Vegetation Analysis of Urban Ethnic Markets Shows Supermarket Generalists and Chinatown Ethnic-specialist Vendors

My Lien Thi Nguyen, Julia Wieting, Katherine T. Doherty


The growing cultural diversity in the United States calls attention to ethnobotanical studies of urban ethnic food markets. These venues illustrate dynamic interactions between people and plants. A market survey of the Chinatown markets in Honolulu, Hawai`i was conducted to collect empirical data on this culturally rich urban area. The objectives included: (1) To analyze the food plant richness of selected Chinatown markets in comparison to local mainstream supermarkets; and (2) To test the use of vegetation analysis to describe the structure of these markets (e.g., “ethnic markets”). Surveys and mapping of food plants at three market areas in Chinatown and three mainstream supermarkets were conducted between February and March 2006. Microsoft Excel and the Community Analysis Package programs were used to analyze and compare plant richness and the structure of vendors and markets. In all of the markets combined, 291 “fresh” food plant varieties were recorded, representing 42 plant families and a group of fungi. The mainstream supermarkets were more rich in varieties of food plants than the Chinatown market area (mean ± s, 144 ± 21 vs. 95 ± 23, p=0.05, Mann-Whitney U test). Allium cepa L. and Allium sativum L. were ubiquitous. The Mainstream market group contained significantly more sweet-fruits than the Chinatown market areas. Agglomerate cluster analyses revealed groupings of mainstream supermarkets, Chinatown market areas; further analysis of the Chinatown areas defined culturally identified “Filipino,” “Vietnamese,” and specialty fruits vendors. Mainstream supermarkets may be viewed as “generalists” while the Chinatown market areas and vendors may be viewed as “specialists” for an ethnic or cultural group or food plant commodity.

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