294.2 Food and the construction of the ethnic self among Mizrahi immigrants to Israel

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 12:48 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Dafna HIRSCH , Sociology, Political Science and Communication, Open University of Israel, Ra'anana, Israel
During the 1950s and 1960s hundreds of thousands of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East arrived to the newly established Israeli state. These immigrants, referred to in Israel as "Mizrahi" (lit. Eastern), brought with them diverse food repertoires, most of which were unknown to Israelis of European descent ("Ashkenazi"). Although the popularity of "Oriental food" (i.e., a reduced and adjusted repertoire of Arab foods) increased during the 1950s, immigrants' food repertoires were subjected to various efforts of reform by instructors, teachers, nutrition experts and other educational agents. Sources suggest that in spite of these efforts the first generation of immigrants stuck to the food habits of the home country. Especially immigrants who were sent to agricultural settlements planted seeds of familiar foods they had brought with them from their countries of origins, as well as consumed vegetables, fruits and cereals they picked from the Arab remains in the vicinity of the villages. According to a research conducted in the 1960s, the second generation to families of immigrants already abandoned large parts of the home repertoire. It was only in the 1980s that a "rediscovered" repertoire of Mizrahi foods became a part of the construction of "authentic identities" and "nostalgic selves" by immigrants' descendants. This was due to several processes, among them the development of ethnic consciousness, and the emergence of a full blown consumer society in Israel.  

Based on interviews with Mizrahi immigrants from the 1950s and 1960s the paper will examine immigrants' own experiences of these processes: what were the meanings of food—both the home repertoire and the one encountered in Isreal—in the migration process? How did immigrants experience the marginalization and debasement of their foods in the public sphere? Special emphasis will be placed on food's role in the construction of the "ethnic self".