"Making Do": Caribbean Foodways and the Economics of Postcolonial Literary Culture

By Houston, Lynn Marie | MELUS, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

"Making Do": Caribbean Foodways and the Economics of Postcolonial Literary Culture


Houston, Lynn Marie, MELUS


I would venture to suggest that the most sensitive critic, the one with the keenest appreciation of the Caribbean woman's story, is inevitably the one who comes to Caribbean literature intent not only in an artistic analysis of the signifying word, or in assessing how much the word conforms to labels constructed outside of its existence, but on developing an understanding of the society that has produced the literature.

--Merle Collins, "Framing the Word: Caribbean Women's Writing" (9)

Approaching contemporary Caribbean women's literature from a theoretical space in which food studies and literary studies intersect offers a framework to understand the multivalent, cultural politics of identity reclamation in postcolonial literature. This framework grounds the strategies that Caribbean women employ to assert their identities in the local, cultural context. One trait common to both Caribbean food culture and literary culture is the philosophy of "making do," an act of creation using any available resources. (1) As a theory of postcolonial literature, this philosophy reveals the economic enterprise that challenges both agricultural production in postcolonial areas and postcolonial literary production: the strategies by which a positive cultural identity can be reclaimed after colonization, given scarce cultural, economic, and literary resources.

To express local identities, instead of those imposed by colonial forces, postcolonial authors often employ images from their everyday material culture. As a phenomenon of material culture, "making do" speaks to the unique cultural and agricultural context of the Caribbean. "Making do" also draws attention to the parallel between movements of agricultural products in an export economy (i.e. exportation, in the sense of goods leaving the country) and the movement of authors as cultural products (i.e. emigration or exile, in the sense of authors leaving the country). This cultural and gastronomic philosophy suggests alternative approaches to concepts of literary genealogy and to the nature of the category of "author." In addition, by focusing on practices that emerge from a scarcity of resources, "making do" lays bare the workings of the export economies of the Caribbean as they impact both agricultural and cultural production. Finally, the cultural politics involved with literary representation of agricultural products and practices, as well as practices of food preparation, reveal the necessity for ethical reading--for new ways of interpreting postcolonial literature so that it is not judged by standards imposed by literary or philosophical traditions of the colonizing culture. "Making do," as a theory of postcolonial literature, offers a method of analysis responsive to new and inventive forms of literariness situated outside of (or in tension with) Western models and paradigms. As a theory of Caribbean women's literature informed by a study of foodways, it takes into account all of the following contexts for Caribbean literature: its material culture, the way Caribbean authors come to writing, and the details of Caribbean economies and the economics of literary production. As an approach to postcolonial literature, "making do" places the study of foodways in dialogue with the politics of literary production to produce a liberated critical discourse capable of articulating the complexity of the postcolonial condition.

The History of Export Economy in the Caribbean

In a 1998 interview, Guadeloupian writer Maryse Conde identifies the major problem inherent to agricultural production throughout the Caribbean islands. She states: "There is a strike going on right now, a dockers' strike, and right now there is no milk, nor onions on this island. Part of the colonial pact is that Guadeloupians don't grow these things themselves. These are things we need to change." Caribbean people find themselves at a disadvantage in the world economy because of past reliance on exporting goods for the use of other countries and on importing goods for their own use. …

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