So look, David: Chinese people eat weird food. There is a saying that “Chinese will eat anything with its back to the sky,” and another that says “Chinese will eat anything with legs but a table and anything with wings but an airplane.” These are Chinese sayings, I might point out — a sign that Chinese aren’t exactly unaware that the “delicacies” that send prim Westerners to their fainting couches are a little off the beaten path.
But Chinese are far from the only culture that eats weird food, and fuck, given that you’re from North Carolina, have you looked at what American Southerners traditionally eat? No? Chitlins! Possum! Muskrat! Bull testicles! Oh wait, you’re from suburban Raleigh, so probably not, given that most of the more exotic dishes in Southern cuisine, like in many culinary traditions, was the offspring of necessity — invention midwived by destitution. If you’re hungry enough, rodents will start to look tasty, as will chicken claws, stray innards and balls. And once you’ve eaten them long enough, all these things evolve into nostalgic signifiers — especially after you’ve pulled yourself out of poverty. They go from things you have to eat all the time to things you choose to eat once in a while, to remind yourself you don’t have to eat them all the time.
And this is what’s truly ugly about your piece, David: For someone who’s spent a lot of your career puncturing middle-class aspiration and self-delusion, your essay is unpleasantly blind to the fact that all of China is just a few generations removed from dire, desperate want, and that many people, like the peasant family you had such a bad experience sharing a meal with, continue to subsist on an annual income that’s a tiny fraction of what a sophisticated awesome American literary superstar like you loses in his sofa. And in a country of 1.3 billion people, even having braised pig’s stomach to occasionally go with your daily rice is a fucking luxury.