Archive for the ‘Mar 14’ Category

Food for Thought

Posted: March 14, 2012 by innocentk in Mar 14

This week’s readings looked at the interaction between food and cultural identity formation. In Culinary Nostalgia, Anita Mannur explores the association between our food preferences and cultural identity. Mannur reflects on the movement of food and its relation to the movement of Indian people themselves. She recalls times when the longing for a “taste of home” (Mannur, 2010) often times required the use of substitute ingredients because you simply had to make “do with what was available, creating new recipes along the way” (Mannur, 2010). Therefore, the emergence of ethnic grocery stores and shopping outlets has created stronger transnational connections for diasporic communities in a number of different ways. For one, the ability to purchase ingredients like mustard oil, has given those in the diaspora an ability to reproduce cultural dishes that maintain their ties to a perceived homeland. In Mannur’s case, the preparation of meals also contributed to her feelings of nostalgia, because this sometimes involved lengthy trips to ethnic grocery stores where one could “feel an uncanny sense of belonging because of the ways in which ones senses were activated to experience the smells, tastes and sounds of crowded streets in India” (Mannur, 2010). India is very much a perception of her own imagination as she speaks to the fact that she was raised in the diaspora (having spent a large portion of her childhood and adolescent years in Malaysia and PNG), therefore, the yearning she speaks of is rooted in a cultural identity that is shaped around the collective production and consumption of food which helps to reproduce national identities. Space, thus becomes crucial in the way in which culture is transmitted.

Mannur also spoke of the ways in which “traditional” India dishes were being reimagined throughout the United States. This draws from Mintz understanding that “when food objects, processes – even ideas – spread from one society to another, the receiving society is likely to modify, often to misunderstand, and usually redefine what it has received” (Mintz, 2008). This undoubtedly leads to questions of authenticity in regards to the ways in which foods are received by ethnic communities. Dafna Hirsch looks at this question in the article aptly titled “Hummus is best when it is fresh and made by Arabs”: The gourmetization of hummus in Israel and the return of the repressed Arab. The article illustrates the way in which food can be incorporated into the national identity for commercial and political purposes. Hirsch demonstrates how the commercialization of hummus resulted in the suppression of its Arab identity. This however, was only temporary, as the re-emergence of the Arab identity of hummus was reflected in the need to authenticate hummus. Hirsch lists different ways in which the Israeli appropriation of hummus could be spun in different political spheres, but an important point that was brought up was the idea that “‘ethnic food’ became a resource for the construction of nostalgic identities and authentic selves for members of marginalized ethnic groups” (Hirsch, 2011). Food thus becomes a representation of an identity that is forged through oppression and marginalization, as is the case for Palestinian citizens. This notion of a construction of a nostalgic identity is reflected in the readings this week, which leads me to the following questions:

1)    Can the reimagining of “ethnic foods” as in the case of the fusion-style dosas in L.A. Dosatrucks be considered authentically Indian?

2)    If different cultures are constantly interacting with one another, is there such a thing as “authenticity” when it comes to food?


Is pizza better in Italy?

Posted: March 12, 2012 by mitsar in Mar 14

In the article by Sidney Mintz, Food and Diaspora, we get a little history into the movement of food. Today, we are able to access all types of foods from all parts of the world and often  don’t think about a time when people were not exposed to “other” food cultures– I certainly didn’t until now. What we find however is that even the most “natural” food is not necessarily all that natural. By that Mintz means that through the domestication of plants and animals and the mastery of fire allowed our ancestors to drastically change their diets. What is more is that with trade and migration, culturally or geographically specific foods spread throughout and were incorporated and manipulated accordingly. In the short article, Culinary Nostalgia, we see such manipulations in our modern day. In the Namesake, an immigrant woman is trying to make a traditional dish but must substitute many ingredients for sub par ones. When cultures meet, overlap and exchange with one another, objects such as food become transferred. This transfer is not always obvious and it can be difficult to tell who came up with what first.

In Hirsch’s article, we see this process of food transfer with hummus in Israel. Hirsch is quick to use the term “source” instead of “origin” when describing the history of hummus. A traditionally Arab dish, hummus was introduced to early Jewish settlers in Palestine. With the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews began looking to Arab markets for foods unavailable elsewhere. By the 1940’s many vegetables were adopted by the Jews into their diets. Hummus, which was widely found in the markets was quickly commodified  through Jewish-owned Arab restaurants serving what they called “authentic” hummus.  However it was not the Arabs that were accredited for hummus,but the Mizrahi Jews coming from the Middle East. It did not seem to matter that even the Mizrahi Jews were not introduced to hummus until their arrival to Israel. Hirsch explains that this move could be considered further efforts to oppress the Arab population in Israel. Politics aside, by the 1960’s hummus was defined as a national dish. What happens next is an intricate and complex story of politics but also of hummus. As political and economic reforms began taking place in the 1980’s, identity politics became a concern for many who were in search for “authentic, ethnic cultures”.  With this, hummus was returned to the Arabs as their own and has even been deemed better and more authentic than the Jewish dish.

The articles this week got me thinking about the foods that I grew up with; born to an Italian and an Iranian my house was never sparse of rich and “ethnic” meals. Whether it was spaghetti and pesto sauce or Fesenjan (a Persian stew made with pomegranate juice and pork), my mother loved to cook different “traditional” meals. She even began exploring other cultural foods, such as Thai food. I never quite considered that there were times where she would substitute or change a dish based on what was available to her; although I knew that back in Italy my grandmother was using the “right” ingredients- what we had here would just have to do.

This got me wondering if the dishes my mother was making and those of my grandmother were ever the same. With substitutions to a recipe we might change the taste, the texture and even the feelings or memories that food might invoke in us. While my mother’s pork chops will always be delicious, my grandmother’s pork chops in Italy will in a strange way always be more meaningful– and perhaps by association more delicious.

In the case of hummus for example, are Israeli hummus and Arab hummus two separate foods, or just a variation of each other? Does this change what can be considered “authentic”? And does the environment we’re in change the context of the foods we are consuming? Is pizza better in Italy?

I’m going to end this post by saying I’m very hungry now so I’m going to make dinner.


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?

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?

Food and Identity

Posted: March 12, 2012 by nelsonbakshidts403 in Mar 14

In Mannur’s article, she talks about how the connection between foods creates a direct formation of one’s identity. That with the connection with food, it allows individuals to recollect to their memories of when they were a child. Mannur also talks about how when the Indian Diaspora came over to the United States, the lacking of traditional Indian ingredients forced cooks to come up with substitutes, such as rice Krispy’s for puff rice.

In the Lee article, he talks about how that eating practices are learned behaviour that are passed down from generation to generation. How that through these practices it promotes the cultural norms that were supposed to be followed in the Korean society. Lee though argues that the aspect of culture is one that is supposed to differentiate societies as being different from one another even though they may carry similar practices. Between the generations it creates a multi hybrid identity in which the younger generation develops as they become involved in a new society.

In Hirsch’s article, she talks about the cultural biography of hummus and who it belongs to. She talks about how hummus was originally a Arabian dish in which it had to gain approval to be part of the Jewish diet. How when the Jewish group decided to take on hummus it suppressed the original Arabian culture that it was a part of. Lately though, the Arabian community has reasserted itself as being connected to Hummus. Hirsch argues that through food, how politics can be involved in creating a sense of identity to regain and control what was once property of a entire group.

In the Mintz article, she talks about how food is able to shape the way in which society and politics work. Through the mass production of fast food corporations and increasing intervention of state policy makers, it creates tighter regulations in which the way food is produced and consumed. With the tighter regulations that are put in place it creates a barrier in which certain foods, plants and other products cannot be brought with the diasporic community with them when they relocate to places such as Canada, the US  and Europe. She also talks about how the interference of humans is not natural in the global aspect of domestication in which humans are heavily involved in breeding of animals. How the nature of food has changed and evolved from being centrally located in one area and is now a global aspect in which people can pay to be part of.

What these four authors were able to do well is lay down a logical and coherent essay in which they used examples that are relevant to today’s society.  Each author focused on a single diasporic community in which they brought out circumstances and conditions in which each group has faced in their diasporic movement.