Food columnist Craig Claiborne wrote in 1988 that Mediterranean food had been named the “latest culinary trend,” noting the “flood” of restaurants, cookbooks, and even a diet book that were “riding the Mediterranean wave.” This so-called trend, the culinary Mediterranean that appeared in the American press of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, was of course a constructed geography. One of the things that makes it intriguing today is what it can tell us about historically constructed categories of race, religion, and ethnicity that marked diverse Middle Eastern and North African peoples who made homes for themselves in the United States in the twentieth century. Representations of this newly popular, supposedly unitary, Mediterranean cuisine filtered into the press in ways that noticeably skewed away from the actual Mediterranean peoples who had originated it, and especially away from those Mediterraneans who were Muslim or Arab. To see how the Middle East and North Africa gradually became “Mediterranean” in the American press, I examine how journalists initially distinguished European Mediterranean foodways from what they saw as orientalist cuisines to the south and east. I then trace the growing popularity of these “exotic” cuisines as the boundaries of the Mediterranean expanded to absorb them into a seemingly postcolonial frame whose imperial and Eurocentric legacies nonetheless remained vividly in place. Finally, I point toward tactical choices made by some members of Middle Eastern and North African diasporas to make their voices and agendas heard in rendering their cuisines accessible, and saleable, to American consumers.

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