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Cultural Geographies of Food: Understanding food and identity for SoLR World Food Week

Updated: Oct 18, 2022


Emily Pittaway | April 2022.


For my undergraduate dissertation, I undertook a qualitative independent study that aimed to further understand the relationship between people, food, and place; specifically focusing on the meanings of eating certain foods for international students.

My research was a comparative study which compared the food choices of both domestic and international students to understand how migration between countries, especially for university, affects food choices. I collected primary data through interviews and food diaries which I then analysed with reference to readings in the realms of food and national identity, globalization and foodways, the emotional geographies of food, and the challenges faced by migrants and international students. The study found that national identity is often much more significant to international students than domestic students and food is often used as a practise of this. International students also use the visceral experience of cooking and eating home foods or national dishes to bridge the gap between university and home (Pittaway, 2019).


Due to separation from their country of origin, migrants often feel more emotionally motivated to reinforce their national identity than those who have not migrated. Food is so intrinsically linked with individual national identity because it relates to a place in which an individual was raised - ‘a recipe represents an integral part of an individual’s history’ (Abarca, 2004, p5). Therefore, migrants, or the children or grandchildren of people who have migrated, tend to cook foods from their country of origin on a regular basis to reinforce their national identity, almost like a ritual (Longhurst et al, 2009; Rabikowska, 2010). The ritualisation of food is a performance of national identity, which suggests that food is vital to its sustenance (Brown et al, 2009; Wilson, 2006).


With an understanding that food is so intrinsic to identity, personal history and feelings associated with home, it is so important that in this World Food Week, we celebrate diverse foods and recipes from the different backgrounds that our colleagues identify with. World Food Week gives us the opportunity to celebrate the diversity in our teams and learn more about the reasons why certain foods are so important to promote a wider social and cultural understanding within the workspace. The conclusions drawn upon in my dissertation demonstrate that Geography, or more simply put, place, is so intrinsically linked with food. Dr Thanasis Skentos argued in his article that as land referencers we are all Geographers, therefore World Food Week is relevant to not only our interpersonal working relationships and office culture but also to our discipline.


Abarca, M. E., 2004. Authentic or not, it’s original. Food and Foodways, 12(1), 1–25.

Bathala, C. (2005) Issues in National and Cultural Identity: The Case of Asian (East) Indian Migrants. Managerial Law, 47(3/4): 139-151.

Brown, Edwards and Hartwell, 2009. A Taste of the unfamiliar: Understanding the meanings attached to food by international postgraduate students in England, Appetite (54)1.

Fischler 1998. Food, self and Identity, Anthropology of food (27)2

Longhurst, R. Johnston, I. Ho, E. (2009). Transactions: A visceral Approach: Cooking at Home with Migrant Women. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34(3).

Pittaway, E. (2019) Geographies of Food: Understanding the Relationship Between Food and International Students.

Rabikowska, M. (2010) The ritualization of food, home and national identity among Polish migrants in London. Social Identities, 16 (3): 377-398.

Wilson, T. (2006) Food, Drink and Identity in Europe. Editions Rodopi.


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