Food in South Asian Diasporic CultureAnita Mannur
A title in the American Literatures Initiative.
For South Asians, food regularly plays a role in how issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and national identity are imagined as well as how notions of belonging are affirmed or resisted. Culinary Fictions provides food for thought as it considers the metaphors literature, film, and TV shows use to describe Indians abroad. When an immigrant mother in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake combines Rice Krispies, Planters peanuts, onions, salt, lemon juice, and green chili peppers to create a dish similar to one found on Calcutta sidewalks, it evokes not only the character’s Americanization, but also her nostalgia for India.
Food, Anita Mannur writes, is a central part of the cultural imagination of diasporic populations, and Culinary Fictions maps how it figures in various expressive forms. Mannur examines the cultural production from the Anglo-American reaches of the South Asian diaspora. Using texts from novels—Chitra Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices and Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night—and cookbooks such as Madhur Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking and Padma Lakshmi’s Easy Exotic, she illustrates how national identities are consolidated in culinary terms.
"Mannur skillfully deploys nuanced readings of culinary cultural strategies embedded in and performed by a wide range of South Asian diasporic texts. While numerous fields including queer, feminist, critical race, and diasporic studies will be enriched by this astute book, with her attention to the cultural politics of consumption, production, and difference, Mannur’s greatest impact will be on Asian American Studies and its commitment to re-imaginings of race, gender, and citizenship."
—Jigna Desai, University of Minnesota, and author of Beyond Bollywood
"Culinary Fictions is a thoroughly satisfying read. Mannur's methodologically innovative study of literary articulations of food is on one level a welcome corrective to the critical silence surrounding food in literary studies. At the same time, it goes far beyond merely addressing a gap in scholarship. It elegantly shows how food operates metaphorically, economically, and politically, to define, enable, express, confine and, yes, nourish, the diasporic imagination. In so doing, Mannur leads us to recognizing the impoverished state of a critical literary discourse that neglects attending to so central an aspect of life, literature, and politics."
—Kandice Chuh, University of Maryland, and author of Imagine Otherwise: on Asian Americanist Critique
"Mannur weaves her nuanced readings together to create a layered understanding of the idiom and material of food in diasporic contexts. Culinary Fictions is shot through with the ambivalence that began it, but what emerges by the end is a palpable sense of what is gained by addressing foodways—the classed and gendered paradoxes and limitations of multiculturalism."