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L.A. Then and Now

L.A., S.F. won't like cookie's message

The rival cities' claims to being the birthplace of the longtime Chinese meal finisher may be half-baked.

June 08, 2008|Steve Harvey | Times Staff Writer

The turning point, her research revealed, was linked to the sad chapter of World War II involving the internment of Japanese Americans. Those who were fortune-cookie makers "had to leave all their equipment behind," Lee wrote.

After the war's end, a sign of the industry's change of direction came when the federal government announced it was lifting price controls on "Chinese" fortune cookies.

The messages inside have also undergone changes with fortune cookies becoming "more like food-for-thought cookies or wisdom cookies," Lee observed. One industry executive told her that predicting people's futures was too limiting and cited the case of one old-fashioned fortune-cookie soothsayer who contracted writer's block and got out of the business.

Then, too, personal predictions can backfire, as in the case of the woman who complained that her husband died soon after getting a message that said, "You'll be going on a long voyage."

The upshot, Lee noted, is that "fortune cookies hardly contain fortunes anymore" -- unless you win the Lotto with the numbers at the bottom of a message.

For all their popularity in the U.S. and Europe, there is one market the cookies haven't penetrated: China.

The Wonton Food company tried in the mid-1990s, but the project failed. As one executive told Lee, fortune cookies were simply "too American a concept."

Which may be of some consolation to L.A. and San Francisco.


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