In the context of commodity culture, consumption encompasses more than just the foods we eat. As Americans, our very identities are formed around the things we consume or purchase, whether that be the clothes we buy, the items we have in our homes, or the things we do–everything we buy, enjoy and relish as consumers.
Our relationship to food is perhaps the most explicit expression of consumption of other cultures. In the documentary titled Finding General Tso, the filmmakers set out to explore the proliferation of Chinese food restaurants within the continental United States, and how the food prepared in those spaces has morphed to meet the expectations of American tastebuds. Through vivid storytelling and a ripe historical perspective, it offers a nuanced take on the racism Chinese immigrants faced in getting established in the States, and how coming to America, for them, meant setting up a restaurant to survive, even if said immigrants had more skills to offer society than whipping up our lo mein on demand. Ordering Chinese takeout is commonplace in the States, but for some, it may be the only interaction with Chinese culture in their lifetime.
Eating Chinese food, drinking margaritas, and listening to Hip-Hop have become staples within the American landscape, they are just some of the ways that Americans relate to (consume) Asian, Latino, and Black cultures. Meanwhile, authentic engagement with the issues affecting those communities is, for many Americans, non-existent. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, but it appears to be something inherently American about this positioning with regard to other cultures, that we consume instead of seek to understand or better the people who actually make America great. The position of bell hooks is spot on.