The very term ‘ethnic’ has deep culinary resonances. It also vibrates with different affects. Charles Darwin’s discussion of disgust was, after all, triggered by his mediated contact with a ‘native’ via a morsel of meat. In the everyday of multicultural cities, food cultures speak of colonial violence, consumed now with pleasure. While the tendency for mainstream white culture has been to celebrate and reify ‘authentic ethnic food’ as a self-congratulatory indicator of tolerance, there is of course a darker side. Departing from the usual mode of analysing the cultural semiotics of cuisines, in this chapter I focus on the materiality of the thing that is eaten. In other words, I shift attention to how ‘ethnicity’ is transferred from a socially defined category of human to the objects eaten: from ‘exotic’ fish, stag penises, to cheese described by some Chinese as ‘the mucous discharge of some old cow’s guts, allowed to putrefy.’ Across several ethnographic vignettes I examine closely the food objects that are differentially considered as delicious or disgusting. As Ash Amin argues, increasingly we are brought together across ethnicities in our everyday living, or what he calls ‘conviviality’. Analysing different scenes of eating—of sharing what is deemed edible by whom—I see commensality and conviviality as practices in progress that are fuelled by hope, the hope of being together that will change a collective and individual present and future.
Read an excerpt by Elspeth Probyn in Visuality, Emotions and Minority Culture, pp.27-44