Eating Ethnic: Cross-Racial Encounters, Cosmopolitan Whiteness and the Senses, 1964-Present
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Eating Ethnic: Eating Ethnic: Cross-Racial Encounters, Cosmopolitan Whiteness and the Senses, 1964-Present explores links between ethnic food, sensory experience and space to reveal how white Americans have used the act of eating to articulated privileged transnational subjectivities in the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Taking ethnic and cross-racial food consumption by white Americans as my subject, this project analyzes key cultural moments - the 1964 New York World’s Fair, culinary slumming in New York’s urban immigrant enclaves during the early 2000s and the globalized consumerism of travel television during the last decade - where white American consumers have used the social and symbolic practices surrounding eating to articulate racial difference and an emergent form of privileged cosmopolitan cultural positionality, that I label cosmopolitan whiteness. Particular to the transcultural complexities of a post-Civil Rights, Post-Immigrant reform multicultural America, I critically define this cosmopolitan whiteness as an identity construct that merges neutrality and primacy of whiteness with an orientation towards, a willingness to engage with, and an accrual and active display of non-Euro American foreign cultural knowledges. In doing so, my research not only offers radical interventions into critical racial theory by positing a new articulation of whiteness that is fundamentally predicated on the appropriation of the transnational cultural productions of immigrant groups, but it also offers several crucial interventions in the study of comparative ethnic and racial formations of late twentieth and twenty-first century multiculturalism. Drawing on innovative source material ranging from food ephemera, culinary journalism, food television, oral histories of immigrant foodways and sensory ethnographies of urban ethnic enclaves, my research examines “eating” as a complex act that is at once symbolic, geographic, sensory and bodily. Taking up the “sensory turn” in cultural history, I argue that the complex sensory economies of eating across cultures, collectively function to give visceral, deep, and sometimes emotional, meaning to late twentieth century ideas concerning ethnic and national identities. Because one wholly ingests the food being eaten, the white American consumption of ethnic food therefore literally enacts emergent forms of late twentieth-century transnationalism, particularly cosmopolitan whiteness, directly onto the body. As such, I merge work done in critical race studies, sensory studies, and mobility theory to make key interventions in the bodily and corporeal histories of transnational American racialization by offering new insight on the ways by which the sensory ingestion of food enacts whiteness and (trans)nation upon both the body and urban space.