Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

On the Move and in the Making: Brazilian Culinary Cultures in London

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

On the Move and in the Making: Brazilian Culinary Cultures in London

Article excerpt

Introduction

Over the last two decades Brazilian migrants have forged and expanded networks of food distribution and provision in London, creating new communities of food consumption. This expansion was fuelled principally, but not exclusively, by a growing demand for Brazilian groceries from an increasing number of Brazilian migrants in the British capital. Brazilian entrepreneurs have aptly named their activity economia da saudade (homesickness/nostalgia economy), a term that highlights the strong diasporic focus of their activity and the economic potential of nostalgia.

In this article I argue that the transnational commerce of Brazilian groceries has created distinctive cultures of food consumption in London where notions of "Brazilianness" are constructed, represented, and contested. This process of making and contesting operates through both the material culture of food provision (shops and the foods and brands they stock, restaurants and the cuisines they feature) and the social lives of these spaces. Furthermore, these transnational food practices and places have been central to the fashioning of diasporic identities for Brazilian migrants who live in London through the fostering of a sense of "home away from home" and the creation of spaces of collective belonging.

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Diaspora is used in this article as a "heuristic device" (Fortier 2005) to think about questions of belonging, home, and identity in the experience of dislocation for a relatively new migrant group. By interpreting how Brazilian food cultures are being developed in London, I hope that more can be learned about the interplay between national and regional imaginings of diasporic identities. In so doing I pay attention to "how national identity gets reworked and re-imagined through such movement and mobility," to borrow Conradson and Latham's words (2010, 228). I also engage with some of the challenging questions about the notion of "home" posed in the literature on transnational migration, transnational communities, and diaspora (Ahmed 2000; Al-Ali and Koser 2002; Brah 1996) and more generally on the geographies of home (Blunt and Dowling 2006) through an exploration of the role of material culture in migrants' practices of belonging and home-making and how identity is both reinforced and communicated in these processes.

The discussion is drawn from a wider study carried out for a PhD investigation, which analyzed the role of transnational food practices in fashioning Brazilian diasporic and migrant cultures in London. The investigation undertaken included desk research on food provision systems, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic field research with Brazilian food providers across London, focus group discussions with Brazilian migrants, periods of observational research in case study shop and restaurant outlets, and ethnographic domestic research with case study Brazilian households in Harlesden, Brent, an area of London with marked Brazilian immigration over the last decade. Exploratory fieldwork in food outlets was carried out in 2008 and followed by visits and interviews in 2009 and 2010. (1) Overall, 30 people who either worked in or owned Brazilian food outlets took part in the in-depth interviewing process (out of a total of 59 outlets visited). The ethnographic research for the outlets in the two case studies was conducted during June and July 2010.

The first section of this article places my research within wider discussions on cross-cultural food consumption and contemporary food globalization. I argue that despite discussions on the politics of "ethnic food" being critical of the uneven relationship between consumers and providers, these discussions have nevertheless been unable to address questions of agency, often portraying migrants as victims. In the next section I suggest that an engagement with scholarship on transnationalism, diaspora, and material culture can provide a way to redress the balance by looking at how migrants' everyday practices of food provision and consumption enable them to reconstruct and communicate their diasporic identities. …

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