Cooking with refugees and migrants. Performing authenticity and traditionality for Warsaw’s culinary tourists
During the migration crisis of 2015, a commonly shared belief about the integrating role of food resulted in the emergence of several culinary initiatives directed at refugees and migrants in Warsaw. I show that these culinary initiatives form a space for the creation of ostensibly opposing processes. On the one hand, they empower refugees and migrants by embracing the culinary cultures of their home countries; on the other, they facilitate the creation of simplified and folkloristic images of them. During culinary workshops, the role of migrants and refugees is to recreate traditional dishes, using “authentic” recipes. At the same time, they are restricted by the organizers’ ethical foodways and the demands of Warsaw’s culinary tourists, such as vegetarianism, to which migrants and refugees skilfully adapt. These processes result from a neoliberal logic, whereby refugees’ and migrants’ experiences and their ethnicity become commodities in the NGO market.
This article draws on ethnographic research conducted between 2017 and 2018 in Warsaw. I look at the biographies of six women refugees cooperating with selected initiatives. I analyse their strategies of recreating traditionality in the dishes they cook in order to authenticate their migration stories. I also examine their experiences and practices in the context of “food capital” that emerges as a result of the exchange of cultural capital between migrants and residents, and “refugee capital”, defined as the ability to use refugee status for personal development and integration. Combining “food capital” with “refugee capital” turns out to be an excellent recipe for success for refugees’ migration projects.
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