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To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China

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In China, the world’s next superpower, life is comfortable for the fortunate few. For others, it’s a hand-to-mouth struggle for a full stomach, a place to live, wages for work done, and freedom to speak openly. In a place where few things are more important than food, “Have you eaten yet?” is another way of saying hello. After traversing the country and meeting its people, In China, the world’s next superpower, life is comfortable for the fortunate few. For others, it’s a hand-to-mouth struggle for a full stomach, a place to live, wages for work done, and freedom to speak openly. In a place where few things are more important than food, “Have you eaten yet?” is another way of saying hello. After traversing the country and meeting its people, Ang shares her delicious experiences with us. She tells of a clandestine cup of salty yak butter tea with a Tibetan monk during a military crackdown and explains how a fluffy spring onion omelet encapsulates China’s drive for rural development. You’ll have lunch with some of the country's most enduring activists, savor meals with earthquake survivors, and get to know a house cleaner who makes the best fried chicken in all of Beijing. Ang bites into the gaping divide between rich and poor, urban and rural reform, intolerance for dissent, and the growing dissatisfaction with those in power. By serving these topics to us one at a time, To the People, Food Is Heaven provides a fresh perspective beyond the country’s anonymous identity as an economic powerhouse. Ang plates a terrific, wide-ranging feast that is the new China. Have you eaten yet?  


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In China, the world’s next superpower, life is comfortable for the fortunate few. For others, it’s a hand-to-mouth struggle for a full stomach, a place to live, wages for work done, and freedom to speak openly. In a place where few things are more important than food, “Have you eaten yet?” is another way of saying hello. After traversing the country and meeting its people, In China, the world’s next superpower, life is comfortable for the fortunate few. For others, it’s a hand-to-mouth struggle for a full stomach, a place to live, wages for work done, and freedom to speak openly. In a place where few things are more important than food, “Have you eaten yet?” is another way of saying hello. After traversing the country and meeting its people, Ang shares her delicious experiences with us. She tells of a clandestine cup of salty yak butter tea with a Tibetan monk during a military crackdown and explains how a fluffy spring onion omelet encapsulates China’s drive for rural development. You’ll have lunch with some of the country's most enduring activists, savor meals with earthquake survivors, and get to know a house cleaner who makes the best fried chicken in all of Beijing. Ang bites into the gaping divide between rich and poor, urban and rural reform, intolerance for dissent, and the growing dissatisfaction with those in power. By serving these topics to us one at a time, To the People, Food Is Heaven provides a fresh perspective beyond the country’s anonymous identity as an economic powerhouse. Ang plates a terrific, wide-ranging feast that is the new China. Have you eaten yet?  

30 review for To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Needed a chance of pace book and thought a book about food would be a good read. Had my eye on this one for years but could never find it at the library or at a reasonable price. So I was very happy when I finally found a copy. Author Ang had an interesting story and I was curious to see what she thought about China, its food, its people, etc. She is a former AP reporter I thought that might provide an interesting twist. She talks about the people, the food, culture, the ongoing events of the tim Needed a chance of pace book and thought a book about food would be a good read. Had my eye on this one for years but could never find it at the library or at a reasonable price. So I was very happy when I finally found a copy. Author Ang had an interesting story and I was curious to see what she thought about China, its food, its people, etc. She is a former AP reporter I thought that might provide an interesting twist. She talks about the people, the food, culture, the ongoing events of the time from SARS to ongoing events and what China might be in the future. Honestly? I was bored. I thought the book could never quite decide what it was: her memoir of her time and travels? A travel book? A book about Chinese food, people, culture? Something else? Books by former journalists never work for me and it looks like this was yet another case of that. Recommend this book for a borrow at the library if you can find it. Otherwise skip it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cherry Crayton

    Yes, food – and the role it plays in the life of China – has a prominent place in “To the People, Food is Heaven,” a nonfiction book by a former AP reporter based in Beijing who spent more than seven years covering the biggest news in China from 2002 to 2009, including SARS, earthquakes, protests in Tibet, and the Olympics. And yes, any foodie will appreciate the salivating descriptions and details that its author, Audra Ang, gives to the smells, the textures, the tastes of the meals she experie Yes, food – and the role it plays in the life of China – has a prominent place in “To the People, Food is Heaven,” a nonfiction book by a former AP reporter based in Beijing who spent more than seven years covering the biggest news in China from 2002 to 2009, including SARS, earthquakes, protests in Tibet, and the Olympics. And yes, any foodie will appreciate the salivating descriptions and details that its author, Audra Ang, gives to the smells, the textures, the tastes of the meals she experienced and she shared during her time reporting there. But like any good hot pot, the book has so many ingredients and dimensions that you can’t appreciate one component without the complements of another. Food is just the start. Ang also addresses issues related to food, from food regulation, to organic farming, to the history of famous Chinese dishes (i.e. Peking duck). And Ang doesn’t just explore these issues, she provides the context by taking you inside the culture, the conditions, the practices, and the historical influences of modern China. Augmenting this is the voices that Ang supplies – the voices of the present China, of the common residents whom Ang seeks out and finds, whom Ang asks questions of, and whom Ang listens to. These are voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard without the skill of a reporter and the heart of a person like Ang. Hence, this book is also a how-to-guide: a how-to-be a journalist in search of the facts and the voices that allow one to tell honest, truthful, factually-accurate, and authentic stories, especially of how to do this as a foreign journalist in a tightly government-controlled country. Even more basic than that, “To the People, Food is Heaven” showcases the power of storytelling – about why we need it, and why others, like an entire government, can be determined to control it. Ang doesn’t shy away from including how the Chinese government manages the press and how journalists, domestic and ex-pats, deal with it. Ang is writing from her perspective, of course, and her experiences shape that perspective. But she offers just-enough personal revelation and reflection that you trust her to lead you on this well-paced journey through the meals and the news, and you appreciate how she must have earned the trust of others to successfully solicit their stories. This brings us back to food. As Ang writes, she got many of the voices she needed to inform her reporting over meals, and she often made it to the next story because of meals. As a native-born Singaporean, Ang writes, she naturally loves food, which becomes her comfort and even her resolve when the news she reports on become almost too intolerable or disturbing. Such a haloed emphasis on food is a trait she shares with many of those in China she reports on, and in many cases, it becomes their common ground. Why food? Ang lets others she spoke to in China answer that in their own way. But let’s not contain the power of food to just China. As I read Ang’s “To the People, Food is Heaven,” I kept thinking of a reference that Norman Wirzba made in talks about his book, “Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating.” A commentary on the gospel of Luke noted that “Jesus is always either on his way to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal,” suggesting the unmatched significance that food plays in ministry and in fellowship. I don’t mention this to introduce theology into the discussion of food or to distract from or obscure Ang’s work. Instead, I think Ang provides a present, relevant example of just how much food connects us -- all of us -- to one another, and the potential it has to be the commonality that brings disparate groups together or that can be the first manageable step that hurting people take to heal. Food, it turns out, is our base. Of course, too many ingredients can lead to an overwrought meal or drown out the basic flavors that give dishes the beginnings they need to form a rich, distinct, complete product. But Ang pulls off a book-length narrative and report that only a skilled and talented AP writer like she can manage. She doesn’t provide us with a memoir, an autobiography, a cookbook, a book about food, or a historical account. And she doesn’t offer a sentimental look at her time in China. Rather, she serves us a journalese portrait of modern China and a detailed example of how food girds humanity. How savoring.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Josianne Fitzgerald

    Although the whole book was a great read, the last chapter which recounts the writer's experience with the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 is the best. I was in China when that hit and although in faraway Tianjin we were not physically affected, the whole country was cloaked in mourning. There were so many stories of hope and affirmation at the same time as outrage over the needless student deaths in those shoddily built schools, that it could have taken thousands of reporters to tell then all. Audra Although the whole book was a great read, the last chapter which recounts the writer's experience with the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 is the best. I was in China when that hit and although in faraway Tianjin we were not physically affected, the whole country was cloaked in mourning. There were so many stories of hope and affirmation at the same time as outrage over the needless student deaths in those shoddily built schools, that it could have taken thousands of reporters to tell then all. Audra Angel tells her stories beautifully, distilling into the central theme of food the identity and struggles of ordinary Chinese. I am not a foodie, so the descriptions of her meals were entertaining but not mesmerizing. I was more interested in her perceptions of China as a journalist. She presents a respectful and factual account of the issues China faces, and makes that very complex nation understandable. Highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Enjoyed this read a lot. Ang very effectively uses her experiences as a journalist and links many facets of China with food. The meals she describes range from the fresh food of Dragon Well manor to more sobering meals shared with families after natural disasters. Food in this book is shown as something needed to live, something celebrated, a part of national and regional identity and also tangled up in environmental concerns. I found this to be an accessible read as each chapter helped me to fu Enjoyed this read a lot. Ang very effectively uses her experiences as a journalist and links many facets of China with food. The meals she describes range from the fresh food of Dragon Well manor to more sobering meals shared with families after natural disasters. Food in this book is shown as something needed to live, something celebrated, a part of national and regional identity and also tangled up in environmental concerns. I found this to be an accessible read as each chapter helped me to further understand the Chinese context.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Freeson

    Since the book is presented as a food journal, I thought that the book might be a little fluffy or shallow, but actually it's much more a story of a journalist in China. I loved Ang's reflections on the events in the story, and presenting them through the lens of food really helped to humanize tough situations. Since the book is presented as a food journal, I thought that the book might be a little fluffy or shallow, but actually it's much more a story of a journalist in China. I loved Ang's reflections on the events in the story, and presenting them through the lens of food really helped to humanize tough situations.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Somewhat slow-moving but none the less a specialized look at social customs and cooking in China with political commentary thrown in.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tanalee

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sharlene

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  12. 5 out of 5

    janice podsada

  13. 5 out of 5

    Emma

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nicola

  15. 5 out of 5

    T

  16. 5 out of 5

    tiffany

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tom Carter

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Prichard

  21. 5 out of 5

    Caro

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ming Fai Chak

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Banks

  24. 5 out of 5

    C.M. Thompson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shluck

    Munched my way through this delicious journey with an old friend... Loved it Audra!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roma Havers

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tom Karrel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jérôme

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anuja

  30. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

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