Food for Health, Food for Wealth

Food for Health, Food for Wealth: Ethnic and Gender Identities in British Iranian Communities

Lynn Harbottle
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 196
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qd8sn
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  • Book Info
    Food for Health, Food for Wealth
    Book Description:

    Food and eating practices are central to current sociological and anthropological concerns about the body, health, consumption, and identity. This study explores the importance of these themes as they intersect with processes of globalization and cultural production within a specific group of consumers, British Sh'ite Iranians. Through the analysis of the consumption practices of this particular migrant group, this book illustrates how both the nutritional value and symbolic significance of food contribute to its health-giving properties and how gender and ethnic identities are preformed and reinforced through the medium of food-work in public and private spheres. At the same time, as this study demonstrates, migration modifies and transfigures such identities and produces hybrid cultures and cuisines.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-178-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. 1. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    The origins of this study date back to the Iranian revolution of 1979. At that time I was an undergraduate student in Manchester and had become friendly with a group of Iranian students there. I observed the immediate impact of the Islamic revolution upon their lives, and, over subsequent years, I also noted how British perceptions of Iranians were transformed as a result of international media coverage of those events. Previously, as western allies, Iranians were often portrayed to be progressive, wealthy and intelligent, but, in the wake of the revolution, it seemed to me that they were redefined. Suddenly,...

  5. 2. ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF FOOD AND CONSUMPTION
    (pp. 17-28)

    Food holds a central place within the social order and for this reason it has long been a subject of considerable interest to anthropologists. Since the days of Mead (1943) attempts have been made to study the eating habits of selected populations. Often such observations were made as part of a wider ethnographic study of a specific population, but gradually a more specific interest in the anthropology of food emerged, leading to the eventual development of a distinct subfield of nutritional anthropology. A number of authors have undertaken reviews of the most significant perspectives to have held sway in anthropology...

  6. 3. FOOD, THE BODY AND TASTE
    (pp. 29-40)

    Recently, the body has become a major locus of interest within disciplines as varied as women’s studies, literary criticism, history, comparative religion and philosophy (Csordas, 1994: 1). In sociology and cultural studies, the relationship between the body and consumption practices has increasingly been studied – for example, the ways in which commodities, including foods, and other goods, such as clothing and music, are used to obtain identity-value, encompassing style, status or group identification (Featherstone, 1991; Warde, 1996: 4–5; Falk, 1994). The current chapter considers the impact of this field of study upon our understandings of food selection and eating...

  7. 4. ‘NUTRITIOUS AND DELICIOUS’: IRANIAN WOMEN AND THEIR DOMESTIC FOOD-WORK
    (pp. 41-50)

    During the preliminary field work it had become apparent that the everyday food preparation tasks of Iranian women were perceived to be very important and were valued by themselves and their families accordingly. This contrasted sharply with the low status held by those men who were employed in the catering trade (as will be discussed in Chapter 7). Moreover, the respect accorded to Iranian women at home appeared to be dissonant with more generalised stereotypes pertaining to Muslim gender roles.

    The following chapters focus on the nature and definition of women’s domestic food provisioning in order to understand why it...

  8. 5. FOOD AND HEALTH: TRADITIONAL AND MODERN INFLUENCES
    (pp. 51-60)

    This section further examines Iranian women’s domestic food-work. It highlights the holistic approach taken to healthcare within Iranian cosmologies and focuses on the interlinkages between diet and daily health maintenance, in particular the importance of hot-cold beliefs. It explores the relative influence of traditional beliefs and biomedical precepts in women’s roles as the guardians of health within their families and illustrates the pervasiveness of biomedical models. Although many women considered themselves to have abandoned traditional thinking, the significance of balance within the diet remains very strong. The enmeshing of physiological and cultural concerns was further demonstrated in interviews by the...

  9. 6. INCORPORATION, IDENTITY AND HEALTH
    (pp. 61-70)

    The previous chapters have begun to consider the ways in which domestic food-work involves identity-work. This chapter continues that focus by exploring how Iranian settler women in Britain attempt to maintain the identities of themselves and their families as Iranian through their food-provisioning tasks. It examines how the ingestion of food may be a dangerous business, fraught with biological risks, such as poisoning, and associated culturally with a fear of pollution. The section then explores the dilemma of Iranian women, obliged to purchase foodstuffs which they perceive to contain toxins, such as pesticides and hormones, and how this may represent...

  10. 7. FOOD FOR WEALTH: IRANIAN ENTREPRENEURS IN THE FAST-FOOD TRADE
    (pp. 71-84)

    In this chapter the focus shifts from the private to the public sphere, from female-defined activities to the predominantly male realm of Iranian settlers’ commercially oriented food-work and from an analysis of food as sustenance to that of economic commodity. The number of ethnic minority employees engaged within the British catering trade has been observed to be disproportionately high. Commonly, such individuals have language difficulties and few formal qualifications, thus restricting their opportunities within the labour market. However, in the case of Iranian men, many of whom are highly educated, their participation in this relatively unskilled sphere of work requires...

  11. 8. THE RESTAURANT TRADE AND THE INVISIBILITY OF IRANIAN CUISINE
    (pp. 85-96)

    The popularity of ethnic foods in Britain has soared over the past twenty years or so. Italian, Indian and Chinese dishes have now become well-established favourites, such that, as I mentioned in the last chapter, curry now threatens to replace roast beef and yorkshire pudding as the national dish. Recently other food traditions, notably those of Thai, Mexican and Japanese origin have also made significant inroads in the ethnic food market. However, despite the aesthetic sophistication of Iranian cuisine, it has had little apparent impact within the British ethnic food sector and there are relatively few successful Iranian restaurants in...

  12. 9. PERFORMING GENDER: MEN, WOMEN AND FOOD
    (pp. 97-106)

    In Chapters 4–6, I explored how the performance of (predominantly female) domestic food-provisioning was important in maintaining the health and in reproducing and reinforcing the cultural identity of the family. By contrast, Chapter 7 illustrated how for (mainly male) Iranians employed in the fast-food trade, the performance of their roles more commonly involved the manipulation and disguise of ethnic and national identities. In the following sections I will focus in more depth on how food is used in the performance of gender identities. Individual foodstuffs may carry specific gender associations; food preparation is also gendered and within the domestic...

  13. 10. WOMEN, FOOD AND POWER
    (pp. 107-122)

    Food-work is generally construed to be female work and women’s responsibility for the domestic arena, including cooking, has often been linked with arguments concerning their relative subordination. Moreover, in the case of Muslim women, research in the fields of medicine and the social sciences (and even gender studies) has often been influenced by Orientalist discourses, which tend to construct Middle Eastern females to be passive and subjugated and their male counterparts to be uncivilised and ignorant, their masculinity relying upon a domination of their womenfolk. However, as the previous section has demonstrated, there may actually exist a considerable degree of...

  14. 11. CHILDHOOD, ACCULTURATION AND FOOD
    (pp. 123-132)

    The previous chapters have illustrated how the process of migration may result in the transfiguration of adult ethnic and gender identities. For the present youth generation, the hybidised cultural spaces of the diaspora may potentially offer even greater opportunities for gender malleability and fertile cultural fusions. Nevertheless, in this study, parents experienced considerable ambivalence regarding the acculturation of their children, fearing that their greater interaction with the majority population and with other subcultures, particularly mediated by their attendance at school, might lead to identity confusion among young people, or worse still to a gradual loss of their Iranian identities. Parents...

  15. 12. PICK ’N MIX CULTURES: YOUTH, FOOD AND IDENTITIES
    (pp. 133-148)

    This chapter focuses on the accounts of four teenagers (two male and two female – selected from a wider group of participants) and highlights the considerable flexibility and complexity in their understandings of ethnicity and other intersecting identities, including gender. It explores how these are reflected in their food consumption practices and further considers how the paradoxical tendencies towards both novelty and tradition, which are evident within food cultures, may be of varying significance over the lifecourse. Whereas earlier chapters have emphasised the tendency of women, while performing food-provisioning tasks, to attempt to maintain a sense of culinary coherence and...

  16. 13. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 149-160)

    Identities, as this text has demonstrated, may be understood by those who claim them, to arise from essential attributes (especially those based upon bodily features such as sex characteristics). However, such bodily features are themselves assigned significance only in a social context. Social identities are thus created, and are moulded, contested and modified in the flux of social interaction, encompassing the performance of a wide range of everyday activities and roles, including those of food-provisioning and consumption practices. Although culturally determined rules frame the enactment of a specific role, nevertheless each actor draws upon his/her own experience and interpretive capacity...

  17. APPENDIX: BRIEF METHODOLOGICAL DETAILS
    (pp. 161-170)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 171-181)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 182-184)