Food, Culture and Belonging

Food System Research Collaborative Working Paper– Taste of Home: Migration, Food and Belonging in a Changing Vermont

Pablo S. Bose, Department of Geography, University of Vermont
Alisha Laramee, Association of Africans Living in Vermont

The connections between people and place are forged, maintained and contested through
multiple cultural practices, including many food related practices (Counihan and Van
Esterik 2008).  This is particularly true when we think about migration within and across
borders, and between and beyond continents in an age of globalization.  Whether arriving
in a traditional immigrant gateway, being a newcomer in an unfamiliar region, or dreaming
of a distant or ancestral homeland from an overseas community, food and drink have often
played a major role in maintaining social, cultural and kin ties to other places
(Fernández-Armesto 2002).  This complex, multifaceted relationship between food and
migration has become a topic of increasing interest to scholars intrigued by the role
that food has played within the acculturation process ? highlighting, for example,
tensions and struggles within communities and individuals as they negotiate hybrid
identities (Ray 2004).  Others have pointed to other tensions, many of them fruitful, in
the food and migration dynamic, including a clash between syncretism and parochialism in
the encounter between various migrant groups, available foodstuffs, and competing
traditions (Kershen 2002, Diner 2001, Gabaccia 1998, Alibhai-Brown 2008).  These
processes are an important part of identity construction for communities both old and new
and perform a crucial function in narrating stories about difference and familiarity to
migrants and established populations alike.

In this project, we look at the question of food and migration in the context of both rural
and urban Vermont.  In the case of the former, we focus on the situation of foreign-born
migrant farmworkers on dairy farms and orchards and their search for familiar flavors and
ingredients.  We examine in particular the food supply chains that bring desired
foodstuffs to workers on isolated farms and the paradox of desiring and purchasing the
tastes of Latin America and the Caribbean while living and working in the midst of
apparent bounty.  In the case of urban Vermont we focus on newly resettled refugees from
diverse regions of Africa, Asia and Europe and examine the ways in which newcomers have
attempted to adapt new ingredients to familiar recipes or recreated old dishes to create
a connection to a distant homeland.  For both rural and urban newcomers, we also examine
the practice of growing familiar and foreign crops as well as learning local food
preservation practices on community and personal plots.  The project is based primarily on
ethnographic interviews with several migrants and newcomers relating their own experience
with the food and migration dynamic.