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Foods and Ethnic Identities

From:Leo Caesius <leo_caesius@...>
Date:Saturday, September 2, 2000, 4:02
John Cowan wrote:
"I believe "banana" is an imitation of "Oreo", meaning "a person black on
the outside, white on the inside".  This originally meant someone who
identified themselves with the oppressive elements in society, but now can
(alas) refer to anyone of education whatsoever."

and czHANg wrote back:
    "It has been much older usage than that!  There has been use of this
term amongst British-educated Chinese & other "yellow-fellows" for the past
hmmm 150 yrs or so."

    'Round these parts one hears the term "twinkie," with a similar meaning,
although this is a rather common term which is used, with *completely*
different meanings, in several jargons.
    On the flip side, quite a few other metaphors have grown up around food,
especially with reference to Asian-American culture and related
sub-cultures.  If a "banana" is something that is white with a superficially
yellow skin, I'll give you three guesses as to what an "egg" is.
    One particular Asian-American sub-culture has a long list of metaphors
built up on starches like "rice" and "potatoes."  Consequently you have
"rice queens," "potato queens," "sticky rice," "mashed potatoes," among
others (I *know* some of you know what I'm talking about).  Are the names of
foods put to such creative use in other jargons?  We don't refer to
assimilated Italian-Americans as "ravioli" (although, maybe we should...).
If they are similar food metaphors, I haven't been able to spot them.
Judging from my limited experience, this phenomenon is endemic to Asian
America (although in Italy you do have your "polentoni" = "polenta eaters,"
a characteristic of a certain class of people in Northern Italy).
     It also occurs in some types of literature; certain (ahem) genres of
"literature" tend to make very heavy use of food labels to identify
characteristics of "ethnic" individuals.
     One last thing:  I hear that the Arab nations neighboring Egypt say
that the Egyptians are so stupid on account of all the "fool" the Egyptians
eat (fuul = beans, usually black beans served on pita).  However, this play
on words doesn't occur in Arabic.

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