On Feb. 13, the College of Education and Integrative Studies (CEIS) hosted the first event of its year-long lecture series on food and ethnicity. 

The lecture series features various guest speakers and presentations from professors in the Department of Ethnic & Women’s Studies. 

Jeff Passe, the dean of the College of Education & Integrative Studies, explained the goals and importance of the lecture series. 

“We have this society in which we’re all struggling to learn about one another’s culture and this is an opportunity to really get some insights,” Passe said. “When you start confronting the story of one’s culture, you can’t help but starting thinking about your [own] culture and others’ cultures and it makes you more sensitive, more understanding and more willing to learn and that’s what we want.” 

“Food is just so interesting to everybody and we have a story to tell,” Passe continued. “I want to highlight the work our professors are doing in our Department of Ethnic Studies. We have a whole series of speakers and each one brings a fascinating tale to tell.”

The first lecture of the series focused on the history of Chinese restaurants in America and their rapid growth. 

Complimentary Panda Express platters and light refreshments were offered to attendees before the lecture began. (Jessica Araujo / The Poly Post)

Titled “From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States,” the lecture was led by Haiming Liu, a professor in the Department of Ethnic & Women’s Studies and featured guest speaker Jimmy Wang, the director of culinary innovation for Panda Express.

Liu presented a lesson on the history of Canton restaurants (Chinese restaurants that serve Chinese food outside of China), the Americanization of Chinese food and its spread across the U.S. 

“There are as many as 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States. That’s a huge number,” Liu said. “That number is bigger than many of the famous chain restaurants in the United States. Bigger than McDonald’s.  

“Chinese food is a very important part and component of American food. That’s an important point I like to make.”

Liu ended his presentation by analyzing the future of Chinese American restaurants and the impact of Panda Express restaurants expanding across the country, especially on college campuses.  

“As a scholar of Asian American studies, I want to emphasize one thing, that if they do that [cater to college campuses], in the future, Chinese food will be a daily food for a lot of American customers.”

The second speaker, Wang, spoke about his experience with cooking Chinese food and his personal responsibility as an immigrant from Taiwan, to share his culture and love for Chinese food. 

“I cooked European food for most of my career. But every moment I had a day off, all I wanted to do was eat Chinese food,” Wang said. “All I wanted to do was cook Chinese food. And because of that, I realized I have a responsibility. I have a responsibility to share my culture, share how I grew up, and share my food.” 

“But I’m not famous,” Wang continued. “Certainly, I’m not an educator. And so I needed to find another channel. And my channel really is Panda [Express]. Panda [Express] has existed for so long and has a special place within the American community. So if I was to join this company and really push and propel a vision, a vision that I believe in, a vision the company believes in, then maybe one day, everybody that we serve will get to share the same vision.”

Wang also explained the marketing factors and extensive research of American lifestyle that are behind the success of Panda Express. 

He ended his presentation with questions from the audience and a video showcasing the creative direction he’d like to move the fast food chain towards, including the start of Panda Tea Bar, which features different flavors of milk tea and boba, a popular Taiwanese beverage.

Brandon Yamada, a third-year business administration student, was impressed by the lecture and said he would attend more in the series. 

“I thought this was a good presentation and I was really satisfied I came out tonight,” Yamada said. “I love history, so I don’t really mind listening about other foods and other ethnicities, nationalities, and learning about different ways food impacts someone’s experiences.”

The College of Education and Integrative Studies will be hosting three more lectures this year, on the food and culture of African Americans, Chicanos and Native Americans. 

For more information  on future lectures visit https://www.cpp.edu/~ceis/.

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