Pilaf, Pozole, and Pad Thai
American Women and Ethnic Food
Essays on the significance of ethnic food in contemporary American culture
For many Americans, eating ethnic food is so commonplace as to be taken for granted. Yet, whether we acknowledge it or not, such foods create a powerful social language that speaks of cultural traditions and tastes that have been handed down from one generation to the next and, in some cases, appropriated and commodified by American commercial culture. Ethnic cooking represents both a source of sustenance and a complex form of communication.
In this volume, eleven scholars explore the role of ethnic food in American culture, with a particular focus on women. The first six chapters offer personal accounts of the ways in which ethnic meals are embedded in women's memories and fortify their connections to one another. From a Sicilian-born mother who affirms her allegiance to her heritage through the loving preparation of traditional tomato sauce and pasta, to a Swedish American woman whose dozens of boxes of recipe cards document a process of cultural assimilation, to an Armenian American who uses a shared passion for cooking to forge a relationship with her lover's family—these essays speak in a personal voice about the power of food as a marker of women's identity. The final five chapters take a more analytic approach, scrutinizing the social and political aspects of ethnic food and the phenomenon of "culinary tourism." One essay offers a brilliant meditation on the gendered discourse of cooking in the Mexican American community, showing how food preparation provides many Chicanas with a vital language of self-expression. Another essay probes the author's penchant for Thai food and other cuisines from economically dominated cultures, situating it in the context of a larger system of privilege and oppression and as a form of cultural colonialism. By going beyond the obvious, these essays challenge our assumptions and expand our understanding of the significance of ethnic food in women's lives.
Contributors include Meredith E. Abarca, Arlene Voski Avakian, Linda Murray Berzok, Benay Blend, Lynn Z. Bloom, Paul Christensen, Cathie English, Doris Friedensohn, Lisa Heldke, Heather Schell, and Leanne Trapedo Sims.