Posted: March 12, 2012 by tupakkat in Mar 14, Uncategorized

In “Culinary Nostalgia” Anita Mannur takes the reader on a passage through her childhood and its culinary particularities. Being of Indian background and having lived in the diaspora in different countries familiarized her with the importance of food for the cultural identity of Indians in the diaspora. Eating “Indian food everywhere but India” gave her insights into how the powerful place of food can divide but also bring together people from different regions and countries, how people struggle to make do with what is available, the importance of Indian grocery shopping and modern technology and last but not least, how Indian food has finally become incorporated into American mainstream culture.

Particularly the last aspect, demonstrated by Mannur at the example of chai lattes and dosas with tapenade (!), strongly reminds me of Prof. Berns McGown’s concept of weaving: Not only does the receiving culture influence the integrating culture, but what actually happens is a process in which two cultures make towards each other and weave together into something new.

The Trinidadian cuisine is an example for such weaving, as well as for Mannur’s concept of “making do with what was available” and for Mintz’ concept of people moving without food:  When the first Indian indentured servants came to the Islands, they had hardly any of their traditional spices and ingredients available, they made do. Nowadays, Trinidadian food is an exciting mixture of Indian, Chinese and African influences even though still somewhat divided by these lines of origin. The “Indian stream” has many dishes whose names resemble their Indian origin, they have acquired, however, a very different taste and become a “new authentic cuisine”.

Like Mannur, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee in “Dys-appearing Tongues and Bodily Memories” recognizes food as cultural markers and sites of inclusion and exclusion with the ability to eat the spicy Korean kimchee as ultimate test of being truly Korean. She describes the meaning of Korean food in the context of living in Japan, the importance of bodily memories (i.e. reminiscence invoked by physical experiences) and the aging process of first generation immigrants. Lee argues for the importance of food as a site of resistance and cultural authenticity. Being the “bridge” that connects Koreans to their homeland (Lee, 2000: 213), the first now aging generation of Koreans maintains their own and their community’s Koreanness by resisting their aging bodies’ inability to eat spicy.

An interesting question in this context would be how Koreans inside Korea view the importance of spicy food. Other than those living in the diaspora in Japan, Korea-Koreans are not looked down upon because of their food and ways by the majority culture and they do not feel the need to prove their authenticity by eating spicy despite an aging body that cannot tolerate the food any more.

In “Food and Diaspora”, Sidney Mintz examines movements of people and movements of food from the anthropological point of view and reminds us of the meanings of locality and that many things we think indigenous to our cultures actually have their origin in far away places and times. Like the Israelis at some point Israelized hummus and the Americans indigenized chai lattes, Europeans indigenized staple items like potatoes and peppers. Mintz urges us to keep  the origins in mind.

“Hummus is best when it is fresh and made by Arabs” by Dafna Hirsch traces the social life of hummus in Israel culminating in the recent “gourmetization of hummus” (Hirsch, 2011: 617) and the reemergence of Arab identity. Following the development of hummus from being an essentially Arab dish whose nutritional value made it worthy of being adopted by Jewish settlers in the 1940s/50s, its incorporation into “authentic” biblical and essentially Jewish food in the 1960s and its reemergence as inherently Arab, the meaning of the item represents strongly the Jewish-Arab relationship. Yet, the author argues that the importance of food as a signifier of political relations is overstated and that its meaning is determined by the way social actors use it (Hirsch, 2011: 627).

Particularly interesting in this study is the way it carves out the impact of the item’s industrialization and commoditization and the influence of advertising this commodity for  purely economic purposes: while the hummus producing factories Telma and Tzabar attempt to market hummus as a staple food commodity for the masses, they respectively become facilitators of the Israelization/Arabization of hummus.

Two questions arising out of this article are:

  1. Hirsch discusses Narayan’s argument that the commodified interaction with an other culinary culture is preferable to the complete lack of acquaintance. Is that so?
  2. The consumption of food of the other is criticized by many as colonial incorporation of the other and essentialized concept of culture. While there may be a valid point to this criticism: can a Westerner not just eat all kinds of “ethnic” foods for the mere LOVE OF FOOD?
  1. mahmerkhan says:

    Interesting how you bring up Rima and weaving. I think Hakka Chinese becomes that fusion food that everyone talks about. It really is something to analyze when using food to understand the coming of diasporas and what better place but Toronto to analyze such a phenomena? (I think we should all meet at a restaurant and discuss diaspora!) But what is also interesting is to see England adopt curry as a national dish!!! How did something authentically Indian become nationalized and belong in England? It isn’t colonialism of the food world but perhaps the opposite, the vast generational Indian diaspora coming into England, bringing in their influence and their traditions to their adoptive host nation. Can’t wait for tomorrow, see you! Bon Appetite!

  2. elyssamayer says:

    It is interesting that you bring up England and their adoption of curry as a national dish. I assume that their longstanding mutual influence has left legacies that are now so deep rooted it is almost confusing who brought what first. I have always thought it interesting that drinking tea is a quintessentially British thing to do, yet the origins of tea drinking originated far from the British Isles. We need to keep in mind the origins and the influences of these objects, or practices, and what it means in it’s ‘original’ context as well as within a transnational context.

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