Food, Nostalgia and Bodily Memories

Posted: March 12, 2012 by aresjoseph in Mar 14

In “Culinary Nostalgia,” Anita Mannur talks about the way the preparation of cultural foods reaffirms her identity in the Indian diaspora. Mannur references Jhumpa Lahiri’s discourse in her article. She states that there are parallels between herself, the main protagonist Ashima Ganguli in Lahiri’s novel, and diasporic Indian mothers in Austraila, the Unites States, Malaysia and other countries (Mannur 2). In her main argument Mannur’s states that food and nostalgia intersect in ways that can produce new diasporic identities which connects people to a specific nation-state across transnational borders.She states:

“My book, Culinary Fictions, examines what food means in diasporic literatures of south Asia. It strives to understand  the powerful place food occupies in our cultural imagination while implicitly engaging the many ways in which my own experiences as a diasporic child who learned to eat Indian food everywhere but India had impacted my intellectual growth” (Mannur 2).

Mannur recalls her childhood bodily memories in the article; she mentions that she ate Indian food outside of India when she lived in Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. Her experiences have shaped her diasporic identity. At the end of her article she talks about living in U.S and wanting to share her knowledge about Indian food with her friends (Mannur 6).  I enjoyed reading her article, and loved the examples that she used to reiterate her thesis statement. I think that cultural foods can reproduce ethnic identities in a diasporic communities. That is because food crosses transnational borders and influences the transnational production of nostalgia.

In contrast to Mannur, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee critically examines the Korean diaspora in her ethnography. She states, “Central to diasporic identity is a collective consciousness of groups of people who, though away from home, maintain a gaze homeward (Clifford 1994 and Safran 1991 quotes in Soo-Jin Lee 198). I think that one of her main arguments is that there are people that have “bodily memories,” of being Korean in Japan and this shapes their cultural identities. Soo-Jin Lee reinforces her thesis by discussing Cho Han Chul’s story. He is a 72 year old South Korean man living in Japan (Soo-Jin Lee 202). He retains his cultural and ethnic identity by preparing traditional Korean foods even though he left Korea at a very young age. Cho still self-identifies himself as a South Korean man living in Japan.

Both authors’ articles are organized in a very sophisticated manner. They are able to trace the transnational connections between bodily memories, food, and nostalgia to an person’s diasporic identity. I like the fact Anita Mannur used personal stories from her childhood. Soo-Jin Lee also summarizes Cho’s story by illustrating the fact that memory, cultural foods and nostalgia can influence one’s identity. My questions are; Do bodily memories cause racial tension between Koreans and Japanese people living in Japan today? Can food create transnational relationships with people outside of your culture?

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Comments
  1. tupakkat says:

    Hello Areselle,

    I think your question, whether food can create relationships with people outside ones culture relates to Narayan’s statement that enjoying the “other’s” food is preferable to no interaction at all. It probably depends on the context. Some people may build relations over their love of food, their joy in experimenting with different tastes and cuisines etc.

    Others, however, may go to an ethnic restaurant that serves certain kinds of bread to pick up the foods and more or less enjoy the “exotic” experience for once but then turn around and look down upon “less developed cultures who don’t even provide fork and knife to eat”. Or they may go to an Arab restaurant and enjoy their hummus and belly-dance but reject the hijabi on the street. The colonial gaze allows the consumption of exotic foods without accepting the people who made it as equals.

    So, to get back to your question, I think it can go both ways. But since food is something so basic and essential to all of us, it is a great mediator for dialogue and vehicle for experiencing others without looking at them as “the other”.

  2. elyssamayer says:

    I think that food can create relationships with people outside of ones culture. Whether you were born and raised on a specific ethnic food, had it only as a child from your grandparents, amalgamated it into your lifestyle through marriage or stumbled upon it, in some way, whether large or small, the individual has a relationship with the food. I think that in this analysis there is no black and white, no differentiation of whether you have an (authentic) relationship with the culture or not. The relationships or connections that are forged are unique in of themselves, and food, along with other ‘materials’, facilitate these connections and relationships. As Katja said, food is a great mediator and vehicle for creating these dialogues and connections.

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