Professor of Food Studies at New York University Krishnendu Ray discussed how culture and politics affect food, and the effect immigrant communities and stereotypes have on the prestige and background of differing cuisines.
Ray discussed the different ways Americans value the cuisines of varying courses. French, Japanese and Italian restaurants are more likely to serve more expensive foods while Mexican and Indian restaurants usually charge lower prices. He explained that this was due to the perceived class of the people preparing the food, as cooks in French restaurants are more likely to be classically trained while other restaurants may employee migrant laborers or home cooks.
One of the speaker’s specific case studies described the rise and decline of German cuisine in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Before World War I many bakers and butchers in the U.S. were German born, with many German restaurants thriving across the country. After World War I, the influence of German culture on American cuisine essentially vanished and has never recovered.
Ray also focused on the role of immigrants in the food industry. Currently most food industry workers are migrant laborers, however he also highlighted the many immigrant entrepreneurs who have made a profound impact in their communities. For example, he highlighted the story of a South-East Asian American who started an Indian restaurant in New York City. He had no background in cooking, but his entrepreneurial spirit and simple approach to cooking that was perfectly catered to his target audience helped his business find success where others could not.
Turnout was high, as students from many disciplines, especially those in the Food Studies Certificate program turned out to see the lecture.
Rebecca Fox ’22 was the Clarke Forum project manager for Ray’s lecture. “Hearing him really develop his research and give a larger analysis of his work, sort of looking into what he’s been working on all these years was really interesting to me.” Fox also thought that his talk was important for the campus community. “We want to have more than what is our theme for the semester. We love the masculinities theme but it’s also important, this idea of how something we don’t think about, like food, influence our regular lives and how does it influence the bigger world.”
Sarah Parson ’22 said, “tonight’s talk was really interesting as someone who’s doing a food studies certificate I found, especially with the information about southern cooking versus soul food coming from Atlanta, I could really resonate with that.”
“Cultural Politics of Taste: Mobility and Food Culture” took place on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. in ATS and was sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues.