EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Food parcels: intimate connexions in transnational migration

Location S-243
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Diana Mata Codesal (Pompeu Fabra University) email
Maria Abranches (University of East Anglia) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Food parcels being sent and received by migrants worldwide maintain, reinforce and in some cases even create new transnational interconnections. This panel aims to explore food circuits in relation to migration with a bottom-up approach, worldwide and in a historical perspective.

Long Abstract

This panel aims to explore food circuits in relation to migration with a worldwide bottom-up approach. Food parcels being sent and received by migrants worldwide maintain, reinforce and in some cases even create new transnational interconnections. In the context of migration, food circuits are a powerful sensuous link within transnational families and groups. Collaboration, intimacy and connection are essential processes at play in transnational migration. Sharing, cooking or eating food from home are intimate acts which acquire extra connotations in situations of physical separation. While living separate daily lives, in many cases migrants and their families also forge lasting and meaningful transnational bonds. The practices of preparing, sending, consuming, selling, sharing or giving away food are important transnational connections, reminders of mutual obligations, as well as tokens of love. The food parcels that circulate in many migratory systems - between contiguous countries, within countries and even spanning continents - enables us to raise issues of transnational belonging, family-making processes, or sensuous re-creations of home among others. Alongside maintaining connections, these food circuits may also generate new relationships.

This panel seeks to show how pervasive practices of sending and receiving food within transnational families are. At the same time the panel also aims to show their diversity in time and space, regarding issues like the meanings attached to the food parcels, the range of sending practices - i.e. the nature of the sending channels - or the transformations suffered by these culturally loaded foodstuffs in their journeys.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


It's never enough. Rethinking Cape Verdean food parcels in the light of the 'moral economy'

Author: Heike Drotbohm (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)  email

Short Abstract

Following the 'social life of things' I will examine the asymmetric character of kinship relations expressed in food parcels connecting Cape Verde and its diaspora.

Long Abstract

In the transnational social space connecting the Cape Verdean islands with different diasporic sites in Africa, Europe and the US, food parcels already since centuries serve the maintenance and the strengthening of kinship ties and articulate solidarity for the 'terra pobri'. In this talk I will elaborate on another aspect of transnational commodity chains, which so far has been neglected in transnational kinship studies. Applying E.P. Thompson's model of the 'moral economy' I will describe the asymmetric character of these parcels, and their contrasting interpretation on both sides of the Atlantic. Following the 'social life of things' (Appadurai) I will illuminate that these parcels are not only expected and desired, but that they are also examined critically, used for evaluating the intention, the sincerity and the emotional proximity of the sender. In Cape Verde, finally, many items sent from abroad are thrown in the trash. This conduct will be contextualized within global asymmetries of power, in which non-migrant actors remind their travelling kin of their responsibilities, while migrants have to find means for remaining members of society.

Turkish coffee in Italy: on comfort food among Macedonian-speaking Muslims in Italy

Author: Karolina Bielenin-Lenczowska (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is an analysis of food practices of Macedonian-speaking Muslims living in Italy. I show an importance of food brought from home country for everyday life of migrants, and their belonging to home and host societies.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on my ethnographic fieldwork on daily practices of Macedonian-speaking Muslims in their home and host countries: Republic of Macedonia and Italy. I argue that food practices is a perfect example for showing migrants' perception and imaginaries of home and host societies. It allows also to analysis of socio-cultural change within their families and households in transnational context.

Migration from western Macedonia to Italy has been relatively new, starting since 1990s, i.e. collapse of Yugoslavia. In contrast to the previous single men seasonal mobility from this region, now the whole families migrate, and stay abroad almost the whole year. However, women rarely work outside home, and their migratory experience differs greatly from the experience of men. Women used to perform their 'traditional' chores: keeping houses and raising children. Also, they prepare and serve food.

Products brought from Macedonia, like coffee, sausages, ajvar (kind of paprika paste), or some spices as well as dishes prepared in a manner known from the country of origin, are very strongly associated with migrant domestic space. Therefore, they are evaluated positively, as comfort food connected to homeland and nostalgia. At the same time, however, are related to women, and their weak integration to the host society. Thus, some migrants, especially younger ones, express their distance to the Macedonian dishes and the attachment to Italian food.

Cozido, codfish and "shake and bake chicken": food, belonging and aspirations in "Portugal Village"

Author: Marta Rosales (Instituto de Ciências Sociais)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the centrality of food in the production, expression and management of transnational and local migrant social networks, and on its work in promoting alternative social spheres and practices beyond the "migrant condition" and the policies of identification and belonging it entails.

Long Abstract

The "Portuguese Community" of Toronto includes three generations of migrants who originated from different regions. The community presents characteristics (e.g. spatial concentration, associations, cultural agenda of its own, alternative media productions) that suggest a well-established structure and positioning strategy regarding the Canadian context. Yet, there is also evidence of the existence of intense transnational ties and flows, mainly with the Portuguese local contexts of origin, as well as of the emergence of new markers of difference within the community (based in factors such as class, gender, age, time of migration, and social affiliation).

Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork carried out at the homes, associations, restaurants and ethnic commerce of "Portugal village", the paper examines the importance of food in the production, expression and management of the Portuguese migrants' social networks, aspirations and belongings, in multiple sets and scales. Specifically, it a) explores the potential of food to maintain transnational social and intimate bonds, produce a stable ground of common identification and express care, recognition and cultural value; b) discusses the uses of food in framing and resolving the increasingly difficulties in overcoming differences (of age, class, gender; social affiliation) within the community; c) analyses the attempts to explore new identifications and belongings, namely the approximations to the Canadian middle class ways of life. It will argue that sending, receiving, preparing and sharing food discretely but effectively constitute powerful practices, that are key to the stabilization of the disruptions migration necessary entails.

Food as a matter of being: experiential continuity in transnational lives

Author: Maja Povrzanovic Frykman (Malmö University)  email

Short Abstract

The analytical distinction between the ways of migrants’ transnational being and belonging suggests that the ubiquity of food parcels needs to be understood in relation to other objects that travel with them, and that the meanings of food need to be explored (also) beyond the lens of culture.

Long Abstract

This paper presents ethnographic material obtained between 2011-2013, among migrants with different socio-economic backgrounds from different countries who came to Sweden to seek asylum, employment, or education. It is based on the project "The Transnational Life of Objects: Material Practices of Migrants' Being and Belonging" (supported by The Swedish Research Council), which promotes a broad interest into how objects constitute the world experienced by migrants and their counterparts who stayed behind, and how objects enable these actors to be embedded in transnational social spaces of their own making. Virtually all research participants bring and receive food from their countries of origin. However, this paper suggests that the ubiquity of food parcels criss-crossing borders needs to be understood in relation to other kinds of objects that often travel with them, and that the importance and meanings of food need to be explored (also) beyond the lens of culture. The examples of food that travels from the countries of immigration to the countries of origin, as well as of food that can be bought in the place of immigration but is nevertheless transported from the place of origin, pose analytical challenges that are best met by employing a distinction between the ways of transnational being and belonging (Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004). Focusing on food as a matter of being, this paper probes three theoretical statements that emerged from the project. They concern: presence in another location, perceived normality, and the feeling of incorporation.

Travelling plants: the meanings and effects of plant movement from Bangladesh to the UK

Authors: Hannah Jennings  email
Michael Heinrich (UCL School of Pharmacy)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the meanings and impact of the movement of plants and seeds from Sylhet to London on Bengali women in London. The research finds the exchange links people to ‘home past’ in Bangladesh and is important to ‘home here’ in the UK as it contributes to social interactions and meanings adapt.

Long Abstract

The connection between the UK and Sylhet (Northeastern Bangladesh) is a longstanding one and involves the on-going exchange of people, money and goods. The exchanges are both practical and highly symbolic processes, and while transnational in nature they have a significant impact at a local level in both places. This paper explores the impact of sending seeds and plants from Bangladesh to the UK on the landscape, meanings and interactions in London.

The paper is based on qualitative, ethnographic research undertaken in London among Bengali women, as part of a PhD project looking at therapeutic plant practice and the exchange of knowledge across countries and generations. The research found that seeds and plants are frequently sent from Sylhet to London through informal, familial networks. As a result 'Bengali' plants are grown in homes, gardens and allotments. The meanings of these exchanges are multi-faceted and changing. The exchanges serve to connect people to 'home' in Bangladesh as they are sent as gifts sent by relatives. The gardens replicate rural landscapes in Bangladesh and are powerful reminders of 'home past'. However, the plants are important to 'home now' in the UK, as gardens and allotments are sites of social interactions and tensions. Furthermore, their meanings change across generations and countries. In the UK they play into narratives of 'homegrown produce' and 'organic gardening' increasingly evident in the mainstream. This paper therefore highlights how the exchange of plants impacts on local landscapes while linking in global networks and memories.

Balikbayan boxes, Skype conversations, and food sharing online as transnational family care

Author: Helena Patzer (Warsaw University)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I argue that the focus on food and feeding is an important aspect of transnational family life, practiced through sending food products home, supervising family consumption online, and also sharing in the family meals through internet communicators.

Long Abstract

The Philippines is well known for its migrant population worldwide, and has been analyzed as a perfect example of transnational migration. Among different practices spanning the host and home country, one very noticeable is sending packages home, the balikbayan boxes. Filipino migrants send home a multitude of things, and food is among these - special foods which are hard to obtain in the Philippines, and also products which are considered a luxury product. These include such products as i.e. condensed milk, Hershey's chocolate syrup, pancake powder. By looking at the things the immigrants put in packages, and the way these are received, I want to look at the dynamics of love, care, and intimacy in transnational families.

Transnational care is also expressed in long-distance conversations on Skype and other internet communicators. Those especially telling are the conversations centering on receiving or unpacking the balikbayan box, talking about the daily food consumption of the family, or planning long-term food expenses. Another side of this transnational communication is also the way the immigrant partakes in the family meals, through the use of the webcam and also sharing photos of food on social networking sites. Inviting immigrants to taste the food through the webcam is a common practice, and a way of performing the common family meal.

I argue that the focus on food and feeding is an important aspect of transnational family life, practiced through sending food products home, supervising family consumption online, and also sharing in the family meals through internet communicators.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.