Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Eating the Vernacular, Being Cosmopolitan

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Eating the Vernacular, Being Cosmopolitan

Article excerpt


Belonging is never simple. Many of us have multiple affiliations, perhaps speak many languages and possibly value our world citizenship more highly than our local attachments. And we may also always feel the outsider in our own family culture or nation. Yet, ultimately, most of us will be viscerally and practically attached to one or more groups, somewhere, no matter how fraught the attachment(s). These attachments will help form our habitus, the ways in which we think and act, our tastes.1 In attaching to some we will reject others, and many of us will be lured by the promise of new horizons, flavours and ways ofbeing-in-the-world.2 Some won't be so much desirous as compelled to venture beyond a nationally bounded existence, perhaps forced to as economic or humanitarian refugees, or to pursue (perceived) better options.

Cosmopolitanism is broadly defined as an openness to and willingness to engage with cultural Others. According to Ulf Hannerz, one cannot simultaneously be both nationalist and cosmopolitan, or feel a strong sense of belonging to both the nation-state and the world.3 However, this position has been critiqued as rootless (unable or unwilling to engage with the location in which one mostly exists, where one might hope to do the most cosmopolitan good), and proponents such as Hannerz have been accused of being deracinated intellectuals and elitists.4 Many of these critics maintain that although cosmopolitanism and nationalism may be antithetical because of the exclusive imaginary inherent in nationalist discourse, more local (or hyperlocal) attachments can work to undermine nationalist belonging by creating a critical space of local care across difference.5

Contemporary theories bridge what Clifford describes as discrepant cosmopolitanisms, most maintaining that cosmopolitans may retain local, particularised and even nationalist identities and attachments.6 Some, such as Pnina Werbner, deliberately rescue the conceptual framework from elitist discourse-Werbner grounds her analysis in the phrase demotic cosmopolitanism.7 Beck claims there is no cosmopolitanism without localism,8 rejecting entirely the earlier elitist distinctions made by Hannerz between the cosmopolitans and the locals, where cosmopolitanism was painted as essentially the class consciousness of the frequent traveller (or the domain of the white, male, middle class).9

Beck has generated a significant oeuvre on cosmopolitanism, in which he argues that it is a process of internal globalisation that creates what he calls cosmopolitanisation, the third of five stages in the social sciences treatment of globalisation.10 Beck argues that nationalist thinking presupposes a monologic imagination, whereas cosmopolitan thinking is dialogic. That is, the cosmopolitan perspective is an imagination of alternative ways of life and rationalities, which include the otherness of the other; it is thinking and living in terms of inclusive opposition.11

According to Beck, the contributions in Cosmopolitanism in Practice introduce a fifth phase, namely the question of what does cosmopolitanism in practice mean. He and other contributors to that volume attempt to move beyond merely prescriptive or descriptive concepts of cosmopolitanism, to illustrate some of the ways in which cosmopolitanism can be used as an analytical tool to explain certain identity outlooks and ethico-political practices that are discernible in a variety of social and institutional settings.12 It is this fifth stage to which culinary cosmopolitanism belongs: identifying cultural and cosmopolitan identities and practices through everyday engagements with multicultural foodways.

To understand everyday engagements with multicultural foodways, I use the term vernacular foodways-a set of social, economic and cultural practices around the production and consumption of food that are normatively distinctive to an ethnocultural group. For example, the vernacular foodways of Vietnam include distinctive dishes such as pha, bun cha, and Bún bò Hui, a reliance on rice and noodles as staples, an abundance of fresh greens, and cooking conducted predominantly over an open flame, quite often charcoal-ovens are rare in Vietnam. …

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