‘Culinary Cultures’ : the Symposium Abstracts

Culinary Cultures: Food and the Postcolonial



Lucy Dow (National Maritime Museum)


‘Food, Race and the Nation in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century British Printed Cookery Books.’

This paper will explore how cookery books tracked contemporary thinking about racial identity in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain, and how race was configured in their ongoing exploration of what defined the nation and who could be part of it. Building upon Rebecca Earle’s discussion of the role of food in defining racial difference in early modern Latin America, I will start by looking at how eighteenth century cookery book authors used food to promote the stadial theories about race dominant in eighteenth century Britain.1 I will then go on to examine how cookery books reflected changing attitudes towards race in the first half of the nineteenth century. As Catherine Hall has highlighted by the mid-nineteenth century a version of racial theory had emerged that regarded different races as ‘organically distinct’ and not able to successfully integrate.2 These changing ideas about race were often explored in cookery books providing further evidence of how race became part of everyday life and how foodways were crucial to this quotidian understanding of race in Georgian and Victorian Britain. I will also highlight how it was in these discussions of the racial implications of food that some of the most overtly national sentiment was expressed by cookery book authors. Food changed from being seen as an agent in sustaining a national body to a reflector of levels of national civilisation, and this hierarchy was quickly imbued with ideas of discreet racial identities. Food cultures, the nation and racial identity came to be seen as inseparable and thus cookery books highlight how crucial and widespread ideas of distinct racial difference became to national identity by the mid-nineteenth century.



Astrid Schwegler Castaner, University of the Balearic Islands


‘“Tasting the Wide Ocean”: Planetary Conviviality against Tourists’ Consumption of a Commodified Exotic Elsewhere in Simone Lazaroo’s Sustenance.’


Simone Lazaroo’s novel Sustenance (2010) is set in the touristic location of Bali. This setting is particularly representative of the process of negotiation of tourists and hosts that reflect “broader attitudes, premised on racial, colonial and Orientalist discourses” (Sobocinska 2011: 193) as Bali is considered to be the primary international holiday destination for Australians, who are the “number one source market for visitors” (GIV 2014). The novel’s exploration of food in relation to identity displays the binary definition of Australian identity through its relation to Asia in general, and Bali in particular. As Robyn Morris points out, Lazaroo’s work “exposes the othering practices of white domination in Australia [and also] beyond its white-washed shores” (2010: 121). Foodways are used to portray the still existing Orientalist perception of Asia as the threatening and desirable other. The hotel Elsewhere —and Bali as a touristic destination— tries to “satisfy package tourists’ gross appetites” (64) by providing the consumable exoticism that they have bought through food, spiritual experiences and eroticism. Indeed, the touristic imagery abridges complexities while making “everything look exotic for the potential tourist” resulting in simplistic, homogenised and thus exaggerated portrayal of the destination country (Leong 1997: 88). Tourism thus blinds people’s interpretation of the realities of racism and intolerance through the consumptive celebration of difference. In addition to critically highlighting this process of touristic othering, the novel also challenges Orientalist perception in two ways.


Firstly, while the novel takes the culinary-themed format that usually presents difference in a palatable flavour through the commodification and exotization of ethnic minority cultures for mainstream readers that are “hungry to consume delectable renditions of alterity” (Mannur 2010: 14), Lazaroo opposes the readers in their consumption of both the Balinese other and the ethnic minority novel itself as exotic commodities by subverting tropes and making the readers as uncomfortable as the fictional tourists, who quickly flee from Bali at the end of the story. Secondly, Lazaroo hints at a possible solution through the hybrid character of Perpetua, the Eurasian and immigrant cook. When the hotel is invaded, Perpetua acts as an intermediary between the tourists and their captors, calming both by feeding them. The “subaltern cosmopolitanism” (Wilson and Lokugé 2016: 531) she displays through cuisine and her “round-shaped dishes” that Giffard-Foret argues are “allegorizing a vision of ‘planetary conviviality’” (2016: 599) challenge dominant discourse. The fact that almost all characters accept the food and “reject no part of it” means that they can then “taste the wide ocean that leads to every place in the world” (12), that is, they get closer to understanding what is the shared part of human experience through the commonality of food, which is crucial to overcome racism and intolerance.


Keywords: Australian identity, planetary conviviality, tourism, othering




Giffard-Foret, Paul. 2011. “Advance Australia Fear: Performing Feminised Asia in Simone Lazaroo and Hsu-Ming Teo’s Work.” Altitude: An E-Journal of Emerging Humanities Work 9: 1–13.

Giffard-Foret, Paul. 2016. “The Root of all Evil”? Transnational Cosmopolitanism in the Fiction of Dewi Anggraeni, Simone Lazaroo and Merlinda Bobis.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 52 (5): 595–609.

Global Indonesian Voices. 2014. “Bali, A ‘Dangerous’ Place for Australian Tourists?” Global Indonesian Voices. Accessed: 13 September 2017. http://www.globalindonesianvoices.com/12167/bali-a-dangerous-place-for-australian-tourists

Lazaroo, Simone. 2010. Sustenance. Crawley: UWA Publishing.

Leong, Laurence Wai-Teng. 1997. “Commodifying Ethnicity: State and Ethnic Tourism in Singapore.” In Tourism, Ethnicity and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies, edited by Michel Picard and Robert E. Wood, 71–98. Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i.

Mannur, Anita. 2010. Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Morris, Robyn. 2010. “Relations of Difference: Asianness, Indigeneity and Whiteness in Simone Lazaroo’s Fiction.” Kunapipi 32 (1): 116–129.

Sobocinska, Agnieszka. 2011. “Innocence Lost and Paradise Regained: Tourism to Bali and Australian Perceptions of Asia.” History Australia 8 (2): 193–216.

Wilson, Janet and Chandani Lokugé. 2016. “Introduction: Realigning the Margins: Asian Australian Writing.”




Sarah Irving, Edge Hill University


‘Consuming Palestine: neo-colonialism and the promotion of Palestinian agricultural products’


Food has become one of the many battlegrounds in the cultural war between the Palestinians and the State of Israel. Supporters of Palestine frequently express outrage at Israeli businesses and food writers claiming dishes from across the Middle East, such as hummus, falafel and shakshuka, as part of Israeli culture. At the same time, food has become a forum in which supporters of Palestinian rights express their solidarity, through buying the products of fair trade/Fairtrade initiatives which sell Palestinian olive oil and other agricultural produce in Europe, the USA and other parts of the world, and by visiting ‘slow food’, organic and fair trade projects and producers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Such products are marketed in language which emphasises the authenticity of Palestinian rural culture, the ancient connection between the people and their land, and (implicitly or explicitly) the rights this confers in the ongoing political struggle in Israel/Palestine.


The language and imagery of the peasant and the rural/agricultural way of life is one which, paradoxically, permeates both Palestinian nationalist discourse and Orientalist presentations of Palestine and its people, going back to the nineteenth century. In the eyes of Western travellers and missionaries, ‘primitive’ Palestinian peasants were relics of the peoples of the Bible, offering insights into the ‘Holy Land’s’ past. To Zionist propagandists and British colonial administrators in the interwar period, however, the subsistence agriculture of parts of rural Palestine, and the stereotype of the peasant whose way of life had remained unchanged for millennia, were proof that Palestinian Arabs did not know how to manage the land ‘properly’ and profitably, and they had thus forfeited their right to own and govern it. European Jewish immigrants, by contrast, would bring technological innovation and the ‘modern’ methods of intensive agriculture, ‘improving’ the land and rendering it fertile, in line with Biblical promises. Rejecting this portrait of the rural population, Palestinian nationalists instead emphasised the peasant’s rootedness in the land and the longevity of peasant culture.


This paper seeks to unpick the strands of narratives of peasant authenticity and rural rootedness in the promotion of Palestinian agricultural products in the fair trade and solidarity markets, identifying the roots of these discourses in longstanding ideas about the Palestine rural populace. Whilst these ideas are presented as positive characteristics and deployed to inspire solidarity and spread messages of human rights and national sovereignty, I contend that their roots lie in altogether less empowering and self-determining narratives of Palestinian identity. As such, I argue that the use of such imagery and claims contains the danger of confining Palestinian identity to a narrow and unrepresentative range of markers, running the risk of imposing neo-colonialistic and ultimately counterproductive discourses on contemporary Palestinians and their search for decolonisation and sovereignty.


Shelley Angelie Saggar (Wellcome Collection)


‘”Memories from my mother’s kitchen”’: Extinction and anxiety in Joudie Kalla’s Palestine on a Plate.


This paper discusses how culinary memory belies anxieties over cultural and community extinction in Joudie Kalla’s 2016 cookbook Palestine on a Plate. Through the medium of instructive culinary literature, Kalla utilises the exotic appeal of ancestral memory to produce a text that has introduced Palestinian culture and cookery to mainstream circuits.


The marketing of Palestine on a Plate draws upon classical Orientalist discourse depicting a ‘disappearing Palestine’ as an indigenous culture in need of preserving. Building upon this, Kalla’s position as a female author on the edge of a culinary field dominated by men emphasise an essentialised connection to a vernacular female tradition of both cooking and crucially, feeding. I argue that these ‘soft’ forms of exoticism are an attempt at rebranding Palestinians and their culture, departing from familiar imagery of young, violent Muslim men as aggressors towards a more palatable image of women caring for others through a gendered culinary mythology.


I further examine the role of culinary memory in preserving culture as it appears in both metaphoric and material forms. In so doing I draw upon contemporary academic and activist debates that attempt to position Palestine as an indigenous population sharing significant commonalities with Fourth World communities in North America and elsewhere. Kalla’s insistence on preservation and cultural communication thus carries metaphorical weight as representative of a culture that is escaping both author and audience. I question whether this presentation of Palestine risks confining the continuing struggle for self-determination to history in popular understanding.


Through a close reading of the introductory author’s note alongside an evaluation of the marketing and presentation of the author herself in the launch campaign, I draw parallels between Kalla’s text and and other ‘ethnic’ chefs from controversial regions such as Sabrina Ghayour (Iran) and Yotam Ottolenghi (Israel) that have burst onto the life and style scene in recent years in order to place Palestine on a Plate within the framework of cultural resistance to xenophobia and, in particular, Islamophobia.


Published in the run up to a series of major anniversaries for the Palestinian movement in 2017, Kalla’s cookbook is simultaneously a site of resistance as well as an elegy to a culture that is confined to ever-narrower margins in the contemporary political climate. Debates on the naming of Palestine as ‘postcolonial’ invite a discussion of both the history of the British Mandate in Palestine, a period which marks Kalla’s ancestral memory as the moment at which her family were uprooted, as well as an imagining of what a future Palestinian space might be.


Alecia McKenzie (Caribbean writer)

‘Home is where the food is’

Through analysis, and a comparative reading of works, this paper (discussion / presentation) examines the way in which selected Caribbean writers use food to conjure home. It particularly looks at the descriptions of food in the novel Sweetheart (Peepal Tree Press, 2011, Winner of the regional Commonwealth Book Prize), and how some Caribbean readers living abroad have reacted to the descriptions of food, in letters to the writer. It further addresses the question of whether food plays as strong a role in cultural identity as language, music and other factors.




Razia Parveen (independent scholar)

‘Food narratives of nostalgia: diaspora, matrilineal and identity’

This paper will explore the links between nostalgia and cultural practices in creating a diasporic identity for a community displaced. I will show how immigrants continue practicing recipes and how these food practices work in order to retain a link to the homeland. I will further explore the notion of nostalgia and how food links the past to today. This paper will link in the idea of the continuation of this ’imagined homeland’ to communal diasporic identity. Salman Rushdie writes about ‘imagined communities’ and the notion of a homeland being recreated in the mind of the immigrant and I will link this idea to immigrants of South Asia who have migrated to the North of England. I will further link the notion of genealogy to food practices arguing that preserving cultural practices within the domestic sphere becomes the domain of the female such as food practices.  This paper will also look at the traditional tools employed for some of the dishes and reveal how they connect to the idea of ‘authenticity.


Beth Kamunge, University of Sheffield


‘Local food will not dismantle the master’s house…?’

In recent years, more and more consumers have made efforts/aspired to eat local foods. The reasons for this include health concerns, environmental and animal welfare concerns, and/or issues to do with the taste and flavour of food. However, a growing body of research has cautioned against the idealised and uncritical framing of local food in academic literatures and popular culture. This has been particularly through an understanding of the politics of scale, particularly the principle of scale as a social construct. This paper aims to invigorate discussions of local food, using Audre Lorde’s oft-cited but under-explored metaphor of dismantling the master’s house using the master’s tools. Specifically I ask, to what extent is buying/eating local an attempt at dismantling the master’s house using the master’s tools? The paper is based on ongoing research in Black-Feminist food politics in Sheffield, UK, and was motivated by my participants’ (twelve self-identifying black women) enthusiasm for local food (variously defined).


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