Reimagining Community in London: the transmission of food as heritage in the Afghan diaspora
Rebecca Haboucha (University of Cambridge)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the transmission of food as heritage in the London Afghan diaspora to understand how populations resulting from forced displacement reconcile memories of home with experiences in the host-nation. In doing so, it shows one process of forging British-Afghan identity in the city.
Paper long abstract:
The effect of taste as a deeply individual and social experience that bind groups through space and time gives food the invaluable, yet unexplored, potential from which to study the formation of identity of diasporic groups in cities. This paper examines the transmission of food as heritage in the Afghan diaspora in London to understand how populations resulting from forced displacement reconcile the memory of home with their experiences in the host-nation in the process of identity formation. The ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan have resulted in three discreet waves of migration since the 1980s. Through interviews with seventeen migrant Afghan women, this paper suggests that the consolidation of an Afghan food identity abroad is made more transparent because of the diaspora's forced nature and ongoing materialization. This case shows how culinary practices can forge reimagined communities that overcome regional differences within the homeland. Moreover, Afghan cuisine within the public sphere of London has been shaped by the British imperial world-system. All the interviewees set the authenticity of Afghan cuisine in opposition to the larger and more established Indian and Pakistani communities that historically influenced them. Despite the proliferation of Afghan restaurants in London within the past ten years, they are restricted to areas with high populations of Afghans. Nonetheless, interviewees preferred to eat Western food when in public and cook Afghan food at home. This case thus demonstrates how culinary practices can attest to a group's willingness to identify with their host nation without belittling their authentic cultural identity.
Food for thought (and dwelling) in uncertain times