Food, Intersectionality, and Categorization – Suman Atluri

Since I first learned about intersectionality, I have been interested in finding out more about how the concept impacts the daily lives of people from all around the world, from various walks of life, and overall from very different backgrounds. The idea of intersectionality ties in well with the anthropological concept of marked and unmarked categories, which transcend cultures, religions, and geographic locations. Creating a working definition of marked and unmarked categories is key to understanding the basis by which I will discuss this topic, and how it relates to international food studies. For the purposes of this paper, I define a marked category as one which stands out in the particular context of the situation. While many people do not refer to these categories by any sort of specific definition, they play a very important role in our everyday lives and how we view those around us. Until recently, I did not fully grasp how the concept of context can fully shape what is considered marked or unmarked in a specific situation. While it may seem obvious that normal ideas about migration and food in one society might not translate perfectly to another, these categories do not follow this often simplified differentiation in various surroundings. It is true that what may be considered marked in one situation revolving around food and migration may be unmarked in another; however, the group that holds power greatly differs within any given situation. The idea of marked and unmarked categories is especially important to analyze within the context of migration studies as well as food studies. When considering immigrants, it is important to note that those who migrate are not always the marked category nor those who lack power in a specific situation. That being said, in many studies that intersect with analysis of migration, such as food studies, it is those who migrate who often fall into marginalized and oppressed groups. Food studies and specific topics within this larger umbrella provide vehicles for analysis of intersectionality, marked and unmarked categories, and food security. Through analysis of literature surrounding food studies and immigration, we are able to gain a better understanding of how intersectionality plays a critical role in the development of marked and unmarked categories within migration and food studies.

While many say that the force of intersectionality is diminishing in power throughout the world, it still remains the dominant factor in the status of millions of people. With socioeconomic class, ethnic background, sex, gender, religion, and other factors possibly playing into a person’s role in many societies, certain groups of people are often unable to voice their opinions safely and effectively. This leads to regions and sometimes whole nations where certain groups of people are considered inherently beneath others and deemed inferior. One arena in which this is seen most is studies surrounding food security. Food security, as defined by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) (on its website about the topic), is “the condition to which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Food security is vital to the successful development of a region and/or nation. IFPRI reflects on the fact that “economic growth is only sustainable if all countries have food security. Without country-owned or country-driven food security strategies, there will be obstacles and additional costs to global, regional, and country-level economic growth. Food security needs to encompass women … and vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.” Whether through government policies (such as the indirect forcing of migrants into specific areas of a certain city or region), or through social interactions between groups, the force of intersectionality directly impacts which people or groups have complete food security in the context of their region. In addition, the lack of inclusion of voices of people from historically marginalized groups within food studies furthers the problems that have already been created surrounding access to food.

When first considering how food studies (and furthermore, food security) was linked to migration, I wondered which had more impact on the other. Did food insecurity cause people to migrate, or did migration somehow cause food insecurity? Arup Maharatna, in his article “Food Scarcity and Migration: An Overview,” discusses how “migration as we know it, both at the household and collective levels, is essentially a response to crisis situations (for example, food scarcity)” (Maharatna 2). This ideology makes sense, as history has seen many large movements and diasporas of people as a response to specific incidents – such as national disasters and famines. While Maharatna’s viewpoint seems to be part of the idea that food scarcity, among other issues, can cause widespread migration, I believe that because of intersectional forces, migration also impacts food security.

Due to intersectionality and the way it works in countries around the world, those who are oppressed and marginalized because of one facet of their identity (such as race, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or gender) are more likely to be in others as well. As a result, people who come from low socioeconomic statuses and migrate, for example, are at a very high risk of being affected by food insecurity. Walter Imilan, in “Performing national identity through Peruvian food migration in Santiago de Chile,” describes how “food and the activities surrounding it are not only a resource for economic integration, but also act as a mediating factor in the re-creation of a national identity. Migrants indeed use food as a way of performing their national distinctiveness from the host society” (Imilan 1). Therefore, when migrants are seen as the marked category indirectly restricted from access to fresh and healthy food because of various factors, a domino effect begins to take place. This effect passes onto national identity and more.

Food security has often only been discussed in the context of rural settings; there is a significant lack of academic analytical work surrounding food security of migrants and groups who do not identify as being from rural communities. Jonathan Crush, in “Linking Food Security, Migration, and Development,” discusses how “if the global migration and development debate sidelines food security, the current international food security agenda has a similar disregard for migration. The primary reason for this is the way in which “food security” is currently problematized. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that food insecurity is primarily a problem affecting the rural poor and that the solution is a massive increase in agricultural production by small farmers” (Crush 62). Crush brings up an important topic that is rarely discussed in the fields of food or migration studies: by considering only the rural poor as those affected by food security, experts are failing to analyze major problems facing millions of migrants all around the world and the ways that they are able, or in fact unable, to access healthy and fresh food on a consistent basis.

Analyzing food security and how it can impact migration, and vice-versa, could have a major beneficial impact on how studies surrounding food and migration studies are viewed; as a result, there could be a much better widespread understanding of motives for migration and how these are associated with issues related to food. Crush states that “the implications of the new mobility regime for food security in general (and urban food security in particular) need much further exploration and analysis. To what degree is heightened mobility related to problems of food insecurity? Food security shocks and chronic food insecurity can certainly be major motives for migration for income-generating opportunity” (71). Crush’s analysis sheds light on the fact that there is little to no analysis of food insecurity within migrant communities around the world. For this reason, we can see migrant communities as the marked categories and/or the marginalized group in this context. By giving more people in this group the chance to share their stories about food and their access/lack of access to fresh food, we would be able to have a better understanding of why, and perhaps more importantly, how, food insecurity and migration are linked.

By giving marginalized peoples a larger voice in the academic fields of migration and food studies, there would be a better understanding of issues facing certain groups, which are currently rarely discussed. Irma McClaurin, in her writing, reflects on how through academic writing, people from historically marginalized groups can regain the power that has been taken from them; this could be seen as an especially effective in migration and food studies, where migrants are often forced to give up their national identities and sometimes their gastronomic traditions as a result of their new home. McClaurin notes that “[people from oppressed groups], ever marginal to the authoritative discourse, cannot sit at the dining room table because they were never invited” (McClaurin 50). She brings up an important topic: the tendency in academic works to write about people from marginalized groups or the groups as a whole without having a first-hand perspective. While many authors of articles surrounding food studies and migration studies have completed large studies involving interviews with people within these groups, the authors themselves often identify as being from an unmarked group within society.

This reinforces a power structure within food and migration studies, as well as academia as a whole, that causes “minority scholars [to] still struggle for credibility … [and] battle a rising tide” (McClaurin 52). Until recently, these scholars had to seek validation from people in power, thereby falling victim to the social systems which they were writing about. While a hierarchy based on power continues to exist in academia, alongside other disciplines, many would argue that, with the increasing numbers of people from marginalized groups sharing their works and ideas, a slow blockage of the centuries-old power system within academia, specificically migration and food studies, is beginning to form. In addition, this problem of the norm of authors within academia has finally been uncovered for discussion and analysis.

Reflecting on the new era of accepted authors within academic disciplines, McClaurin highlights the idea that when people from groups which have historically been oppressed by society contribute to pieces such as an autoethnography, they are “[promoting their] interpretations of [their world] as authentic without the validation of other social scientists” (McClaurin 67). This statement represents the complete takeback of power from those in control and from the dominating structures that our society has created in fields of academia — in other words, a marking of these structures. Furthermore, by shifting the focus away from those who have historically held power, societal issues such as oppression and marginalization of marked groups are underscored. While these topics of power, intersectionality, and oppression may seem distant from food studies, I believe that they go hand in hand. My giving more people from certain groups a larger voice within academia, and specifically food studies, we would gain perspectives that are currently widely lacking. By doing so, there would be an ability to have increased analysis, and therefore, a better understanding of how food can affect migration and vice-versa.

The academic disciplines of food studies and migration studies can be easily related back and tied into the anthropological concepts of marked and unmarked categories as well as the overarching force of intersectionality. The disparities between groups who have food security and those who do not often come down to societally created power differentials that exist in groups, nations, regions, and societies around the world. While many societies worldwide are experiencing changes in power differentials between unmarked and marked groups, few focus on the works created by people from marked categories – often people who have been marginalized and oppressed. When societal norms that have existed for decades or even centuries are disrupted, underlying themes of oppression and marginalization are often brought to light. Power shifts away from those who have historically held it sparks conversations about the history and social structures of those who have been downtrodden. As we can see through academic writing in the fields of migration and food studies and beyond, the need to analyze works surrounding food security written by people from marginalized groups is greater than ever, and a deep understanding of these works could empower people in marked groups, helping to ensure food security for more groups of people around the world, on a consistent basis.


Works Cited

Crush, Jonathan. “Linking Food Security, Migration and Development.” International Migration, vol. 51, no. 5, Oct. 2013, pp. 61-75. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/imig.12097.


“Food Security.” International Food Policy Research Institute,


Maharatna, Arup. “Food Scarcity and Migration: An Overview.” Social Research, vol. 81, no. 2, Summer 2014, pp. 277-298. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/sor.2014.0026.


McClaurin, Irma. 2001. “Chapter 2: Theorizing a Black Feminist Self in Anthropology.” Essay. In Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics.


Milan, Walter A. “Performing National Identity through Peruvian Food Migration in Santiago De Chile.” Fennia, vol. 193, no. 2, June 2015, pp. 227-241. EBSCOhost, doi:10.11143/46369.


Suman Atluri’s Noodle Narrative with Gloria Mi


For this project, I decided to interview Gloria Mi, a close of friend of mine. Gloria just completed her first year at Oxford College of Emory University and is double majoring in Business and Computer Science. While I have many friends who are familiar with Chinese and/or Italian cuisine, I specifically asked Gloria for the opportunity to interview her because of her extensive knowledge of Chinese cooking and culture. In addition, I had spoken to Gloria on several occasions about the experiences of Chinese immigrants in America, and I was very interested to hear about her own experience alongside her thoughts on how specific foods (such as noodles) affect the immigrant journey from China to the United States. Because Gloria is interning in Minnesota for the summer while I am in Dallas, we decided that an interview over Skype would be best.

Gloria first reflected on her background, stating that she was “born in Xi’an China, but moved to the United States when [she] was two.” She quickly followed up with the fact that her “family is fairly traditional, so [she] grew up attending Chinese school over the weekends that had math, drawing, and [Mandarin language] classes. Even though [she] didn’t visit China very often as a kid, [she] always had relatives over every summer, and [she] thinks that’s probably the reason [her] mandarin is near perfect despite being an “abc” (American born chinese).” This idea of “ABC” that Gloria discussed made me think about the idea of a possible binary between immigrants from China and those Chinese-Americans who are born in the United States. I was curious to learn more about what Gloria thought about this possible divide and see if she had any insight into how food helped her to keep in touch with her Chinese culture while still living in the United States.

When discussing how her Chinese heritage blended with her being raised in China, Gloria explained that “[her] parents moved to America to pursue the “American Dream”, so they always encouraged [her and her sister] to assimilate into the culture, but at the same time remember [their] roots.” When asked about whether there was ever a disconnect between the way she interacted with family at home and with non-Chinese friends outside of the house, Gloria reflected that “this caused some confusion for me as I was growing up, it felt like I was stuck in the middle of two cultures, neither of which fully accepted me.” I was intrigued by this disconnect, as I know firsthand that many first-generation Americans feel this way. While immigrant parents often attempt to have their kids keep in touch with the culture of the parents’ country of origin, many students feel lost when navigating through the schools and other systems in America. When Gloria touched on this, I was immediately interested to learn more about how food helped her ease this disconnect.

Gloria identified food as being one of the main ways in which she bridged the cultural gap between Chinese and American cultures and cuisines. She stated that “in elementary and middle school, kids weren’t super open to different types of food, and Asian food would fall in the category of “weird and smelly” … Even among friends, it was better to find a food that was more socially acceptable for everyone. I feel like the younger me was ashamed of my culture because others pointed out that I was different. Nowadays, I think that people are generally more open and respectable. Food is a global way to connect people, something that everyone can understand.” She also described how her relationship with Chinese food evolved since she was younger. When she was young, she often had noodles on her birthday because her family believed that if one ate long noodles, that they would live a longer life. Other than that, she didn’t consider any underlying meaning to the staple ingredient in Chinese cooking. She stated that however, as she got older, “[she] came to realize it has significance beyond that. The amount of love that went into preparing the noodles, making the dough, hand crafting the noodles, was a silent way for [her] parents to show how much they cared.” In addition, she again identified the noodle as being an example of a food that helped her stay in touch with her Chinese culture.

As I was wrapping up the interview, I was curious to learn more about how Gloria’s growing up in the United States impacted her views on specific types of food. When asked about this, Gloria stated that “I think that growing up in America has definitely broadened my views on food. It’s a melting pot/salad of cultures coming together which means that there are many chances to experience different types of cuisine and cultures. I think that if my family had stayed in China, my life would have been very different, and my experiences with food would also have been very different.” She credited American cuisine to the diversity of different cultures that exist within America and added that while growing up in America has made her grow closer to her culture, it has also piqued her interest in learning more about other cultures and the cuisines that lie within.

My interview with Gloria helped me analyze the immigrant experience in America. I delved into topics such as first-generation Americans’ connection with food and how it helps bridge the gap between connecting with heritage and grasping an American identity. Gloria’s interview also provided me more insight into how the noodle serves as a vehicle for storytelling, not only a major food used in Chinese cooking. Perhaps Gloria summed up the noodle best, in saying that “noodles can represent family, caring, love, harmony  not only in Chinese culture, but other cultures as well.” Noodles and food, as a whole, serve as a connector between people, their cuisines, and their experiences.

Sambar: A Shared Tradition (Suman Atluri – Blog 3)

Growing up and going to school and college in the South, I’m used to instinctively thinking of gravy, biscuits, fried chicken, and “mac’ n cheese” when I hear the term “comfort food.” However, when I think of what I’ve actually considered “comfort food,” throughout my life, one particular item comes to mind: sambar, served with warm basmati rice.

Sambar is a vegetable-based stew that is consumed primarily in South and Central India. The dish is a staple in many homes, but is made differently by families across the world. Vegetables used in the stew vary, but can include carrot, radish, pumpkin, potato, tomato, onions, and okra, among others. Many people eat sambar with rice, while others use it as a sort of dipping sauce for dosa, a crepe eaten through Southern India or ghare, a fried savory snack. My family’s traditional sambar recipe has been passed down from generation to generation, and while each family member that has cooked it has added their own flair to the dish, the basic ingredients have remained similar throughout the years.

When I was growing up and going to school, I felt a major disconnect between the school  I attended my family. I never felt comfortable about the foods my family ate at home while attending my very homogenous K-12 prep school. I refused to take any kind of lunch from home, worrying that even if the food wasn’t “Indian,” that there might be some sort of odor of the kitchen in my lunch. That being said, I was the first person to dig into bowls of piping sambar every night and at family gatherings.

This sort of “disconnect” continued until I came to Emory. My first year at the University was my first experience in a truly diverse community. For the first time, I had several other South Asian friends, who shared similar backgrounds and experiences. I felt comfortable talking about foods that I enjoyed, traditions that my family had, and more. One night, when discussing our favorite foods, several friends and I realized that we shared a “love” for sambar. We talked about how differently our families prepared the food, and decided that we could try it ourselves. Almost none of us had any sort of cooking experience, but we head to Patel Brothers, picked up the necessary ingredients, and returned to campus to cook in a communal kitchen.

While cooking the dish, it was so interesting to hear everyone’s feedback. Some insisted that we throw in okra, while others swore against putting too much carrot. Many thought that the thicker the stew, the better, while others preferred a broth-like dish. When we were finished cooking, we realized we had created a less-than optimal dish. However, it was one that was fused together with traditions and ingredients representing several families, cities, and regions in India.

This experience was special to me not only because it served as an opportunity to connect with my friends and culture, but also because it gave me more insight on how food can serve as a common connecting point. In addition, I gained significantly more appreciation for the process of cooking and specifically preparing ingredients.

Analysis Questions

  1. I chose to imitate “Ping An Mien, a Chinese Family Noodle Story” by Susannah Chen
  2. I chose this piece because I related well to the themes and broad ideas of cooking passed down through families, first-generation American experiences with food native to their family’s homeland, sharing food with others, and more. I also thought it was very well written and easy to read and understand.
  3. I learned that the culture of the author was very blended. While she identified as Chinese, she was able to blend her American identity into the way she cooked and served her food. In addition, I saw a similarity in that the author became closer to her culture through cooking and the sharing of her food.
  4. I realized that my culture is very comparable to others, especially surrounding stories about food. While all cultures have many things that are differents, there are common threads that food brings out. Some common themes included sharing, family, assimilation, immigration, and more.
  5. There are pieces of both Indian and Chinese cultural DNA and while different, I found many more similarities than differences.

Suman Atluri Blog 2: Shaping of the Noodle

The noodle is not only a food consumed throughout the world; it also represents the final product of intense labor in many nations in addition to regional and cultural diversity. In addition, it’s important to recognize the differences and similarities in how noodles are prepared and consumed throughout the world; analyzing these can lead to a larger understanding of broad themes.

When reading about noodles in China, I was perhaps most struck by the various items that could make up noodles. For example, in “Noodles, Pressed and Pulled,” Hsiang Ju Lin describes how “bamboo pole noodles, made of compressed egg noodle dough, are found in Southern China … Pulled noodles are made over a vast area in northern China.” While many people consider that there are different types of noodles, few realize that the actual ingredients that go into each type can differ greatly. In addition, I was interested in the idea of how long noodle preparation can take. In the same article, the author reflects on how “dough is pressed and folded repeatedly. [The baker] might do this for hours to make a stack of compressed noodle dough.” When many people in the United States consider pasta and pasta based dishes, the first thing they think about is pre-prepared and boxed pasta dishes. This idea of pasta has been created by manufacturers and is prevalent. While these kinds of pasta are definitely in existence, they are not an accurate representation of preparation of all other kinds of pasta. In addition, I was interested to learn more about the different presentations of noodles available in China. Professor Li’s presentation corrected many ideas about the different kinds of noodles present. I especially enjoyed learning more about steamed buns and how they related to noodles. In China and the rest of the world, the variety in noodles can symbolize a larger diversity in peoples, regions, cultures, thoughts, and beliefs (especially about food).

When reviewing literature about the noodle in Italy, I was interested to learn more about how the regional differences in preparation of noodle-based dishes and how the different shapes, textures, and tastes of noodles impacted this. I was also hoping to learn more about the focus on freshness in Italian cooking. In the article we read from Encyclopedia of Pasta, Oretta Zanini de Vita reflects on how “pasta may be the unchallenged symbol of Italian food, yet no in depth research has been done on its many shapes … Recent cookery texts are stuck mainly on the nobler stuffed pastas, with very little attention to their form, and recipes nowadays almost always call for factory-made pasta.” De Vita’s article made me analyze how this “call” represents a common theme in our society: a move away from fresh cooking and eating to mass production, eating out at restaurants, and fast food. While many people are busy and unable to cook fresh food every day, manufacturers have led a major movement away from healthy eating as a result of their price gauging and other efforts in markets such as pasta production. In addition to this theme, I also found that similar to how it does in China, the noodle represents the diversity of the Italian people – regional diversity, religious diversity, cultural diversity, diversity of thoughts and beliefs, and more. Different areas in Italy produce different kinds of noodles and noodle-based dishes, depending on the way on availability and other factors.

I broadly define a noodle as being shaped from dough, possibly cooked in a variety of ways. I purposely am vague with my definition in order to be inclusive. Below I have included my chosen picture of a noodle!

Image result for types of noodles

Blog Post 1: Roots

Many South Asians tie their cultural experience to the food that they’ve grown up with, and I am no different. While my cultural identity is definitely represented in the foods that I’ve eaten, my family’s own very unique expressions are also shown in specific dishes that we choose to enjoy. Like many South Indians, I enjoyed unique foods that were filled with spice – some of these included dahi vada (lentils soaked in yogurt), puchidi (a type of pounded and often pickled food, ground into a paste), and pesarattu (similar to green crepes). Eating these foods always enabled me to connect back to my culture – whenever I travelled to India, I would see these dishes being made on the streets, cooked in homes, and generally being enjoyed by people everywhere. While my family did make all of these dishes, there were a few that I ate almost everyday. These included sambar (lentil stew) and rice, dosa (crepe), and perrugu (yogurt) rice. These dishes are not uncommon at all in South India, however my family ate them with every meal, which is unique. I found that while eating South Indian food in general at home let me connect back to my culture and my experience as a South Asian American, the foods that I ate specifically with my parents on a regular basis allowed me to stay close to my familial roots.


Similarly to many students in college, I continue to eat South Asian (specifically South Indian food) because it reminds me of my home and experiences that I had while growing up. Perhaps what I find most interesting is that when I eat food that I would usually eat with my parents, it makes me reflect not only on gastronomic experiences, but a wide variety of events that I’ve had and been through that involved food! For example, whenever I eat chicken tikka masala (a north Indian food), I am reminded of the same delicious dish that was served at my cousin’s wedding in 2010. While this dish is often prepared similarly from home to home, most families add a special touch. At the wedding, a secret family recipe was used (to this day, I’m not sure what went into the dish!), but it was delicious, and all the guests who were in attendance continue to rave about it. Similarly, eating dosas (similar to crepes) reminds me of the summers that I would spend in India. Waking up early to avoid the heat, I would go along with my grandfather to pick up foods at them market. My parents never wanted me to eat outside of the house at India, but not realizing the risks, I would always beg my grandfather for a fresh dosa on the way home. By continuing to eat all these different foods, I am not only staying in touch with my familial and cultural roots – I am also connecting with experiences, moments, and people that have shaped me.

Chicken Tikka Masala

The ethnic community that I am most familiar with in the Atlanta area is the Indian community. Atlanta is a sprawling city, and therefore, Indian families are often spread miles and miles apart. While it is rare to see most of the Indian population in the city at any one given event, several events put on by regional Indian groups (such as the Telugu Association of Atlanta, for example) draw thousands of Indians that hail from specific parts of India. Atlanta is also a great city to explore the diversity that exists within India itself; families in the area hail from all over India. While all of these families share a common thread in their cultural heritage, they each have individual traditions and regionally-based traditions that shape them, their practices, and the food they cook. This is especially demonstrated by the Indian restaurants in the Atlanta area. Restaurants such as Madras Mantra showcase South Indian food. Cafe Bombay and others cook mostly North Indian food, while locations such as Masti focus on a fusion. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to interact with the peoples and foods of so many different Indian communities around the Atlanta area, and I’ve learned so much about myself and my roots through the process!



Links to recipes/photos of mentioned foods:

Dahi Vada:






Chicken Tikka Masala: