American Studies | Comparative American Identities / Topic: Ethnic Food and Multicultural Identities
A200 | 14190 | Mark Hain


(3 cr. hrs.)

T/R 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Instructor Email: mhain@indiana.edu
Class carries COLL A&H Distribution Credit

Most of us are familiar with the metaphor of the United States as
a “melting pot,” in which peoples of diverse cultural heritages
influence one another and adapt to form a new and uniquely American
culture. Increasingly; however, many people have taken exception to
this metaphor and its implication that the American ideal is to
leave one’s ethnic identity behind in order to assimilate to a
dominant social order. A new metaphor has been proposed that
pictures America as a salad bar, in which the ingredients still
combine to form a larger whole, yet each component retains its
individuality.

Is it a coincidence that both of these metaphors invoke food? This
course uses these metaphors as a central concept for exploring how
multiculturalism and foodways form a complex image of our nation and
of the individuals who make up the nation. As we can clearly see
even here in Bloomington, notably on Fourth Street, the cuisine of
other cultures has become an integral part of mainstream American
culture. But what are the ramifications of this on people from these
cultures?

In this class, we will analyze how identity is formed and
transformed, and examine how material culture artifacts—primarily
food—help construct cultural identities. Is it beneficial or harmful
to associate multiculturalism in America with an extensive menu of
dining choices? What do the often complex and rapid changes in
American tastes and eating patterns signify? Why do Americans have a
taste for some types of cuisine and not others (why do we love Thai
food but not Cambodian, for example)? Does the commercialization of
ethnic food co-opt, commodify, and exotify “foreignness” to the
detriment of individual people, or does it provide opportunities for
recognition and economic growth to ethnic groups both established
and newly emerging in our culture? Does “authenticity” matter? Over
the course of the semester, we’ll explore these and other areas of
inquiry as we seek to both define and complicate the ways people in
our culture identify themselves as Americans while still retaining
individuality and cultural heritage.