Asian Female Food Bloggers: Nature or Nurture?

A few weeks ago, approved while I waited for Robyn and LeeAnne to arrive at the Underground Lobster Pound in Brooklyn (more informally known as Ben‘s apartment) Ben and I got to talking about food bloggers.  More specifically, this Ben asked me why an overwhelming majority of food bloggers are: A. Asian and B. Female. Before I could give him an adequate answer, I had to think about it long and hard.  Fitting both those categories, I have often thought to myself, why do I love food so much? Why, after completing a liberal arts degree in fine arts and marketing, was I compelled to pursue a food-related career?

I think a major reason can be attributed to my upbringing. Simply put, I am the spawn of two food-obsessed parents.  Food has been an integral part of my life since I was old enough to chew.  Whenever we went out to restaurants, my mom brought along a small pocket-sized pair of scissors with her to cut up whatever she was eating into smaller bite-size pieces for my sister and me. It wasn’t long before we had to pick out tiny fish bones and peel shrimp on our own. From the moment we were weaned from baby formula, we were introduced to “adult food”.

Being exposed to many different types of food at an early age, which I suspect is the case in many Asian families, could be another underlying reason why I have developed an adventurous palette and an appreciation for so many different cuisines.  I still remember lunch time in elementary school: I enviously watched as my friends peeled open their Lunchables packs and stacked their circular ham and cheese slices between crackers.  Meanwhile, my mom had the nerve to pack me beef tongue sandwiches or multi-compartment lunch boxes filled with the contents from last night’s dinner with a side of rice, kept warm in my insulated Japanese lunchbox.  Many many beef tongue sandwiches later, I can now confidently say that my years of Lunchable-less elementary school meals were a blessing.

But for me, the real moment of truth came just before I was about to graduate.  Thoughts and anxieties raced through my mind, and the biggest unanswered question looming over my head was: what am I going to do now? I milled through memories of past jobs and internships, trying to recall what I took from these work experiences. What I immediately realized was that I couldn’t keep the memories of lunch from flooding my head.

As a studio intern at Kayrock Screenprinting, I was not paid a salary but fed lunch instead.  Hours of scrubbing down screens and performing other manual tasks would leave us all ravenous by lunchtime.  I have to credit Kristin, whose duty was to prepare lunch for everyone, for first introducing me to Tuscan kale and quinoa.  Many interns and employees were either vegan or vegetarian, which made the task of cooking lunch all the more challenging. Yet Kristin always managed to satiate everyone’s stomachs while staying within strict dietary restrictions. Her soba noodle salads were satisfying enough to put us all in a euphoric post-lunch haze.

the book by the cook

When I was an archival intern at Joseph Kosuth‘s studio, the highlight of the day was also preparing lunch.  Between flipping through old copies of exhibition catalogs, scanning boxes and boxes of slides, and consuming countless cups of tea, we would enthusiastically discuss what to cook for lunch.  Sometimes it was spaghetti carbonara or Thai green curry.  Other days, when we lacked inspiration, we resorted to making elaborate sandwiches and salads, sometimes even treating ourselves to nearby restaurants.  As these vivid memories of lunches past reemerged,  I saw that all signs clearly pointed towards the same direction: food.

Aside from cultural influence and family upbringing, there is also some empirical evidence that might explain why Asian females make up such a high percentage of the food blogging community.  The term “supertaster” refers to a person who experiences the sense of taste with a greater intensity than the average person.  How is this possible?  A supertaster simply possesses an increased number of fungiform papillae, or taste buds, which thus enhances his or her sensitivity to taste — proof that biology can account for differences in taste.  According to studies (and Wikipedia), women have more tastebuds than men, and within the female demographic, Asians and Africans are statistically more likely to have those extra taste buds that qualify them as supertasters.

Since I’ve never been actually tested, whether or not I’m a confirmed supertaster is uncertain. But I’ve always sort of suspected that I have a heightened sensitivity to smell and taste, which may be a contributing reason why I enjoy food — because I taste it more intensely.  This leads me to ask a fundamental psychology question (a big one in “Intro to Psych”): Nature or nurture? Are Asian females more susceptible to becoming food bloggers due to environmental factors (nurture) or could this passion for food be traced back to genetics (nature)?

I’m curious to hear what people think about this phenomenon, and more specifically why others decided to take a similar path.  To fellow Asian female bloggers: why did you choose to start a blog?  What do you think influenced your love for food?  What do you hope to achieve through writing a food blog? And to those who are neither Asian nor female, what are your thoughts on this matter? Is this all just some weird coincidence? What did your moms pack you for lunch?

A few fellow Asian Female Food Bloggers: A Passion for Food, A Tiger in the Kitchen, Amy Blogs Chow, Bionic Bites, Chez Pim, Luxirare, Grab Your Fork, Just Hungry, Spatula Queen, Steamy Kitchen, Tamarind and Thyme, The Girl Who Ate Everything, Viet World Kitchen, Wandering Chopsticks, Wandering Eater

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25 Responses to Asian Female Food Bloggers: Nature or Nurture?

  1. Hi, Veronica! I’ve read that Asian culture tends to emphasize family values and sharing resources among many. So maybe Asians are just naturally inclined to share food and experiences. Since the internet facilitates this behavior, we migrate to the web and build our own soap boxes in html.

    • Veronica says:

      Most, if not all, of my family gatherings center around eating, so it makes sense to relate to food as a way to bring people together and share experiences!

  2. I am a fellow Asian female food blogger who has sat around hypothesizing about this a few times, but have not come closer to any answers, haha. A couple of people have suggested that Asian metabolisms allow for Asians to be more likely food bloggers…I do also agree that food is a big part of the Asian culture, the basis for every holiday, every gathering, and most family conversations.

    I’m not trying to avoid the questions you have posed but the answers to those questions are pages long and I’m really bad at typing. Sorry. I’d be happy to discuss on the phone if you want…just e-mail me.

  3. Su-Lin says:

    Hehe. I’ve always wondered this myself. A lot of my memories from when I was young involve food of some sort – me eating bitter gourd, me trying a weird piece of chewing gum, me overeating and then upchucking at a Thai restaurant. I also remember that much conversation in our family seemed to revolve around food – what’s for dinner, what’s for lunch, what’s for dinner while eating lunch.

    As for why I started writing about what I eat and what I cook, it really all started with Flickr and my first digital camera. I couldn’t stop taking photos of what I ate and I still like looking at photos from fantastic meals I’ve had! The blog became an extension of that – a place for me to relate the history of the dish or the recipe or my very long and possibly boring thoughts of a restaurant.

    Interesting though that this is the second post I’ve read on this subject. The first was here: http://www.kevineats.com/2010/01/why-are-there-so-many-asian-food.htm I wonder what the percentages are for all the food blogs out there.

    Here’s quite a good list of Asian women food bloggers: http://scentofgreenbananas.blogspot.com/2004/12/how-many.html

    • Veronica says:

      whoooa there are so many of us out there.. thanks for the links! I hope the upchucking at the Thai restaurant experience wasn’t a bad one. sounds like one of those stories that’s funny to recall but was probably not as funny when it actually happened

  4. Like most of the other bloggers here, the thought has crossed my mind before, especially as I continue to meet more real faces behind the keyboards. I love that you brought up the supertaster component, which I hadn’t heard argued before. I’ve used the tongue dye in my psych class before and I don’t think my taste buds outnumbered anyone else’s, but I could just be the odd one out.

    As far as the nature part goes, I brought up the metabolism argument. Asian women have a reputation for being small, petite, and “will remain that way until 40”. I think my very existence debunks that, but the trend is there. Food is also very much woven into the culture, as every holiday and moon cycle is practically marked by eating a different food item.

    So if we say that takes care of the eating part, why blog? I think a part of it comes back to the sharing aspect of communal meals. I guess that’s the nurture part. I want to remember and to share my life through my meals. That’s the best way I know how to communicate. I’m actually curious about why there’s an imbalance of Asian men to women bloggers. Maybe they’re more concerned with eating the food than recording it? Haha.

    Now as for why I personally got into all this, it was actually spurred by the love for food that I retained after spending a semester in Italy. That kind of passion drove me to miss and re-evaluate a part of my life that has been with me forever, but I never fully paid attention to. I blog so that I’m compelled to think, remember, and hopefully share some passion for food with others.

    P.S. My mom kept trying to pack me Chinese food, but I stubbornly chose to make PB&J sandwiches even though I didn’t even like them. But I would rather have blended in with the other kids than had the “strange smell” come out of my lunchbox. Now, I won’t eat PB&J again.

    • Veronica says:

      Studying abroad was an impressionable experience for me too, but probably for different reasons. I can’t say I loved eating Czech food, although I do still miss it once in a while. What I liked was the challenge of finding good places to eat, which made it more rewarding when I discovered a new place or a new food. And then there were other times when I’d just give in and eat a fried cheese sandwich.

  5. ray says:

    vchan i loved this post! especially your dig about envying lunchable-packers in elementary school, haha. great story, so true for me too. about your nature vs nurture pondering, here’s a little psych review! as my psych professors used to tell us in class, the question is no longer “is it nature or is it nurture?” but “how do the two interact?” ie, it is in an interaction of both nature and nurture that influences behavior, eg, becoming a food blogger who happens to be asian. tadaaaa!! xx.

    • Veronica says:

      Okok I’m guilty.. It was hard to sit through the three hour intro to psych lectures freshman year, so my recollection of nature and nurture is fuzzy.. What I do remember are Professor Coons’ scarily accurate lab rat impersonations. So from your brief psych refresher, it seems like nature and nurture are both playing an active role in shaping who I am!

  6. Danielle says:

    Great topic for a post and definitely something that’s piqued my curiosity more than once. Like some of the other commenters, I think a large part of the Asian love affair with food comes from the cultural practice of gathering around the table for a meal. I come from Singapore where this love of food is practically imprinted into our DNA, and have found that, no matter where we are in the world or in the social ladder, food is what helps us to bond – sharing tips on places to eat, dining experiences, our mothers’ recipes, etc. Our conversations are always food-related, and it’s common to talk about what we’re eating for dinner when we’re just barely done with lunch!

    My love of food comes from the home – my mother and grandmothers are excellent cooks so when I started living on my own, it was only natural to try to recreate their dishes for a taste of home. It helped that my husband’s a fan of cooking his own meals, so that also shaped my education in cooking and experimenting with recipes in the kitchen.

    I started blogging about food because: (a) talking about kitchen adventures and textures of different ingredients comes naturally to me, and (b) I see it as a launching pad for other activities like food styling and photography, which I’m building a specialty in.

    Phew! That was a looooong answer for two cents’ worth 😉

  7. Melody Fury says:

    Dear goodness you girls write lots. Makes my work easier. 1. Asians really do eat everything 2. Girls love to yap 3. We also love attention

    • Veronica says:

      Truth! I love your post on sweet potato “tong yuen” — it combines two of my favorite things. but i’ve always been confused about whether they’re purple sweet potatoes or purple yams.. or are there two types of purple tubers out there?

  8. Derrick See says:

    Anomaly here! Although I am Asian. Sighz. I honestly think Asians are just more adventurous. I know of so many white people who wont eat anything they cant find at walmart. shudder.

  9. An interesting and thought-provoking piece. I think that food plays a pivotal part of the lives of many Asians. It’s not just culture, it’s how we appreciate life, how we relate to others and how we communicate joy and love. Why so many females? Is it because we’re socially conditioned to share? Because we enjoy articulating our experiences? Because we relish that connection with community? I started my blog because I love to write, and I love my food. It’s been a means of honing my writing skills, of connecting with others and, most importantly, it’s given me the best excuse to eat more, in the name of selfless research of course!

    Thanks for the shout-out too 🙂

  10. Divina says:

    I started blogging when my friend encourage me to start one to write my kitchen experiments. I like the idea because I wanted to do something for myself after taking care of my father for almost 4 years before he passed away. I grew up with my father’s cooking. I was also teased for having an appetite for 3 people. And also the Philippines is also a melting pot of different cuisines so trying new flavors comes naturally to us.

  11. Nicholas says:

    Well, I am Asian, but I’m not female. I guess the reason I took to blogging is because I realized the ratio is severely in my favor at blogger events.

    No, I’m not being serious :). I did thoroughly enjoy the post though, and the Asian culture thing is probably spot on in my case.

  12. JO says:

    It’s not only food bloggers. It seems that a large percentage of people interested in exploring eating are Asian and female. Right up there with them is Jewish and male. No wonder there are so many relationships that combine the two. Even I have not been immune.

    For Asians, I agree in that I think it has to do with a culture of eating everything. Nothing is really off limits. Other cultures are limited by sin or etiquette rules and deeming things improper quickly. East Asians tend to have such a vast repertoire of dishes that other foods from far away lands don’t seem like that much of a stretch.

    As for Jews, especially the male variety, I think it has to do with a general curiosity of the world.

    oh, and I bought lunch every day at school.

  13. Betty Ann Q. says:

    Veronica, thank you again for another fabulous post! I love this one. As you know, I am Asian, and I am Woman. Like most Asian women, I learned how to cook from my Mom, who in turn learned from hers. Our culture is a matriarchal society and women are the heart of the home. I guess that explains a lot.

  14. Calvin says:

    This is a great post! I’ve been asking the same question (http://plaidbag.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/why-are-so-many-asian-food-bloggers-women/), and the more people I ask the more I get the impression that it’s not really about numbers. If somehow it would be possible to get data on every single food blogger on the English-language Internet, you might find Asian women to be overrepresented in relation to their numbers in the population as a whole, but it probably wouldn’t be a majority, and probably even less likely if you were to restrict it to popular or influential blogs.

    I think the question we ought to be asking is what meaning food, blogging, and photography have for Asian women, and how and why these all came together at this point in time.

    • Veronica says:

      I wonder these same things myself, now somebody just needs to do some empirical research to get the real answer.

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