The Food-Blog World: Are Asians Taking Over?

May 25, 2011

Food blogs abound in the West, but it’s the denizens of Asian descent who might be ruling the epicurean roost.

850 Photo by Simone Erasmus-Lam

"Why are so many food bloggers Asian?"

Ah yes, this age-old question. As the food blogger community here in Los Angeles continues to blossom, we simply cannot look past the abundance of (East) Asians in the sphere. A few weeks back, I decided to perform a quick Google query, hoping to find a reason for this anomaly. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of those rare instances where Google failed to turn up any material of satisfactory substance. As such, I decided to expound on the matter myself.

I'm entering into this endeavour with some trepidation, as anything that deals with issues of race tends to be a touchy subject. I realise the term "race" itself is a loaded word, and I'm somewhat hesitant to pigeonhole people into such simplistic bins. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I will use a classification established by the US Census Bureau: Asian, Black, Hispanic, White. This is a far from a perfect nomenclature (especially concerning "Hispanic," which is more of an ethnicity), but will be used here for economy and consistency to government data.

With those caveats dispensed with, I propose that the plenitude of Asian food bloggers is a multi-faceted phenomenon, the result of a combination of five forces:

1. The Cultural Significance of Food

2. Higher Educational Attainment

3. Higher Median Income

4. Better Access to Technology

5. A Propensity for Conspicuous Consumption

I first started noticing the preponderance of Asian bloggers in late 2008. Initially, I thought it might just be that I tended to gravitate toward other Asian bloggers, a sort of sampling bias, if you will. However, I subsequently had the question of Asian hegemony posed to me on numerous other occasions, from persons outside the blogging circle, individuals that should be, in theory, free of the aforementioned bias.

Thus, to quantify the degree of over-representation, I set out to create a comprehensive list of food bloggers; the results are shown in the table here.

We see that roughly 70% of food bloggers in this survey are classified as Asian. According to the US Census Bureau's American FactFinder, Asians make up 12.9% of the population in Los Angeles County. Thus, having established that Asians are over five times over-represented in the food blogosphere, we will now turn to more detailed explanations as to why:

Ni chi fan le ma? Such is a saying in Mandarin Chinese, which translates more or less to "Have you eaten yet?" When I was growing up, I remember this was how my mother would greet her friends.

The Cultural Significance of Food - Ni chi fan le ma? Such is a saying in Mandarin Chinese, which translates more or less to "Have you eaten yet?" When I was growing up, I remember this was how my mother would greet her friends, not with a "hello", "how are you doing?," or even ni hao. This little anecdote underscores the notion that Asian cultures tend to be food-centric. In Food in Chinese Culture, KC Chang notes that "few other cultures are as food-oriented as the Chinese". Food, thus, rises above the role of mere sustenance, becoming a contraption of societal interaction – one just has to note how often Asians tend to share and eat "family style". Dining therefore represents a critical social construct, a key environment for the free exchange of ideas and the establishment of personal relationships in both business and leisure contexts. Given these circumstances, it's not surprising that food blogging tends to be a social as well as culinary experience – one only has to look at how close-knit (some would say incestuous) we LA bloggers tend to be.

Higher Educational Attainment - The image that we all have of overbearing Asian parents pressuring their kids to succeed academically is almost clichéd at this point. However, I reckon that the scenario is often times reality. As much as I was vexed by my parents' domineering attitude, their constant harassment seems to have paid off for me – and I'm not the only one. According to the US Census Bureau's American FactFinder, for the year 2008 in Los Angeles, 47.6% of Asians aged 25 or over have attained a Bachelor's degree or higher. Whites are next, at 31.6%, followed by Blacks at 21.4% and Hispanics at 9.7%. [Edit: Thanks to Jocelyn for pointing me to this updated data.] Blogging, with its emphasis on experimentation, research and writing, can be considered a somewhat academic pursuit, and thus, we can imagine that those predisposed to academic achievement would have a higher proclivity for blogging as well.

Higher Median Income - Urasawa ain't for the faint of wallet. All these dinners cost money, and though some of the expense may be defrayed by comped meals, I believe that cost is still a limiting factor, especially in the fine dining realm. Quite simply, if your level of income makes it difficult to cover even basic expenses, it's not very likely that you'll want to spend your earnings on "fancy" meals. We again turn to the US Census Bureau's American FactFinder. For the year 2008, in Los Angeles County, median household income for Asians is reported as $62,509. $62,045 is the corresponding figure for Whites, while Hispanics report $44,924, and Blacks, $41,925. If we look at per capita income, Whites lead the way at $33,915, with Asians not too far behind at $29,476, Blacks at $23,439, and Hispanics at $15,604. One implication here is that Asians have a higher than average tendency to cohabitate, which may magnify an individual's spending power. [Edit: Again, I want to thank Jocelyn for providing this data.] These results, of course, relate the educational attainment figures above – it's no secret that income tends to rise with education.