Sebile Yapici | Project | Vita | Publications 

Food as a mediator for sustainable community relations among uzbek migrants in the US.

Social Anthropology with focus on North America
Supervision: Prof. Dr. Marin Trenk

From an anthropological point of view food is the first basic need for humans. As we all have to eat, food plays a central role in our lives. The first relationship we build with the outside world is the satisfaction of our need to eat. To quote Roland Barthes, to eat is a need which is highly structured and for this reason becomes a whole communication system. We can communicate our social status by taste, we can express similarities and differences. We can establish or demonstrate hierarchies when we distribute food. And by sharing food, eating together we can build and maintain social relationships.

Food is a cultural object, and it is part of the material culture of a group, a community or a country. A dish does not stand alone, there are the ingredients, the cookware, the crockery and the recipe. For  the Uzbek self-perception, the event of eating together - that is the food enjoyed during feasts, its preparation with neighbors, the composition of its ingredients, the traditional tableware, etc. - plays a crucial rolein their identity and for building social relations. The most important dish in the Uzbek culinary tradition became osh palov, a dish comprised of rice, meat and carrots. Until the beginning of the 20th century osh palov was too expensive for ordinary people, but since rice and meat have become, at least in small quantities, more affordable, osh palov has become the Uzbek dish.

My PhD research seeks to explore if and how the perception of the value of eating together changes in Diaspora. Furthermore I ask how ‘national’ dishes are important for the identity of the people living abroad. Specifically, I consider the context of the consumption of osh palov (the environment, how it is served etc.), to analyze its impact on the cultivation of social relationships.

Other questions are e.g.: how do Uzbek migrants deal with the challenges of a new environment? Do they give up their ‘national’ dishes because of a lack of adequate ingredients? Do they import ingredients from their home-country? Do the ingredients change and form an adapted reiteration of the dish? What about the objects for presenting and serving the food: do Uzbeks abroad search for cookware in the new environment, or do they bring it with them, because of the memories which are linked to it?

My research focuses on the culinary aspect of material culture in the discipline of social anthropology, and contributes to migration studies, specifically to the studies of homemaking.