Edible Identity

This post was written by a student in Susan Schuyler’s Narrative, Rhetoric, and Identity class at Stanford University. Each student in this class will complete a research-based argument related to the course topic.

Food is everywhere. From our biological necessity to the memories and sweet nostalgic emotions that we associate with meals, food is never far from who we are and what we do. Thus it is understandable that in cultures and society, food takes on another dimension in which it reflects the identity of both the individual and the community. This is essentially the connotation that the very word “cuisine” entails.

No where is this phenomena most noticeable than in immigrant communities and my paper will discuss the significance of this relationship. Food and the act of preparing it, eating it, and the symbolic connotations of certain dishes are all issues that have been addressed in this critical conversation.

To start with, there is basic food psychology  in which an immigrant will latch onto the familiar, even in food choices. In a foreign environment, food becomes a companion that lends a feeling of comfort and safety. Food symbolism is particularly evident in religious and traditional ceremonies/dishes.

Expanding the psychology to a social perspective, food facilitates the creation of an immigrant community. Ethnic groups are particular to certain ethnic dishes, which in turn require unique ingredients. In a new environment, these ingredients are often more difficult to obtain and as a result, entire immigrant and ethnic communities will localize around an ethnic supermarket or shipping port where the ingredients are found.

These factors, when taken together, contribute to an overall immigrant identity particularly since these communities involve a crossover from the native and new worlds. This crossover is again evident in food preparation and recipes.

Lilly Shi, Stanford University

This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Stanford-CCNY, Fall 2010: Humanities, Identity, and Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

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