City Food: Mobile People in the Urban Foodscapes of Brazil, Canada, and Mozambique

AHA Session 87
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Room A707 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level)
Jeffrey Pilcher, University of Toronto Scarborough
Jeffrey Pilcher, University of Toronto Scarborough

Session Abstract

This panel grows out of an international collaborative research project called “City Food: Lessons from People on the Move,” which seeks to document and analyze the experience of migrants in feeding cities. The rise of a global industrial food system over the past two centuries has intentionally obscured the role of human labor in commodity chains, as transnational corporations seek to “shade” from consumers’ view the human and environmental costs of their food. When visible at all, the foods of others are lumped together in a touristic category of “ethnic,” symbolizing urban diversity, while stripped of economic and cultural centrality. These trends are merely the latest manifestations of longstanding civilizational biases toward sedentarism that have obscured the fundamental role of mobile people in building and sustaining cities. City Food adopts a mobility studies lens to recover histories of interaction between new migrants and existing residents through the elemental acts of cooking and eating. It situates urban sensory foodscapes within cultural and economic networks of migration and provisioning, while revealing the underlying culinary infrastructures of markets, structures, and institutions that shape urban food supplies.

The papers assembled here approach these questions from different methodological and geographical perspectives. Lilly Havstad probes the crucial role of food in the physical and social construction of cities by examining migrants, markets, and urbanization in Maputo, Mozambique, from its founding in 1876 to the present. She connects food production in rural and suburban hinterlands with urban distribution and preparation through the lives and labor of women. By examining the economic and cultural exchanges of foodstuffs and recipes within this growing metropolis, she shows how food facilitated social mobility for residents of diverse backgrounds. Next, Glen Goodman examines culinary and social mobility from a very different perspective by following the leisure travels of urban Brazilians, beginning in the 1950s, in search of a bucolic European experience in former German and Italian agricultural colonies. With the support of government promotional campaigns, the thoroughly Brazilian descendants of nineteenth-century migrants cultivated domestic wine and culinary tourism as a rural development strategy appealing to Brazilian desires for European cosmopolitanism. Finally, Camille Bégin uses digital and sensory methodologies to examine conflicts over ethnic restaurants in suburban Toronto in the 1980s. In conversation with an earlier generation of historians of Canadian multiculturalism, she maps shifting populations to locate flashpoints of ethnic and racial tension arising from exotic restaurant smells and even the infrastructure of parking spaces.

This panel offers insights on how migrants and their foods have shaped the social, cultural, and economic lives of cities. The papers compare differing constructions of ethnicity, not simply as a reflection of larger racial geographies but also as situated within local histories of social and sensory exoticism. The panelists likewise consider the culinary infrastructures that organize and regulate the production and sale of food, revealing the importance of quotidian issues such as parking and advertising. We hope the panel will appeal to historians of migration, ethnicity, and business, whatever their geographical area of interest.

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