Maria Antonietta Marino Date: 2019-11-06

"How a people eats is one of the most powerful ways they have to express, and preserve, their cultural identity...To make food choices more scientific is to empty them of their ethnic content and history"

(Michael Pollan - In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto)

 

What sort of information can we gather about members of a certain community just by observing their relationship with food?

How important are family meals to them? Is eating more of a social- or more of a somewhat practical activity? What about hierarchy and power dynamics (eg, who gets to speak first during dinner? who's most likely to clear the table after the meal)? How do they shop, is it more about convenience or more about quality and perhaps tradition? How does acculturation ("assimilation to a different culture, typically the dominant one") affect different members of the same family?

In some previous posts (available here and here) we’ve briefly explored the relationship existing between food and cultural values, next we’ll discuss about psychographic segmentation with a particular focus on diaspora groups.

Jennifer Berg, director of graduate food studies at New York University, claims that food is “the last vestige of culture that people shed. There’s some aspects of maternal culture that you’ll lose right away. First is how you dress, because if you want to blend in or be part of a larger mainstream culture the things that are the most visible are the ones that you let go. With food, it’s something you’re engaging in hopefully three times a day, and so there are more opportunities to connect to memory and family and place. It’s the hardest to give up.” [1]

But what exactly are diaspora groups, and what sets them aside from other consumer segments?

According to the Migration Data Portal [2], the IOM (International Organization for Migration) defines diasporas as “migrants or descendants of migrants, whose identity and sense of belonging have been shaped by their migration experience and background.”

It also explains how “Definitions of diasporas also include not only first-generation emigrants, but also foreign-born children of these individuals, as long as they maintain some link to their parent’s home country. These links – whether cultural, linguistic, historical, religious or affective – are what distinguish diaspora groups from other communities. Normally, diasporas are characterized by most, if not all, of the following features:

- Migration, which may be forced or voluntary, from a country of origin in search of work, trade, or to escape conflict or persecution;

- An idealized, collective memory and/or myth about the ancestral home;

- A continuing connection to a country of origin;

- A strong group consciousness sustained over time; and

- A sense of kindship with diaspora members in other countries”

With regard to food, some research maintained that for emigrants it is what “shapes emotional and affective relations with place”, the one factor that truly creates a sense of home [3].

Understanding of how diaspora groups function collectively might explain, for example, how boba (bubble tea) became a symbol of the Asian-American diaspora, why so many food corporations failed to expand in Israel over the years, why in March 2019 McDonald’s launched the Black & Positively Golden campaign in an attempt to “reconnect with African-American consumers”, “uplift communities” and “empower excellence”. [TBC]

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This is the first part of a short series that will continue in the next few weeks with the valuable insights shared by Tiffany Rozier - African-American chef and founder of the podcast Afros+Knives - and by Oren Simon - Israeli businessman and founder of BDD (Biz Dev Dynamics) - about food culture, values and entrepreneurship in their communities.

Stay tuned :)


 

REFERENCES:

  1. Online: https://ideas.ted.com/what-americans-can-learn-from-other-food-cultures/
  2. Online: https://migrationdataportal.org/themes/diasporas
  3. Longhurst, R.; Johnston, L. and Ho, E. (2009) “A visceral approach: cooking ‘at home’ with migrant women at Hamilton, New Zealand”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 34(3), 333-345
  4. Online: https://www.thejc.com/news/israel/downsize-me-israel-shuns-fast-food-1.16298




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