The Social Life of American Crayfish in Asia

Sidney C. H. Cheung



Recent anthropological studies on foodways have highlighted the globalization of local foodways as well as the localization of foreign foodways in various countries, reminding us that foodways are simultaneously local and global in terms of production, manufacturing, and marketing. This paper seeks to examine the influences brought by the move of crayfish (freshwater crustacean resembling lobster) from the southern United States to Asia, especially to Lake Akan, Hokkaido in Japan and Xuyi, Jiangsu in mainland China, and investigate individual and community responses toward adaptation, consumption and conservation since the coming of crayfish in the 1920s. In this paper, I will describe how the introduction and cultivation of a new non-local food species has contributed to changes in farming methods, trading network and conservation efforts in contemporary Asia. We have seen many adventive species bring negative impacts to their new environments. A few examples are Nile perch in Australia/Tanzania, black bass in Japan, janitor fish in the Philippines, bullfrog in South Korea, and grass carp and snakehead in North America, while there are also species bringing new foodways to their new place, such as the popular tilapia in Asia and the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) in China. Of these, tracking down the spread of the red swamp crayfish both in Japan and China provides a wonderful case study, as it has spread globally and brought various impacts to the two different countries in many ways. By making use of the two paths of the red swamp crayfish, a native species in Southern United States, I will discuss how it was widely accepted as a delicacy in China while it also became a phasing-out local food in Japan after it was introduced more than a half century ago.


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Sidney C.H. CheungCheung, Sidney C. H. is Professor and Chairperson, Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests include visual anthropology, anthropology of tourism, heritage studies, indigenous cultures, food and identity. He is the editor of On the South China Track: Perspectives on Anthropological Research and Teaching (Hong Kong: HKIAPS, CUHK, 1998); co-editor of Tourism, Anthropology and China (White Lotus, 2001), The Globalization of Chinese Food (RoutledgeCurzon, 2002) and Food and Foodways in Asia: Resource, Tradition and Cooking (Routledge, 2007). In 2010, He published two Chinese popular books called The Life of Freashwater Fish Farmers in Hong Kong and Chefs on the Road, which are expected to bring anthropological perspectives to the general public in Hong Kong and mainland China.