Food is sustenance, but it is also a vehicle for social change. The Museum of Food and Drink in New York has dedicated itself to celebrating the historical and cultural impact of food. Their first exhibit, Chow: Making the Chinese American Restaurant shows how food helped a community survive.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was put in place by the U.S. government. The law banned immigration from China and caused distress for many Chinese people living in America. How did the Chinese who were stranded between two worlds behind survive? They turned to food. Many of the Chinese immigrants opened restaurants and catered to non-Chinese diners, building a bridge between their Chinese culture and their American communities. This resourcefulness sparked the popularity of Chinese-American food and has given rise to iconic dishes that the world knows as Chinese food, but that you’d be hard-pressed to find in China.
In this Full Frame Close Up, we delve into the role food played in helping Chinese immigrants survive, and thrive, during some the darkest days of the community’s history in the United States.