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Hungry for the taste of El Salvador: Gastronomic nostalgia, identity, and resistance to nutrithink in an immigrant community

Sharon L Stowers, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is an analysis of how, in the context of State governmentality, Salvadoran immigrants in the 1990s constructed a transnational identity and forged community through the symbolic use of their cuisine. Drawing from historical sources, including USDA documents, contemporary theory, including Foucault, Boym, and McCracken, and ethnographic data, I discuss the roles of power, memory and consumption in Salvadoran immigrants' encounter with the State. Historically, immigrants have been subject to State nutritional bio-politics: food and nutrition policy and programs that deploy a “technology of diet,” resulting in modern meanings for food, what I term “nutrithink,” and dietary discipline. But I demonstrate how undocumented and temporarily documented Salvadorans, especially those who migrated from rural areas, establish culinary sanctuaries and invent the “Salvadoran Ideal Meal” to resist State ascribed identities and dietary disciplinary tactics. To these ends, Salvadoran woman, I argue, “groom” food for their household and community to infuse it with meaning and to forge an identity otherwise unavailable to Salvadorans in the public sphere. This identity, a function of collective gastronomic nostalgia, links Salvadorans to an idealized past and a hoped for present and future, all of which they want to share with their children. But Salvadoran immigrants quest for an autonomous identity in the face State power and modernizing forces leads to many tensions, and these tensions ultimately become located on the bodies of Salvadoran-American children, lending, I suggest, to their high rate of obesity.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Nutrition

Recommended Citation

Stowers, Sharon L, "Hungry for the taste of El Salvador: Gastronomic nostalgia, identity, and resistance to nutrithink in an immigrant community" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3078721.