Politics of Public Food and Hospitality: Diasporic and Transnational Tables
Organizers: Maria Curtis and Christine Kovic, University of Houston Clear Lake.
Following Psyche Williams-Forson and Carole Counihan’s charge of “Taking Food Public,” this panel explores foodways as confluent networks of cultural and economic exchange between diverse communities, with the potential to invert or to reinforce existing hierarchies. The production, consumption, and distribution of food along with the discourse surrounding these processes take place across multiple public spaces including places of worship, soup kitchens and shelters, festivals, cultural centers, restaurants, cooking blogs and cooking shows, adjacent enclaves, community gardens, and street vendors. In these spaces, among many others, food itself crosses boundaries of nationality, class, ethnicity, and religion as it shapes and is shaped by multiple interactions. Food may be shared as an act of hospitality or as an obligation, bridge ethnic differences, mark social status and highlight distinctions and disparities, or profit certain groups at the expense of others. Food is a means by which new immigrants reach out to their new neighbors, offering them a taste of their culture by turning the dining room table, inviting the host to be a guest in their homes and cultural spaces. Yet the commodification and consumption of so-called “ethnic foods” may enact “cultural food colonialism,” to use Lisa Heldke’s term, in which dominant groups appropriate “the other” for their own purposes, attempting to engage in a “lite” multiculturalism. Using ethnographic examples from multiple settings (including the United States, Turkey, Mexico, and beyond), the panel seeks to map out food’s potential to build dialogue and enact hospitality across difference as well as the ways conflict and inequality are reproduced and even fortified through food sharing.
- In what instances does the sharing of food evoke dialogue, when hosts are willing to see “others” (immigrants, the displaced, refugees, exiles, guest workers, second and third generation marginalized groups) and to share time and space, and to dialogue with them? In what ways are parallel, and even divided, communities linked to each other through chains of food consumption and production?
- In what ways might unacknowledged food chains lock some ethnic groups into low wage positions that impact their health and well-being while their food and care work feeds and nourishes others?
- How is the public sharing of food tied to the “private” and “invisible” gendered work of domestic cooking?
- How and why are some ethnic cuisines exalted while their communities remain marginalized?
As a related topic, the panel seeks to explore the role food in the ethnographic research process. To what extent does sharing food, drink, and meals carry the potential to build commensality, creating a common space for conversation and face-to-face encounter of fieldwork? To what extent does food consumption make visible inequalities that exist in the field?