'Feeding Our Chinese Stomachs':
Understanding Chinatown as Place Through the Lens of Culturally Significant Food
Honours Thesis in Communication, SFU
August 2019-April 2020
This project came out of a desire to hear the stories that Chinese seniors had with food in Chinatown – what their memories are, what places they frequented, and what life is like now that some of these places no longer exist.
Imagine waking up one day and finding that all the restaurants that were once common places to frequent for a meal suddenly disappeared. What once a place for good food and community now is something entirely different. This is the reality that many of Vancouver Chinatown’s senior residents have seen over a number of years as part of a growing trend. As real estate prices continue to skyrocket, neighbourhood staples have started to shut their doors. These restaurants, grocers, and cafés provided a means of food and community for Chinatown’s seniors. In their place, a wave of boutique cafes and restaurants have emerged that provide food that is neither familiar or affordable. This presents a problem for Chinatown’s most vulnerable residents. My project aims to understand the lived experience of food gentrification on the lives of Chinese seniors and how they understand the place of Vancouver's Chinatown.
Why this topic?
I've always been interested in the history of Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver and really took interest in the gentrification of Chinatown. Vancouver’s Chinatown is a particularly unique case study because of its location and proximity to the Downtown Eastside. In comparison to other Chinatowns that I have been to, Vancouver does stand alone. I found myself feeling a bit of ‘gentrifier’s guilt’ as well inside of me. I wanted to help preserve the Chinatown that many of the elders and early pioneers fought to create under the attack of intense racism and xenophobia. But at the same time, recognizing my age and purchasing power thanks to the privilege I have inherited from my parents and as a first-generation Chinese-Canadian, I was (and still am) and frequent patron of a number of the businesses that I would criticize for coffee, lunch, or a treat. My interest in Chinese-Canadian history, in gentrification, and in place-based politics and the meanings of place created a unique nexus for this thesis.