Ethnic Restaurants and Food and Their Roles as Cultural Ambassadors

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According to Cinotto and Danielle (16), America is known for its diversity when it comes to culture. With citizens and visitors coming from all parts of the world including China, Africa, Europe and South America, the country enjoys a rich mixture of cultures. There have been conflicts arising from the diversity such as racism which has led to unrest and some cases of violence in the country between the majority and the minority groups. The authorities have been seeking for ways to curb the vice, and one way that racism can be reduced is through the familiarization of cultures to other cultures. The main aim of opening a restaurant is to make a profit just like any other business. Most restaurants display public ethnicity and seek to represent the boundary between public, private and ethnic customs as far as American practices are concerned. Ethnic food and restaurants are meant for different people and, therefore, authenticating it to the public sphere of United States is impossible. In this paper, the raised concern is whether ethnic restaurants and foods play a role of cultural ambassador in the American society and how they can be used to achieve this goal. How do these ethnic venues bridge the gaps between the diverse cultures in America?

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My argument lies on the side of ethnic restaurants and foods as cultural ambassadors in the American society because I believe that they improve relationships between the ethnic group and the American population. First of all, ethnic restaurants and foods enable cultural and culinary crossings. How do they do that? By offering a different venue compared to the United States culture. One feature of the United States shopping tradition is the high expenditure levels (Hasan, Syed & Johye 34). Consumers are used to the same kind of food at a high price. A good example would be the junk foods like fried chicken and French fries. These are the foods that most American consumers buy. However there are ethnic shops that offer cheaper groceries and provide a chance for users to learn about new healthy food combinations, Zajic says,

When it comes to ethnic markets, most of the shoppers are well informed. They come from cultures where food preparation receives more attention than in the United States. Theyre also mainly immigrants or children of immigrants. Either they hail from cultures where most food prices are lower than they are here or the immigrants have lower incomes themselves, or both.

By going to such stores not only will there be cultural crossings but the customers will be informed and provided with quality food that is not over processed like the ones the American population is used to. People can interact and meet people from different cultures and learn more about the cultures too. There have been excuses about why people do not want to visit ethnic stores like the one in Philadelphia. Some say there is insecurity; others have a problem with selection and presentation. While other feel out of place due to the language used by the ethnic group. However crime can happen anywhere and furthermore most stores are located in well organized and safe neighborhoods. The point of visiting an ethnic restaurant is not to be comfortable but to learn new things and try new foods. Therefore, selection might be a problem, but it should be seen as a learning process. When it comes to the language, it is rare for anyone to go to an ethnic restaurant and find that no one speaks English. Therefore, there is always a solution when it comes to reservations and ordering of meals.

It is true that although to some ethnic restaurants may be nothing more than a place to eat; they have the potential to play a role as facilitators of cross-cultural understanding and interaction. Just like Kwast and Kim argue, an ethnic restaurant can take its guest beyond its doors. When an individual goes to eat, they are served with a bit of history about the food and the ingredients used to prepare the meal. Looking at the fastest growing immigrant group that is the Mexican community and its cuisine has had a significant impact in three neighborhoods in New York. As much as New York boasts a large number of different cultural groups, it is noted that most of these groups do not interact with other cultural groups (Lawrance, Benjamin &Carolyn 56). The lack of interaction is fueled by cultural pride, language barrier, and prejudice. As much as there is little interaction between the Mexicans and their Asian counterparts, there are instances when the two especially the Asians preferring to buy some Mexican food (Pastries) from their neighbors. Lanier, Alison & Jef 100) believe that the lack of interaction is not blamed on animosity but due to lack of anything in common between the two. However in some cases such as visiting the Chinatown, where there are increasing the number of students coming from China to study, can lead to interaction between different students from different cultures who can learn more about various countries and cultures. When an American student goes to class with a Chinese student, there is an interaction that can lead to embracing of the new culture such as eating in Chinatown and learning more about the Chinese culture. When people from different cultures go out to eat in a Mexican restaurant, for example, they do not only go to eat, but they can also learn something about the culture. While talking and learning about the culture, there is interaction and appreciation of the cultures.

Ethnic restaurants and foods promote a better understanding of the ethnic group and reduce American prejudice against them. It is known that Americans look down on minority groups because they do not understand them better. Their judgment on the minority like Latinos is based on prejudice and history. Ethnic restaurants and foods can play a role in helping the American community understand an ethnic group better and reduce prejudice against them. One way that this can be achieved is by opening venues where the visitors can learn more about culture. Americans are used to going into their supermarkets and buying the same things. They go to the same fast food locations and take away their usual junk foods. However if they were to visit a supermarket, for example, the Persian market in strip mall Rockville Pike, then they stand a chance of learning more about the culture, their ingredients and probably new food combinations. Such a shop offers a broad range of parts which if a buyer cannot understand they can go ahead and ask more from the store keeper. By interacting with the storekeeper, the buyer will learn something new which can be significant in reducing their prejudice and appreciating the culture. Furthermore, questions can be asked to learn how to cook new meals and get out of the standard norms of cooking the usual food. Chinese people have been operating in America in Chinatown, and it has been an assumption that the place is disorganized, squeezed and dirty (LaBan 1). However, it is just an assumption as people need to see the Chinese people as individuals who are capable of making fashionable places that are stylish, clean and authentic.

Through ethnic restaurants and foods, ethnic groups and Americans negotiate and reshape their cultural identities. Take a look at China town; it hasnt changed much in 20 years, but there has been development in recent years that has turned the place into Philadelphia's most active and fast-evolving dining areas. China town was known for its Chinese cuisine but has been influenced by a growing number of Fujian entrepreneurs and increased number of students coming from northern China. This has affected the menu and has now widened the scope to cuisines from more diverse regions. The improved developments have made nightlife in China town more lively and attractive to people from other cultures who seek to have a taste of the fun. American and other ethnic groups make it a point to attend and visit China town as often which influences their decisions to reshape their cultures. At one point the number of Americans visiting China town was lower compared to now. The American would have preferred to be somewhere else tan in China town. However with improved development and new cultural practices, Americans have started renegotiating their cultural practices and reshaping their culture as far as the food they eat and their drinks are concerned. It may be argued that China town enjoys a central location which makes it attractive and relevant for non-Asians and Asian populations. One of the fueling factors for the increased appreciation of the Chinese culture in Chinatown is the larger number of Chinese students who are studying at local universities. Of course, while in their learning institutions they interact with students from other cultures and tell the more about their cultures. As they interact, they convince American and students from other cultures to try out such places as the Chinatown, which opens the door to a different understanding of the Chinese culture.

Some ethnic groups in America have not made a significant mark such as the Mexicans and Chinese. Such ethnic groups may have an influence when it comes to ethnic foods and restaurants but not enough power. The reason for their lack of influence is a lack of organization which affects their recognition. A good example is the Cambodians in Philadelphia. Despite being in America for years, some have not stepped foot in South Asia and would prefer eating the usual American burger over their ethnic meals. However, the same people end up preparing their ethnic foods and selling them in the streets which most have become familiar. To get recognition and increase their popularity, they need excellent organization. One way to achieve this is to involve business owners from the ethnic groups who have a better way of interacting with government officials and ensuring funding and looking at the corporate welfare of the ethnic group. As seen in the case of Chinatown American have appreciated the place for some time due to the services and improved development. Chinatown is now popular not only amongst Americans but to other cultures too. The reason for increased popularity is the organization and well-laid structure regarding selling the culture.

In conclusion, ethnic restaurants and foods are increasingly becoming popular in America. They offer an option from the standard eating culture in the country. Other than offering healthier, cheaper and diverse food and cuisine, ethnic restaurants and food play a significant role is marketing other cultures. Furthermore through ethnic restaurants and foods, there is interaction and appreciation of cultures. It is evident that when American goes to an ethnic restaurant, they do not only go there to eat but also to learn and interact with people from the culture in the discussion. Through interaction, there is learning and appreciation of other cultures. The more there is appreciation, the more there is improved relationships between cultures. It is known that there are ethnic groups that do not want to relate to other groups, and it is mainly because of obstacles such as prejudice, language barrier and lack of interest (Lanier, Alison & Jeff 22). One way to get rid of the differences between cultures is through ethnic restaurants and foods. Bringing people together to the food restaurant or the food store will increase interaction which in turn will make people from a different culture be familiar with other cultures. It is; therefore, right to conclude that ethnic restaurants and foods are cultural ambassadors in the American society as they open venues for interaction, learning, and appreciation of cultures.

Works Cited

Cinotto, Simone, and Danielle Battisti. Making I...

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