Home Restaurant Mayukh Sen Celebrates Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized American Food Culture

Mayukh Sen Celebrates Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized American Food Culture


Although readers will likely delight in the stories of the seven women he profiles in the book—including Mexican-born Elena Zelayeta, Italian-born Marcella Hazan, and Jamaican-born Norma Shirley—Sen suggests they should also be appalled at the way American society values the experiences of some immigrants and devalues those of others.

Marcella Hazan. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Women immigrants, especially those of color, have been particularly marginalized, and as a result, Taste Makers is as much a recovery project as it is a group biography. Within its pages, which span from World War II to the present, Sen unearths the history of immigrant women who have left a lasting mark on American food culture, whether or not credited for their contributions in their lifetimes.

He details their entrepreneurship, ethnic pride, and dedication to the culinary craft as well as the xenophobia, racism, and misogyny that often limited the recognition they received. Some of these women did achieve stardom in their day but not posthumously, while others, such as Hazan, are revered today.

Although Taste Makers levels criticism at the American food establishment, the book also highlights how Sen’s subjects persevered in the face of oppressive social constructs. Iranian-born Najmieh Batmanglij is a case in point: She moved to the U.S. in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and faced fierce discrimination as a result; finding the food establishment unwilling to embrace her, she published her culinary writing on her own terms.

A self-described “queer, brown child of immigrants” from India, Sen himself can relate to the challenges endured by the women he chronicles in Taste Makers. “That is crucial to why I have chosen to write this book and tell these stories,” he told Civil Eats. “I have occasionally faced questions, like, ‘Why are you—as a man—writing these stories? What attracts you to these stories?’ The answer is partially due to the fact that I have a very complicated relationship with gender, and I also belong to many marginalized communities.”

The immense empathy Sen has for his subjects pushes readers to reflect on the women, recognized and unrecognized, responsible for shaping the American palette. Civil Eats spoke with Sen about his motivation for writing Taste Makers, his hopes for its influence on the food establishment, and how much progress marginalized people have made in the American culinary world.

In Taste Makers, you profile seven immigrant women. How did you narrow it down?

There are so many brilliant immigrant women throughout American history who have shaped food in various ways—teachers, cookbook authors, chefs, et cetera. What really helped clarify things for me was to ask myself, “What kind of statement do I want to make with this book, especially with regards to assimilation, and whether that is the only pathway for success in America and under American capitalism?”

I tailored my seven subjects with that guiding credo. I wanted to include a mix of more familiar names—Marcella Hazan, for example, is a widely revered figure—alongside lesser-known names, ones who have not been sufficiently honored by the dominant white culture, for lack of a better term. I also wanted to make sure that readers with just a passing interest in food have a reason to pick up the book, and in doing so, they might be able to get to know some figures they think they know, like Marcella, in a deeper, more complex way while also being introduced to a wide variety of other figures whose names they may not have heard before.

And what can you say about the genesis of this book?

Back in 2017, I was a staff writer at Food52. I had been writing a lot of stories about people of color, women of color, immigrants of color, queer people of color—people who have not necessarily been given the appreciation that they deserve.

I had a friend named Shuja Haider, and he floated this idea to me. He said, “I wonder if these essays can amount to some sort of book about the immigrant story.” So, I put that in my back pocket.

“I think the most quietly radical way to push back against that sort of trope in food media is to tell the stories of various immigrant figures throughout American history who shaped food in the most granular way possible.”

Fast forward a year later, and I start to see some troubling narratives in food media pop up, a lot of stories and social media campaigns that basically say, “Immigrants get the job done.” I was really disturbed by these talking points being so prevalent in food media because I knew that they came from publications and folks who probably self-identified as liberal. Yet, these talking points felt so consumer-focused to me in a way that was dehumanizing immigrants but centering this white middle- to upper-middle class consumer.

When you say immigrants get the job done, it’s like, “What’s the job, and who doesn’t want it? Who’s being centered there?” So, my frustration led me to formulate the idea for this book. I told myself, “Well, I think the most quietly radical way to push back against that sort of trope in food media is to tell the stories of various immigrant figures throughout American history who shaped food in the most granular way possible. Make sure that their stories are being centered rather than the perspectives of those middle- to upper-middle class consumers.” That’s where it began.





Source link

Previous articleRHG set to double its West and Central Africa portfolio by 2025
Next articleEverything you need to know about Artificial Intelligence in Hotel Technology