You Are Where You Eat: Ethnicity, Food and Cross-Cultural Spaces

Article excerpt


Food has long been regarded as a useful ethnic marker, a way of defining who we are. The connection of food to ethnic identity, however, is far from self-evident. This paper examines a number of Canadian literary works which deal with food, looking at the ways in which food, ethnicity, literature and cross-cultural spaces are treated. Canadian writers, the paper argues, see food hot only as defining who we are, but where we are in the diverse multicultural society of Canada. It locates us across "spacialized discourses," physically or geographically, in particular bodies, buildings, neighbourhoods, communities, regions, nations and the world as a whole; it also locates us in particular cultural spaces with important and sometimes problematic cultural boundaries. For these writers, food becomes yet another way of engaging the complex issues of individual belonging, group relations, gender, class, race and ethnicity, and the state of Canadian society and of the world as a whole.

De quelle maniere peut-on employer la nourriture comme une indication d'identite ethnique? Le lien entre la nourriture et l'identite ethnique n'est pas evident. Cet article se penche sur divers oeuvres litteraires canadiennes et examine comment la nourriture, l'ethnicite, la litterature et les espaces interculturels y sont traites. Selon les auteurs canadiens, la nourriture est liee a notre identite interieure et nous situe dans la societe multiculturelle du Canada. Elle determine des espaces physiques, geographiques et culturels tels que des edifices, des quartiers, des communautes, des regions, des nations et le monde entier. Elle nous situe aussi dans des espaces culturels avec des frontieres importantes et parfois problematiques. Selon ces ecrivains, la nourriture est un autre element du questionnement portant sur l'identite, les relations de groupe, les sexes, les classes sociales, les races, l'ethnicite ainsi que sur l'etat de la societe canadienne et du monde entier.


The study of food, its production and consumption, and its symbolic, cultural, economic, social, and psychological meaning is, of course, not a new topic. As Counihan and Van Esterik note, "The development of research interests in food is as old as anthropology" (1997, 1), and in recent years, a host of other disciplines--sociology, history, philosophy, geography, literary criticism, women's studies, cultural studies, ethnic studies, and others--have joined in the feast. With these new studies has come a variety of theoretical approaches, from early structuralist to semiotic, interactionalist, post-structuralist, class-oriented, gender-oriented, post-colonial, and cultural studies-oriented perspectives. While it is impossible to summarize the range of topics in this literature, it is worth noting that the growing tendency is to examine the consumption side of food, from the McDonaldization of the world to how food is gendered in popular sociocultural representations. I am thinking here not only of Sherrie Inness's Kitchen Culture in America, but of the whole body of feminist material that looks historically and synchronically at food and women in the social construction of gender. These studies look at topics such as sex in food ads and cookbooks (so-called "gastro-porn"), cooking in sex books (for example, Neuhaus's "Women and Cooking in Marital Sex Manuals, 1920-1963"), breast-feeding, anorexia, representations of race in food texts, cannibalism, sexual politics, and combinations of these (for example, Patnaik's essay "The Succulent Gender: Eat Her Softly"). In all these areas, the field of literary criticism has been very active. In 1992, for example, the journal Mosaic devoted an entire issue to "Diet and Discourse: Eating, Drinking and Literature," including a fifty page bibliography on literary sources for "Food in Literature." Other notable literary collections include Bevan's Literary Gastronomy (1988), Schofield's Cooking by the Book: Food in Literature and Culture (1989), Sceats's Food, Consumption and the Body in Contemporary Women's Fiction (2000), Atwood's Canlit Foodbook (1987), and Alford and Harris's Kitchen Talk (1992). …


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