saroj is depicted as constructing and [feeling] stifled within the boundaries shed set for herself (Malladi 83). Yet, the kitchen is the one place where she is empowered, where she defines who goes in and out of the space, what actions are performed within the space, and what products are created there. What Malladi appears to be negotiating within her novel are the limited forms of agency available to racialized, young women, who seem to be given an either/or choice of renouncing feminine activities such as cooking in order to compete within a masculinized workforce or marrying and becoming homemakers. While this either/or choice can be viewed as similar to the choice offered to white, young women, I would argu e that race and ethnicity critically inflects this choice so that for racialized women, it is not merely a choice to be feminist or not (or perhaps less provocatively, to be modern or not) but more insidiously, a choice to be assimilated or not. Ch oosing the stereotypically feminine route of homemaking is particularly fraught for the racialized woman, whose citizenship to contemporary femininity (as expounded by mainstream chick lit texts and popular television shows such as Sex and the City ) seem s contingent upon her willingness to adopt a progressive view of female autonomy, which is figured as incompatible with her traditional (read: repressive), ethnic heritage25. Thus,

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66 mainstream chick lit, and the criticism that it engenders, often problematically propagates, in its appeal to a female universality, a construct of liberation that is naturalized as desirable for every woman, regardless of race, ethnicity, or class26Malladi thus critiques liberal feminism and the postfeminist label often leveled against chick lit by showing how the framework such feminism establishes can become another kind of repression, where engagement in stereotypically feminine behaviors implies a backwardness or laziness on the part of the woman. Through her critique, Malladi suggests that cooking offers a form of empowerment that challenges the devaluation of feminized labor, as well as the denial of ones ethnic heritage. The question underlying Malladis characterization of Devi and Shobha as a closet feminist and a postfeminist, respectively, seems to be What is wrong with cooking?, or, more specifically, What is wrong with cooking ethnic food? Devis and Shobhas perspectives of feminists and feminism reproduce a problematic dynamic often seen in popul ar criticisms of chick lit; that is, they both blame other women (specifically homemakers) for perpetuating or creating problems for working women 27. Malladi describes Devi as a closet feminist who, like her sister Shobha, had developed a healthy disrespect for homemakers (Malladi 132). Shobha is described as wish[ing] things were different and accus[ing] feminists for screwing up her lot in life (Malladi 132). As Shobha says, Some bitch burns her bra and now all of a sudden I have to work for a living and keep house. If it were the good old days I could happily sit at home doing nothing while Girish brought home the money (Malladi 132). Clearly, Shobhas depiction of homemakers problematically devalues their labor and presents an oversimplified view of what they do (women who sit at home doing nothing). Shobha crudely conveys what Michelle Sidler argues is the condition of contemporary, middle class, young women, Most twentysomething women do not question the possibility of work,

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67 and not necessari ly because we feel particularly empowered or independent (26). Malladi suggests in her portrayals of Devi and Shobha, who are presented as quite different in their respective careers and personal lives, that greater independence has not necessarily engendered more security, either materially (in ones career or personal life) or abstractly (in ones sense of self), for either of them. In a similar way to Shobha, Devi believes that [homemakers]made it hard for career women like herself to break the glas s ceiling. No matter what, every man who hired a woman thought about the woman going away on maternity leave and not coming back to work because she didnt want to leave her child in day care (Malladi 132). In the configuration of power that Devi describe s, it is men who do the hiring and women who are hired. Notably, what Shobha and Devi do not acknowledge are the institutional structures that have created and fostered this unequal gender dynamic. Devis generalization about the workforce, though too simp listic, nonetheless alludes to the deepseated structural inequalities that the second wave feminist movement did not eliminate or change. The kitchen, therefore, serves a space where a woman can challenge these inequalities and exercise a certain amount of control over what she creates, so that what she produces in this space becomes an expression of her creativity and her identity28. Devi notes how [s]he, who had never cooked, never been part of the kitchen militia, was a general now (Malladi 133). Mall adis use of a militaristic metaphor to describe Devis cooking experience disrupts the gendered division of masculine and feminine labor, inscribing value to the practice of cooking by using the terms of dominant discourse that valorizes masculine (milita ry) action. This metaphor illustrates how Devi and her mother act as a team to cook Devis recipes, a metaphor that departs from the rigidly defined lines between homemaker and career woman that Devi and Shobha identify. Whereas the masculinized workplace can lead to women becoming divided against one

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68 another, the passing down of recipes and food traditions [suggest] new ways to configure community and family (Blend, I Am an Act 46). Blend contends that [t]o remember a recipe is to honor the woman it c omes from, how it was passed on to her, and where she situates herself within a culinary female lineage that defies patriarchal notions of genealogy (I Am an Act 46). Cooking can thus be viewed as both as an individualized act of identity articulation ( which includes such processes as recipe creation, development, and improvisation), as well as a communal act that can build relationships across generational, racial, ethnic, regional, gender, and class lines29Add Trauma and Stir: Melancholic Recipes Creating recipes and new dishes becomes a way for Devi to work through not only the trauma of her suicide attempt, but also the lingering trauma of her childhood, her failed post adolescence, and the secrets she cannot tell her family. Devi begins cooking and creating recipes shortly after finding an old notebook of her mothers that contains a recipe for Girijas goat sabzi (Malladi 66). Devi recognizes this recipe as Sarojs famous goat curry, which Saroj never revealedbelonged to some woman called Gi rija and that Saroj had acquired the recipe in 1970 in Jorhat (Malladi 66). Thus, this recipe, which is the first recipe in the novel, is the bearer of a secret that Saroj has kept hidden from her family. Though minor, the notion of the recipe as secret is critical in the context of the novel, which plot revolves around a multitude of family secrets. Through this initial secret, Malladi establishes a frame to read the rest of the recipes that Devi creates. Significantly, what Malladi also illustrates in the passage of the recipe from Girija to Saroj to Devi is the transformation a recipe can undergo (Girijas goat sabzi has become Sarojs famous goat curry). The use of the word curry instead of sabzi (which Malladi does not define) indicates an adaptation of the recipe that marks it as Westernized. According to Uma

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69 Narayan, [c] urry exists of course in one fairly simple sense, on the menus of Indian restaurants, and in bottles of curry powder to be found even in unpretentious US grocery stores But search through the shelves in an Indian kitchen, or grocery store, and you will find no bottles labeled curry powder The recipe adaptation30 that Saroj makes from sabzi to curry shows how she has assimilated through her cooking (in her use of the word curry31), but has also retained an ethnic exoticism (as indicated in her use of goat meat32In this passage, Malladi is clearly trying to fabricate an authenticity, using the words jeera and dhaniya instead of cumin and coriander (67). However, this fabrication also creates a complication fo r the reader, as Malladi does not provide a list of what all the terms she uses mean. The list that she provides on the next page is incomplete, so that if readers were to try to replicate this recipe, they would be unsuccessful. Malladi seems to tantalize her audience with the recipe instructions, yet the audience does not receive full satisfaction in knowing what all the words mean nor the pleasure of being able to experience Sarojs famous goat curry for themselves. As Parama Roy argues, this refusa l of complete disclosure can be the most productive of readerly gratification (487; emphasis in original)33. In other words, the lengthy descriptions of eating food are in some ways more pleasurable than eating the food itself. Yet, Malladi does not desc ribe fully what Sarojs famous goat curry contains; she offers ). What is different about this recipe, compared to recipes typically found in cookbooks, is that it does not provide list of ingredients or instructions Instead, the recipe is written as one would orally describe it: Get good goat and clean it well. Chop out some of the thick fat but let the rest stay, it doesnt hurt and the fat content will give sabzi more tasteMake sure you remove all the stringy par ts of the ginger; they dont harm, but still, why have that to get stuck in between the teeth. Fry nicely on medium heat for a while. Dont hurry otherwise the sabzi wont turn out rightAfter a while, add some ground jeera, dhaniya, and elaichi. You can a lso add a little dal chini and lavang. (Malladi 66)

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70 translations for most of the Indian spices included in the recipe except for two. The absence of these two spices suggests a subtle subversion, a certain unwillingness on Malladis part to play the culinary tour guide (at least in what Frank Chin might call the food pornographic sense). This goat curry recipe is the only recipe that Devi finds in Sarojs notebook, which is significant to consider since Jorhat was the last place in India t hat Saroj lived prior to leaving for the U.S. In the history that Malladi provides about Saroj, Jorhat symbolically represents the last time, at least for Saroj, that the Veturi family was happy (84). The fact that Girijas Goat Sabzi (or Sarojs famou s goat curry) is the only recipe included in Sarojs notebook is suggestive of the object that Saroj lost and for which she is melancholically grieving. That is, this recipe alludes to the beginning of a new life that Saroj had hoped would fulfill her longing for a stable home life (which was denied to her as a child of divorced parents), as well as the home that Saroj lost in her move to the U.S. Moreover, although Malladi never reveals who Girija was, Girijas recipe instructions convey a certain auth ority that suggests that she was a mother figure to Saroj. Given Sarojs strained relationship with her mother, Vasu (and Vasua admitted lack of maternal instinct), Girijas recipe seems to be important to Saroj because it represents the type of mother ly instruction that Vasu did not provide (Malladi 41). As Anne Goldman argues, The act of passing down recipes from mother to daughter, then, not only provides an apt metaphor for the reproduction of culture across generations but also creates a figurati ve home space from within which the I can begin the process of self articulation (Goldman 9). Thus, when Devi takes the notebook for herself and uses it to write down all of her recipes, not only is she claiming a tie with her mother, she is also articu lating her own trauma and fulfilling the promise of self realization that began the notebook34.

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71 When Devi begins cooking, the recipes that she creates are quite different from Sarojs dishes and from the dishes one might find at a local Indian restaurant. With names like Angry at Vasu Grilled Chicken in Blueberry Curried Sauce and Lamb Clitoris, these recipes clearly depart from familiar Indian dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala and Aloo Gobi. The question becomes, what does Devis divergence from tradit ional Indian recipe suggest? Benay Blend states that changing the recipe can be a formula for the construction of a creative space in which to defy those limits imposed by society on women writers ( In the Kitchen 157). Thus, Devis act of changing the standard recipes can be viewed as analogous to Malladis act of changing the chick lit formula; both challenge genre conventions and in doing so, articulate new possibilities for what counts, respectively, as food and literature. To that end, Devis r ecipe creations seem less about intentionally hybridizing Sarojs standard Indian fare with American elements (in other words, creating a fusion cuisine that neatly reconciles her Indian and American identities) and more about resisting the limitations o f labels, conventions, and formulas that define ones role in life. Her suicide attempt was clearly a rejection of the life she previously led (and the labels she was identified by), as well as a violation of social mores. As tragic as her suicide attempt was, it was nonetheless a response to the limitations imposed on the racialized woman, whose gender and ethnic identifications often lead to disempowered marginalization. Malladi rewrites this marginalized space as potentially empowering, as Devis status as suicidal mute not only allows her a certain autonomy that was denied to her as a functioning, social subject, but also enables her to be creative35It is through cooking that Devi primarily asserts her newfound autonomy; she makes new di shes that deviate from her mothers standard South Indian fare (Malladi 71). 36. The first recipe that Devi creates in the aftermath of her suicide attempt is called The Anti Saroj Chutney which, as its

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72 name suggests, is a direct challenge to Sarojs chutney (and Saroj s way of cooking). Her recipe includes mint, like Sarojs chutney, but also has unconventional chutney ingredients like apricot and chipotle chili peppers. From The Anti Saroj Chutney recipe onward, the end of the chapters mostly include one of Devis unique creations, written in firstperson and detailing not only the steps to create the recipes, but also the stories behind them37The r est of the recipes in Serving Crazy vary in their unconventional tastes: at the beginning of Devis cooking, the recipes are more unusual (they combine unexpected ingredients together, such as blueberries and curry) and do not have the elements typically f ound in recipes (i.e., an ingredient list, numbered list of steps, etc.). However, as Devi begins to cook more and develops an appreciation for her mothers culinary contributions, her recipe entries include some In contrast to the first recipe presented in the novel (Girijas Goat Sabzi), the voice in these latter recipes differs in that they are less instructional and more contemplative. That is, Devi does not simply state that the reader should soak the apricots in the water for the chutney, but rather describes the different steps of the recipe as extended thought processes: Soaki ng the apricots in water seemed a good way to make them mushy but soaking them in sugar water seemed like an even better idea. It would make the chutney sweet. Surveying the fridge, my eye caught the ginger. Mama buys big chunks of ginger. Lots of garlic a nd ginger in her food. Maybe not garlic in the chutney, but definitely ginger. Lots of ginger for a sharp tangy taste. (Malladi 78). In this one recipe, Devi clearly shows her antagonism toward her mother (the recipe is called The Anti Saroj Chutney afte r all), but this antagonism is mixed with nostalgia for her mothers food. Devis rumination that Saroj has [l]ots of garlic and ginger in her food leads her to incorporate ginger, but not garlic, into the chutney. The different flavors that this chutney seems to possess sweetness from the apricots and sharp tanginess from the ginger are not only left to the readers imagination (Malladi does not provide any exact quantities), they are also illustrative of Devis complex feelings toward her mother.

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73 of her mothers dishes (Bread and Aloo Gre nades with Tamarind Yogurt Chutney) or combine her mothers staples with her own modifications (Mamas Rasam with My Pastry) (Malladi 195; 179). One recipe is not actually a recipe for food at all, but one for Life (Malladi 117). The recipes that come earlier in the novel also mark a certain passage of time since Devis suicide attempt (e.g., Devis Cajun Prawn Biriyani has the subtitle Day 8 after coming home from the hospital), while the recipes that come later mark certain milestones in Devis c onvalescence (e.g., Devis Dosa with Sambhar recipe has the subtitle The day I decided my future) (Malladi 93; 211). The recipe for Lamb Clitoris, in particular, marks a climactic turning point in the novel, as Devis secret miscarriage is revealed to her family. Devis former lover and friend, Jay, comes to the house while she is at a therapists appointment and tells her family about the miscarriage. He knows about the miscarriage because it was he, rather than her family, that Devi contacted to ta ke her to the hospital and hold her hand through the ordeal. Although Devi asked him to keep her miscarriage a secret, he decides to tell her family after he learns of her suicide attempt. Devi thus creates the recipe Lamb Clitoris in honor of Jay, the clitoris, and of course the day when my wall of secrets fell apart around me (Malladi 163). As the most sexualized recipe in the novel, Lamb Clitoris merges the symbol of innocence (the lamb) with female genitalia (the clitoris) to articulate Devis tra umatic feelings about her miscarried baby (the innocent who died) and her transgressive sex acts (her sexual relationships with both her brother in law and Jay, whose skin color makes him an unsuitable partner for Devi in Sarojs eyes ) (Malladi 38). The sexualized overtones of this recipe suggest, at least in part, that Devi blames her loss on her sexual behavior. The relationship between

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74 transgressive sex acts and the baby is clear in the structure of the recipe, which begins with sexual images and en ds with a discussion of the lost baby : Jay once told me that the pomegranate seed is sometimes compared to the clitoris for being pink, succulent, and an aphrodisiac These days whenever I cook, I stop to think that if my baby were alive, what would I be c ooking? Where would I be? I think about it a lot. I think about it a lot while I cook and then I imagine that the child was to be and the child was as old as me and I was as old as my mother and everything was different. (Malladi 163). The last paragrap h of the recipe is particularly significant because it indicates the relationship between Devis cooking and the trauma she experienced. Clearly, cooking becomes a way for Devi to melancholically grieve the loss of the baby by providing a way to fetishize what could have been had the baby lived. The recipes in the novel can thus be seen as melancholic, as Devi displaces her desire for the lost baby on the food she creates, which she then consumes and begins the process of grieving again. Devis familys r esponse to her secret miscarriage, specifically Sarojs response, is not like Devi imagined, which effects a critical change in their relationship. The revelation of Devis secret, in fact, becomes a transformative event for the Veturi family, as her secret leads to the revelation of other secrets, such as Devis affair with Girish, the farce of Shobha and Girishs marriage, and Sarojs abortion when Shobha was three months. In the aftermath of this critical night, Devi and Saroj begin cooking together, making rasam from scratch. The recipe that Devi creates with Sarojs rasam pays homage to Sarojs talent as a cook, but also adds her own creative twist by putting puff pastry over the rasam (Malladi 165). However, even as Devi rebuilds her relationship wit h her mother, she does not begin to talk until after Shobha confronts her about her affair with Girish. Shobha decides to do so after a series of life changing events: she loses her job, decides to divorce Girish, and moves back into her parents house. In other words, Shobha loses everything that made her and her life appear

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75 perfect. Ultimately, the two Veturi daughters, who each made different (if not opposite) decisions in their lives, end up in the same place: at their parents home, in need of new be ginnings and familial support. That Devi and Shobha seem to end up in the same place suggests that neither marriage nor single life, the two statuses that come to define women in their contemporary lives, engender the happiness one expects. Even Saroj and Avi, who have been married for a long time, are not content in their situation and teeter on the edge of divorce throughout the novel. In contrast to mainstream chick lit novels, Malladi challenges the idea that marriage is the ideal goal of a womans lif e. As Devis cooking and recipes show, a woman has choices outside of heteronormative relationships to define a subjectivity that brings happiness and satisfaction. Moreover, simply because cooking has long been affiliated with the gendered construct of fe mininity does not preclude, and should not preclude, the creative and resistant possibilities within this practice. To that end, in response to the question I posited before, What is wrong with cooking ethnic food?, I would argue that Malladi is suggesti ng that there is nothing wrong with cooking ethnic food. Cooking ethnic food is more complicated than gaining access in mainstream society (as Chin would argue); rather, the process of cooking ethnic food is significant in the context of diasporic nostal gia for ones home, as well as the individual negotiation of ones subjectivity in relationship to a larger ethnic and gendered community. Notes 1 Susan Leonardi argues that such recipes, stripped of their context, would make for an unpopular cookbook indeed (Leonardi 340). 2 Significantly, this phrase could describe the audience who reads chick lit as well. 3 This is not to disregard the importance of cultural context in reading cookbooks or recipes In her critique of Susan Leonardis argument in Recipes for Reading, Anne Goldman argues that we read the embedded discourse of the cookbook not as an archetypally feminine language but rather as a form of writing which, if gender coded, is also a culturally cont ingent production (7).

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76 4 Leslie Bow argues that The Joy Luck Club does not merely comment on the way the trope of t he mother/daughter relationship comes to symbolize Asian American culture but, in fact, participates in constructing this trope ( Betrayal 110). 5 In her article Peeking Ducks and Food Pornographers, Anita Mannur states: If it is possible read food pornography as a symbolic act, one that does not detour into heterosexism, sexism, and homophobia, the concept retains usefulness for navigating AsianAmerican alimentary metaphors because it fashions a language for critiquing self Orientalizing gestures that rely on the active commodification of ones purposed exotic ethnic appeal in order to make a living (24). 6 By using this designation South Asian American, I am not intending to homogenize or ghettoize these novels within Asian American chick lit but rather to articulate this groups fraught positionality within the Asian American pan ethnic movement, which has historically had a west coast, East Asian centric focus. 7 For example, t he back cover of Serving Crazy features blurbs from reviews by other chick lit authors, such as Kavita Daswani ( For Matrimonial Purposes ) and Sarah Salway ( The ABCs of Love ). 8 See Michelle Sidlers Living in McJobdom: Third Wave Feminism and Class Inequity. 9 Susan Leonardi argues that [l]ike a story, a recipe n eeds a recommendation, a context, a point, a reason to be (340). She suggests that cookbooks which explain the context for the inclusion or exclusion of a particular ingredient (or for that matter, recipe) and have highly embedded discourses is more cond ucive to good cooking (343). 10 Lisa Heldkes Recipes for Theory Making provided me with a theoretical basis to think through this argument. The main argument in Heldkes essay is that cooking is a form of inquiry that is anti essentialist, that success fully merges the theoretical and the practice, and that promotes a self reflective and interactive model of an inquiry relationship (16). Heldke describes a recipe as a description or explanation of how to do something specifically how to prepare a parti cular kind of food. As such, it does not present itself as the way to make that food the opinion of some eaters notwithstanding (23). Thus, a recipe has a certain level of flexibility depending on what kind of result that you want and what limitations you face (Heldke 24). Moreover, Heldke argues that the decision that what recipes one chooses to make are informed by external and internal factors, such as personal history, health/nutrition and environmental concerns (Heldke 25). In this way, I see the wa y that Asian American chick lit authors adapt the chick lit recipe as also informed by similar factors, which notably changes the result, not so much in form, but in more abstract areas, what may be called the taste or texture when applied to food. 11 Pam ela Butler and Jigna Desai describe the relationship between the chick lit novel and a bildungsroman as follows: Dominant white chicklit novels, as bildungsromans describe the coming of age of the modern subject and narrate the integration of the citize n subject into t he nationstate More specifically, the bildungsroman traces the development and coming into maturation of the individual as she finds her proper location in community and society For women's bildungsromans this usually means a conclusion i n which identity, status, and position are determined through a proper marriage sanctioned by family, society, and nation state. In modern bildungsromans this maturation is increasingly marked as the ability to adapt oneself to a globalized society, to gain entrance into a professional labor class and to access its corresponding bourgeois luxury and leisure consumption, and to develop a comprehensive self knowledge that is linked to a well articulated identity (15). 12 Devis ambivalence is apparent when h er therapist, Dr. Berkeley, finds out about her miscarriage and asks Devi if the baby was the reason for her suicide attempt. Devi is described as nod[ding] again and then [shaking] her head and then nod[ding] again (Malladi 135). 13 I have somewhat si mplified Freuds argument, which he explains in detail in Mourning and Melancholia: If the love for the object a love which cannot be given up though the object itself is given up take refuge in narcissistic identification, then the hate comes into oper ation on this substitutive object, abusing it, debasing it, making it suffer and deriving sadistic satisfaction from its sufferingIt is this sadism alone that solves the riddle of the tendency to

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77 suicide which makes melancholia so interesting and so dange rous...The analysis of melancholia now shows that the ego can kill itself only if, owing to the return of the object cathexis, it can treat itself as an object if it is able to direct against itself the hostility which relates to an object and which repres ents the egos original reaction to objects in the external world (588). 14 Devi and Shobha have a complicated relationship that stems from their respective roles as the prodigal daughter and the good daughter (Malladi 33) Unlike Devi, Shobha appears (at the beginning of the novel) to be quite professionally and personally successful. She is a vice president of engineering at a software company and married to a Stanford professor in quantum mechanics (Malladi 7; 110). The narrative notes that [f]or a very long time Devi had been jealous of Shobha; part of her still was (Malladi 7). However, despite Shobhas successes, she is unable to have children. Devis pregnancy (with Shobhas husband no less), while unintentional, nonetheless appears to be an appropriation of the life she envies, as well as the chance to have something that Shobha doesnt (and can never) have. Eventually, the two sisters end up in the same place (living with their parents) after Shobha decides to divorce her husband. Malladi s hows, throughout the course of the novel, that the two sisters, despite being portrayed and perceived as opposites of one another, are really not that different after all. As Shobha reflects after Devis suicide attempt, She could in some way understand w hy Devi tried to end her life. Sometimes Shobha could feel the pressure from within to finish it, to get away and not deal with deadlines, Girish, her ditzy mother, life. But she didnt have the raw guts. Even in this, Shobha admitted, she was envious that Devi could do something about her useless life, while Shobha could only pretend that hers was perfect, which made her life worse because it was dishonest (Malladi 53). 15 Interestingly, Devis suicide attempt is not linked to any female figures in the f amily, which is seen in other Asian American novels such as The Joy Luck Club ; rather, it is connected to her maternal grandfathers suicide. He and Devis maternal grandmother, Vasu, divorced because of his abusive nature; shortly thereafter, he killed hi mself (Malladi 8). 16 Butler and Desai argue that [m]ost chick lit novels rewrite the bildungsromans conventional relation between the female self and family by suggesting that the female protagonist does not simply move from her parental home to her mari tal home, but may instead live independently. In dominant white chick lit, this separation from family is seen as essential for marking the self sufficiency and maturation of the individual prior to marriage (15). 17 As Leslie Bow states: To some extent, narratives of gender progress that portray Asian women as prefeminist but becoming enlightened seem to promise a teleological movement toward modernization expressed through the hope of increasingly democratic gender relationships ( Betrayal 73). 18 See Kin g Kok Cheungs Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Joy Kogawa. Cheung contests the valorization of speech by both AngloAmerican feminists and Asian American male critics (1). Her text argues that Yamamoto, Kingston, and Kogawa challenge blanket endorsements of speech and reductive perspectives on silence, thereby demonstrating how silencescan also be articulate (3 4). 19 The novel recalls that when Devi was younger, she would ask her father what would happen if she was eve r left in a lurch (Malladi 61). Her father says that all Devi would have to do is state, Daddy, come get me, and he would come and rescue her (Malladi 61). While this scene undoubtedly reinforces a patriarchal narrative that women need men to save them, I would suggest that Malladi also complicates the perception that one needs to cut the cord with ones parents that is, that family is essentially unimportant. Yet, for racialized subjects, specifically racialized women, family is important because it provides a support structure that marginalized people do not have access to within dominant culture (Butler and Desai 17). 20 Another racist incident that Malladi describes is when Devi was eleven and experienced her first kiss. A couple days after the kiss, she attempts to kiss the boy again, only to be told that the boys priest said it was wrong to kiss a brownie slut (Malladi 55). Until that moment, Devi is described as never really notic[ing] her skin color compared to those around her (Malladi 56). After that day, she always knew she was brown (Malladi 56). Three years later, when she kisses a boy again, and he tries to kiss her a second time, she told him that Father Velzquez, from her church, told her that it was wrong to kiss boys, espec ially whities (Malladi 60). Like Lindsey, Devi thus

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78 repeats the violent cycle of assimilation, trying to inflict upon others the pain that was inflicted upon her. However, because the boy is white, and not another racialized person, his response to her is quite different than what she expected and instead of feeling vindicated, she cant remember why it had seemed like the right think to do when shed rehearsed it in her head time and again for the past three years (Malladi 60). 21 Clearly, Devi and Saroj s relationship is strained, even though Devi realizes certain similarities between her and Saroj. Like Devi, Saroj had no solid successes to her credit; in this way, both Devi and Saroj differ from Devis sister (Shobha), her dad (Avi), and her grandmot her (Vasu) (Malladi 6). It is critical to note that Shobha, Avi, and Vasu are considered successes because they have excelled in the masculinized field of technology (in the case of Shobha and Avi) and military (Vasu). Sarojs accomplishments as a mother or wife, because these successes are in the private arena and feminized, are inherently less valued (Malladi 6). Notably, even though Saroj encourages Devi to be successful like Shobha, Saroj herself chose to give up her schooling and a possible career wh en she got married to Avi. Though Avi did not ask her to give up her these things, Saroj wanted to because she wanted to be a wife and a mother (Malladi 83). 22 Appadurai notes that In the contemporary Indian situation, and to some degree generically, c ookbooks appear to belong to the literature of exile, of nostalgia and loss. These books are often written by authors who now live outside India, or at least away from the subregion about which they are writing (18). 23 Malladis descriptions of Sarojs a ctivities as a homemaker in India suggest that Saroj had greater mobility in India (she was not, in other words, confined to her home), as well as a more empowered sense of agency. Therefore, the teleology that American mythology has popularly inscribed of the Third World woman becoming liberated upon entering and living in America is challenged by Malladis construction of Saroj feeling more confined, not less, to her domestic space in America. 24 As Appadurai similarly argues, [i]n the contemporary I ndian situation, and to some degree generically, cookbooks appear to belong to the literature of exile of nostalgia and loss (18). 25 See The Triumph of the Prefeminist Woman? Incorporating Racial Difference Through Feminist Narrative in Leslie Bows Bet rayal and Other Acts of Subversion. Susan Koshy also argues convincingly in Sexual Naturalization that the stereotypical femininity often attributed to Asian American women has made them more attractive than white or African American women as partners. Sh e states that in the wake of second wave feminism, the Asian American woman came to stand in for the more traditional model of family centered femininity challenged by feminists (Koshy 16). Koshy argues that Asian American women have become the sexual m odel minority. According to Koshy, as the sexual model minority, an Asian American woman cannot entirely displace the white woman, whose appeal is reinforced by racial privilege and the power of embodying the norm, but she does, nevertheless, represent a powerfully seductive form of femininity that can function as a mode of crisis management in the cultural contest over different meanings in America (17). 26 As Butler and Desai argue, the charges leveled against chick lit as symptomatic of an apolitical postfeminism mask an inability to address the insidious ways in which empire, whiteness, and American nationalism are at the center of both neoliberal and liberal feminisms in the U.S. (6). They contend that [b]y focusing exclusively on questions of gender and feminism, this framework re centers white women as the subjects of feminism who must be saved from the threat of postfeminist apoliticism, and from the popular culture that is imagined as a cause and/or symptom of that apoliticism (6). 27 Tani a Modleski argues that chick lits female detractors would do well to stop blaming other women for their misfortunes in the publishing world and to redirect their anger to its true sourcethe male dominated literary establishment that supports and awards the big boy books that get much more airtime than women writers of literary fiction (xxiii). 28 Of course, it is not always the case that the kitchen provides a woman with a certain level of freedom or autonomy. Ketu Ketrak recalls her essay Food and Belonging: At Home in Alien Kitchens that cooking did not give my mother any authority within the family hierarchy (267). Although described as a very fine and

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79 intuitive cook, Ketraks mothers sprit of accomplishment was often snuffed by [he r] fathers critical palate (Ketrak 264). In Ketraks essay, cooking is a source of pain and conflict as a child, a trauma that she eventually overcomes to create a sense of home in alien locations (272). 29 As Blend states, Particularly for ethnic wo men writers, reproducing a recipe, like retelling a story, requires that they maneuver between personal and collective texts, between an autobiographical I and various for ms of a political/cultural we (In the Kitchen, 147). 30 According to Lucy Long, one of the strategies of negotiation that producers enact in order to make foreign or unfamiliar food palatable to the consumer is through receipt adaptation (43). Long states that recipe adaptationinvolves the manipulation of the ingredients and prepar ation methods of particular dishes in order to adapt to the foodways system of the anticipated consumers (43). In her discussion of food festivals, Long notes that festivals frequently adapted recipes to produce foods that would seem familiar yet still o ut of the ordinary and with an aura of exoticness (43). 31 Sarojs (or perhaps more accurately, Malladis) use of the word curry therefore makes the recipe, which uses a meat that is not typically eaten in American households (Saroj has to order the goat special from the butcher), more recognizably palatable than sabzi, a word that an average reader may not recognize (Malladi 66). 32 Within the U.S., goat meat has been considered an ethnic food staple, rather than something enjoyed by the (white) m ainstream (Alford; Raisfeld and Patronite). According to a recent article published for The New York Times, goat meat is the most widely consumed meat in the world, a staple of, among others, Mexican, Indian, Greek and southern Italian cuisines. However, despite its worldwide popularity, goat meat has only recently become popular outside of ethnic restaurants in the U.S. (Alford; Raisfeld and Patronite). In an August 2008 article published in New York Magazine writers Robin Raisfeld and Ron Patronite n ote that using goat meat has become a trend among fine dining establishments. 33 Roy argues that in Madhur Jaffreys A Taste of India, the audience receive autobiography of the palate in place of recipes and are invited to feast on words rather than read so that for the audience, [t]he imaginary delights of these meals existprimarily and exquisitely as a form of writing to be read (488). 34 Although Saroj is described as not believing in cookbooks (she claims to believe in experience instead), the narra tive states that Saroj used this notebook when she didnt believe she knew it all but needed to learn, a sentiment that aptly describes Devis current state (Malladi 66). Significantly, though we are told that Devi starts writing in the notebook, we are not initially privy to her thoughts. Instead, Malladi inserts a letter from Avi (Devis father) to Devi, a narrative device that not only provides insight into Devi (through her fathers observations and memories), but also provides an intratext to read De vis recipes. Like her recipes, Avis letters do not quite comply with the standard function that the genre delimits. That is, though the letters are written to specific recipients, they are never actually given to those recipients. In this respect, his letters are honest in a way that letters that are actually intended to be read by their recipients are not. Devis notebook is similarly honest and provides the audience access to the thoughts of the protagonist, who is largely silent throughout the novel. M alladi thus performs several critical manipulations of the chick lit formula: she has a confessional narrative (but the confessions come in the form of recipes), she interjects a masculine point of view that is often marginalized in these texts, and she doesnt privilege the thoughts of her protagonist alone. 35 As the suicidal mute, Devi embraces her status as crazy by disregarding such social pleasantries as table manners. For example, after Devi creates and eats The Anti Saroj Chutney, she pick[ s] up her plate and [runs] her tongue on it (Malladi 78). She is described as perversely pleased that shed been able to do what she just did without Saroj yelling the place down. As a child it was a treat to lick a plate smeared with remains of deliciou s goodies and she used to have to do it stealthily, but now, now she was a basket case, she could do anything she wanted to do (Malladi 78). 36 Interestingly, Appadurai states that the category South Indian cuisine is an invented category that collapse[s] the distinctions between Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayali cuisines (16). What I think is critical about

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80 Malladis usage of south Indian when describing Sarojs cuisine is that it is obviously more specific than simply stating Indian food, yet its specificity also obscures the ethnic heterogeneity within India (Malladi 90). 37 The confessional nature of these recipes is similar to Bridget Joness diary entries in Fieldings novels; they not only provide a reader with the protagonists thoughts, they also use food as a way to work through other issues in their lives. For example, Bridget Jones obsessively counts calories because monitoring calories gives her a sense of control that she lacks in other aspects of her life (both professionally and personally); Devi Veturi cooks unusual food because deviating from her mothers standard recipes allows her to articulate an identity that both rejects and affirms her ties to her mother. 38 We can assume that Jay is the black man referred to in other scen es in the novel when Devis previous transgressions are discussed. Devi was seen kissing Jay in public for all to see, which is a scandal because of Jays race (Malladi 29). Devis relationship with Jay is perceived as an Americanized act of rebellion, an indication that she is not a Pukka mix of East and West like her sister (Malladi 51). As the narrative describes, And when one sister was praised, the other was disgraced. Oh and that Devi, no sharam that girl has, no shame. Did you hear? Kissing som e kallu some black man, in front of Pasand cheechee (Malladi 51). That Devi chooses to confide in Jay, whose racialized status stigmatizes him in the eyes of her mother, suggests that she identifies with his status as Other. When Jay comes to the hous e, Saroj treats him rudely, unnerved by the idea of a black man sitting on her sofa (Malladi 154). Jays intrusion into the Veturi familial space, not only as a literal outsider of the family, but also as a symbolic outsider because of his race, perfor ms the critical gesture of bringing the issue of race in the novel. I find this moment significant because the issue of race relations, specifically between African Americans and Asian Americans, is not typically discussed in Asian American chick lit novel s (the race relations usually depicted are between Asian Americans and white Americans).

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81 CHAPTER 4 CONCLUSION Asian American chick lit texts offer pe rtinent and important commentaries about r ace, ethnicity, and gender in the late twentieth century/early twenty first century America. In line with Chengs theory of race melancholia, I see the relationships depicted in the chick lit narratives and the relationships developed between the author and her readers as complex, racialized interactions through which subjectivity is formed. While the desire to find Mr. Right is typically a driving force in Asian American chick lit, finding him is not the ultimate objective. Rather, the romantic pursuit, despite being posited as primary narrative, is actually secondary to the protagonists search to define a subjectivity that is not constructed as racialized and lost. The psychic toll of being racialized, of presuming a loss but not being able to quite recognize ones engagement with that loss, results in the hunger pangs that I allude to in my thesis title. I see this hunger as specifically racialized, one that articulates in its implied physicality the relationship between psychic trauma and its i mpact on the body. In this conclusion, I want to address the two questions that drove my study: What is the future of Asian American literature? and Why is it critical to examine these works if their popularity may be (or will be) ultimately ephemeral? While I do not suggest that chick lit represents the future of Asian American literature, I do argue that these texts represent a critical commercialization that is important to consider in the Asian American literary study. Asian American chick lit not only provides protagonists to whom younger generation of Asian American women can relate (or in some cases, reject), but also constructs a new, viable genre worthy of academic study that may expand mainstream conceptions of Asian American literature be yond the figures of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston.

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82 While there has yet to be an Asian American chick lit novel or protagonist that has achieved the commercial success of Amy Tan or the icon status of Bridget Jones, there are several writers and readers of Asian American chick lit texts. Online booksellers like Amazon.com have made it quite easy to navigate and find other books within the same genre, so that even if one particular author is not amassing a large reader base, the Asian American chick lit g enre is nonetheless acquiring a community of faithful readers. For example, according to Amazon.com, customers who bought Serving Crazy with Curry also purchased other Asian American chick lit texts such as Imaginary Men by Anjali Banerjee and The Hindi Bi ndi Club by Monica Pradhan. Devices such as AuthorTrackers on publishers and authors websites allow readers to follow their favorite authors online and make it even easier for the writer to acquire a fan base. From the reader reviews posted on Amazon.com, it is clear that these books are not only selling to other Asian Americans, but that they have a kind of crossover appeal to those interested in another culture or reading books that may speak to their own personal experience. As one reader states in her review of Serving Crazy with Curry I find Indian culture pretty fascinating. Indian cuisine, too, is outstanding (Teacher and Book Lover). Another reviewer states: Serving Crazy With Curry easily qualifies as one of my favorite books, ever. Being i n my mid twenties, I can very easily identify with the way Devi feels, believing her life's not worth living, and she should just take the easy way out. When her mother saves her, Devi goes silent and expresses her frustration through Indian cooking, but w ith strange ingredients. Not only can one easily identify with the main character, you see characters who are Indian American struggle in being more Indian, or more American. Grandmother, mother, and daughter; who knew their lives would be so complex? (L ee, C.) The identification that this reviewer expresses with Devi and the question she asks with regard to the lives of the IndianAmerican characters (who knew their lives would be so complex) show

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83 an intriguing tension and negotiation between Self and Other, in which the reviewer seems to see Devi as Self, but views the rest of the characters as Other (the their in the question suggests to me a racial dissociation). Naturally, these reviews only show how some readers are responding to these texts and to sites of similarity and difference (i.e, gender, race, class, and ethnicity) that they perceive in the characters. However, what we can glean from these reviews is not only that readers across racial lines are reading these works, but also that presuma bly nonAsian American readers are choosing to read these books for reasons that simultaneously reinforce the construct of race (to read about another culture) and subvert that construct (to read about oneself). Thus, Asian American chick lit novels that f eature recipes, such as Malladis Serving Crazy with Curry seem to sell better than those that dont (like Keltners novels). According to Amazon.coms sales rankings1 for books Serving Crazy ranked 152,122, while Dim Sum ranked 402,801 and Buddha Baby r anked 247,3752Popularity is clearly important in lifespan of these novels, as they do not have the status of canonical literary texts to ensure that they will still be in print beyond a certain time period. One of the key questions I posed earlier (Why is it critical to examine these works if their popularity may be (or will be) ultimately ephemeral?), can be addressed by looking at the questions and issues posited by these texts as not restricted to the chick lit formula (which I have already articula ted does not account for the critical excess that can define these novels), but rather in relationship to the questions and issues posited outside of the chick lit genre, within the larger body of Asian American literature. Thus, I agree with Suzanne Fer riss and Mallory Young in their assertion that [e] ven if chick lits popularity were to diminish, the body of work amassed

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84 over the past decade alone raises issues and questions about subjectivity, sexuality, race, and class in womens texts for another generation of women to ponde r (12). The studies that Janice Radway and Tania Modleski conducted on womens cultural productions in the eighties have not only been hugely influential, they are still relevant to our understanding of chick lit today. Therefo re, even if the romance novels that Radway studied are not in print anymore, the cultural work she produced nonetheless challenged dominant discourse and resulted in a paradigm shift in how we conceive of women, womens writing, and domesticity. Examining Asian American chick lit represents a critical step towards conceptualizing not only what the potential future of Asian American literature might be, but also in conceiving what the current subjectivity of the Asian American woman is now and what might be her future. Notes 1 All sales rankings as of February 1, 2009. 2 Another South Asian American chick lit novel that features recipes, Monica Pradhans The Hindi Bindi Club had a sales rank of 26,098, making it the highest ranked Asian American chick lit novel of all those I reviewed. It was the 15th most popular novel in the Mothers and Children category and the 24th most popular novel in the Asian American literature category.

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85 WORKS CITED A Customer. Its one long inside joke and I love it! Rev. of The Dim Sum of All Things by Kim Wong Keltner. Amazon.com. 18 April 2004. < http://www.amazon.com/review/ RR1GRJ7BUYEP0/ref=cm_srch_res_rtr_alt_1>. About Panda. Panda Express. Panda Restaurant Group, Inc. 15 Nov. 2008 < http://www. pandaexpress.com/about/story.aspx >. Abrahams, Roger. Equal Opportunity Eating: A Structural Excursus on Things of the Mouth. Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States. E d. Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell. Knoxville: U of Tenn., 1984. 1936. Alford, Henry. How I Learned to Love Goat Meat. The New York Times 31 Mar. 2009. 2 Apr. 2009. < http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/dining/01goat.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1>. Appa durai, Arjun. How to make a National Cuisine: C ookbooks in Contemporary India. Comparative Studies in Society and History 30.1 (1988): 324. Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Blend, Benay. I Am an Act of Kneading: F ood and the Making of Chicana Identity. Cooking Lessons: The Politics of Gender and Food. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. 4161. ---. In the Kitchen Family Bread Is Always Rising!: Womens Culture and the Politics of F ood. Pilaf, Pozole, and Pad Thai: American Women and Ethnic Food. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. Amherst: UMass Press, 2001. 145164. Bow, Leslie. Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women's Literature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. ---. Exporting Feminism: Jade Snow Wongs Global Tour. Culture, Identity, Commodity: Diasporic Chinese Literatures in English. Ed. Tseen Khoo and Kam Louie. Montreal: McGillQueen's University Press, 2005. 205227. Butler, Pamela, and Jigna Desai. Manolos, Marriage, and Mantras. Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 8.2 (Oct. 2008): 131. Chan, Sucheng. Hostility and Conflict. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History New York: Twayne, 1991. Cheng, Anne Anlin The Melancholy of Race : Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Cheung, King Kok. Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1993.

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86 Chin, Frank. The Chic kencoop Chinaman/The Year of the Dragon: Two Plays by Frank Chin. Seattle: U. of Washington, 1981. ---. Railroad Standard Time. The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R.R. Co.: Short Stories. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1988. 17. Chin, Frank, and Jeffe ry Paul Chan. Racist Love. Seeing Through Shuck. Ed. Richard Kostelanetz. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972. 6579. Counihan, Carole M The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning, and Power. New York: Routledge, 1999. Domosh, Mona. Pickles and purity: discourses of food, empire and work in turnof the century USA. Social & Cultural Geography 4.1 (Mar. 2003): 726. Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge & Kegan, 1966. Dowd, M aureen. Heels Over Hemingway. The New York Times. 2 Feb. 2007. 18 Aug. 2008. < http://select.nytimes.com/2007/02/10/opinion/10dowd.html?scp=1&sq= %22heels+over+hemingway%22&st=nyt >. Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love. L anham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Ferriss, Suzanne and Mallory Young, eds. Introduction. Chick Lit: The New Womans Fiction. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. Freud, Sigmund, and Peter Gay. Mourning and Melancholia. The Freud Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. 584 589. Friedensohn, Doris. Chapulines, Mole, and Pozole: Mexican Cuisines and the Gringa Imagination. Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States. Ed. Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell. Knoxville: U of Tenn., 1984. 3765. Fung, E ileen Chia Chung To Eat the Flesh of His Dead Mother: Hunger, Masculinity, and Nationalism in Frank Chins Donald Duk Food in the U.S.A.: A Reader. Ed. Carole M. Counihan. New York: Routledge, 2002. 263 276. Gabaccia, Donna R. We Are What We Eat: E thnic Food and the Making of Americans. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998. Genette, Gerard, and Marie Maclean. Introduction to the Paratext. New Literary History 22.2, Probings: Art, Criticism, Genre (1991): 26172.

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87 Goldman, Anne E. Take My Word: Autobiographical Innovations of Ethnic American Working Women Berkeley: UC Press, 1996. Goldstein, Bill. Barnes & Noble and Book Magazine Try a New Tack. The New York Times 17 Mar. 2003. 22 Apr. 2009. < http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/17/business/media barnes noble and bookmagazine try a new tack.html >. Hall, Stuart. Introduction: Who Needs Identity? Questions of Cultural Identity. Ed. Stuart Hall and Paul Du Gay. London: Sage, 1996. 1 17. Halter, Marilyn. Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity. New York, NY: Schocken, 2000. Heldke, Lisa. Lets Cook Thai: Recipes for Colonialism. Pilaf, Pozole, and Pad Thai: American Women and Ethnic Food. Ed. Cherrie A. Inness. Amherst: UMass Press, 2001. ---. Recipes for Theory Making. Hypati a 3.2 (Summer 1988): 15. Ho, Jennifer Ann. Consumption and Identity in Asian American Comingof Age Novels. New York: Routledge, 2005. Hooker, Richard J. Food and Drink in America: A History. New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1981. Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States. Ed. Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell. Knoxville: U of Tenn., 1984. 3765. Keltner, Kim Wong. Buddha Baby. New York: Avon Trade, 2005. ---. The Dim Sum of All Things. New York: Avon Trade, 2004. ---. Whacking Moles with Buddha Baby Kim Wong Keltner. asianconnections.com 2 Nov. 2005. 1 Feb. 2009. < http://www.asianconnections.com/a/?article_id=679>. Ketrak, Ketu. Food and Belonging: At Home and in AlienKitchens. Through the Kitchen Window Ed. Arlene Voski Avakian. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997. 263275. Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Phil adelphia : Temple UP 1982. Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. New York: Random House, 1989. Koshy, Susan. Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004.

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88 Krantz, Matt. Panda Express spreads Chinese food across USA. USA Today. 11 Sept. 2006. 20 Nov. 2008. < http://www.pandaexpress.com/images/pdf/USAToday_20060910.pdf >. Kristeva, Julia Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Lee, Cheryl. Powerful Writi ng Style. Rev. of Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi. Amazon.com. 13 Oct. 2005. < http://www.amazon.com/Serving Cra zy Curry Amulya Malladi/product r eviews/0345466128/ref=cm_cr_pr_link_1?ie=UTF8&show Viewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending >. Lee, Robert G. Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999. Leonardi, Susan J. Recipes for Reading: Summer Pasta, Lobster La Riseholme, and Key Lime Pie. PMLA 104.3 (1989): 3407. Long, Lucy M. C ulinary Tourism: A Folkloristic Perspective on Eating and Otherness. Culinary Tourism. Ed. Lucy M. Long. Lexington, KY: 2004. 2050. Lowe, Lisa. Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences. Diaspora 1 (Spring 1991): 2444. Lupton, Deborah. Food, the Body and the Self. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1996. Malladi, Amulya. Serving Crazy with Curry New York: Ballantine Books, 2004. ---. Authors Note : Serving Crazy with Curry Amulya Malladi: Official website of the author 15 Mar. 2009. < http://www.amulyamalladi.com/crazy/crazy_note.htm>. Mannur, Anita. Culinary Nostalgia: Authenticity, Nationalism, and Diaspora. MELUS 32.4 (Winter 2007): 1131. ---. Peeking Ducks and Food Pornographers: Commodifying Culinary Chinese Americanness. Culture, Identity, Commodity: Diasporic Chinese Literatures in English. Ed. Tseen Khoo and Kam Louie. Montreal: McGillQueen's University Press, 2005. 1938. Modleski, Tania. Loving with a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008. Narayan, Uma. "Eating cultures: Incorporation, identity and Indian food." Social Identities 1.1 (Feb. 1995): 6387. Nawotka, Edward. Book Magazine to Fold. Publishers Weekly. 27 Oct. 2003. 22 Apr. 2009. < http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA331747.html >.

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89 Okihiro, Gary Y. The Columbia Guide to Asian American History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Peckham, Shannan. Consuming Nations. Consuming Passion: Food in the Age of Anxiety. Ed. Sian Griffiths and Jennifer Wallace. New York: St. Martins Press, 1998. 171182. Pham, MinhH T. Playing (with) Stereotypes: Comedy and Construction of Asian American Identities. Diss. U. of California Berkeley, 2006. Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance. Chapel Hill: UNC, 1984. Raisfeld, Robin, and Rob Patronite. Trendlet: The New Kid on the Block. New York Magazine 10 Aug. 2008. 2 Apr. 2009. < http://nymag.com/restaurants/features/49113/ > Roy, Parama. Reading Communities and Culinary Communities: The Gastropoetics of the South Asian Diaspora. Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 10.2 (Fall 2002): 471502. Schell, Heather. Gendered Feasts: A Feminist Reflects on Dining in New Orleans. Pilaf, Pozole, and Pad Thai: American Women and Ethnic Food. Ed. Cherrie A. Inness. Amherst: UMass Press, 2001. Shah, Nayan. Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco's Chinatown. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Sibley, David. Geographies of Exclusion: Society and Difference in the West. London: Routledge, 1995. Sidler, Michelle. Living in McJobdom: Third Wave Feminism and Class Inequity Third Wave Agenda. Ed. Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 1997. 2539. Smith Caroline. Cosmopolitan Culture and Consumerism in Chick Lit New York, NY: Routledge, 2008. Teacher and Book Lover Book Lover. Okay, maybe two and a half, to be fair...! Rev. of Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi. Amazon.com. 4 April 2007 < http://www.amazon.com/Serving Crazy Curry Amulya Malladi/product reviews/0345466128/ref=cm_cr_pr_link_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySu bmissionDateDescending >. Van Slooten, Jessica Lyn. Fashionably Indebted. Chick Lit: The New Womans Fictio n. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. 219 238. Visser, Margaret. Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1987.

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90 Weinberg, Anna. She's Come U ndone: C hick l it w as s upposed to be the bright light of postfeminist writing. What happened? Book (July August 2003): 46(4). Wong, Jade Snow. Fifth Chinese Daughter. Seattle: UW Press, 1989. Wong, Sauling Cynthia. Reading AsianAmerican Literat ure: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993. Xu, Wenying. Eating Identities: Reading Food in Asian American Literature. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008.

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91 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Kelly Adams earned her Bachelor of Arts in E nglish at the University of California, Irvi ne in 2003. She worked for four years and in 2007, returned to school to pursue her Master of Arts in English at the University of Florida. She will be pursuing her doctorate in English at the University of Wisco nsinMadison beginning f all 2009.


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