Emerging migrant destinations in the United States, such as Charlotte, North Carolina, are receiving an influx of Latin American and Caribbean restaurants and markets in nontraditional landscapes. Food adventurers and diasporic residents rely on their habitus formed by experiences elsewhere to make sense of and determine the authenticity of these new food spaces. To understand how notions of authenticity are used, constructed, experienced, and interpreted in migrant food places, this article relies on an analysis of primary and secondary data on 16 food businesses in Charlotte serving goods associated with Latin America and the Caribbean. This includes narratives emerging in customer reviews on social media complemented with in-depth semi-structured interviews with business owners, field observations, and a review of public media, including oral histories published by the Southern Foodways Alliance. We found that reviewers rely on food grammars that include strategic uses of notions of authenticity paired with descriptors that reveal the writer’s habitus. The food grammars and value judgments relied on experiences in other places; material expectations regarding bodies, languages, and dishes served; and palate memory formed through engagement with ingredients, flavors, and smells. This research contributes to literature on migrant foodways, urban geography, and rhetoric by understanding how migrant food spaces in new destinations are understood and constructed through reliance on notions of authenticity.
“Looking for true Mexican food in Charlotte”: Insights into How Authenticity Is Produced, Experienced, and Interpreted in Migrant Food Spaces
Consuelo Carr Salas is an assistant professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at San Diego State University. She is a visual rhetorician and a food studies scholar with a research and teaching agenda focused on the commodification and representations of Mexican and Mexican Americans to U.S.-based audiences within “food spaces.”
Colleen Hammelman is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is a critical urban geographer with a research and teaching agenda focused on social justice in urban food systems across the Americas.
Sara Tornabene is a PhD candidate in geography and urban and regional analysis at UNC Charlotte. Her research interests include food studies, immigration, alternative economies, social justice, and participatory research. She holds a master’s degree in architectural engineering with a concentration in urban planning.
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Consuelo Carr Salas, Colleen Hammelman, Sara Tornabene; “Looking for true Mexican food in Charlotte”: Insights into How Authenticity Is Produced, Experienced, and Interpreted in Migrant Food Spaces. Gastronomica 1 May 2022; 22 (2): 29–42. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2022.22.2.29
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