Cosmopolitan translations of food and the case of alternative eating in Manila, the Philippines


Scholars believe that cosmopolitans—individuals who are open to foreign cultures—contribute to the adoption of Euro-American conceptions of food in the Global South. However, there remains a dearth in our understanding of the links between globalization, cosmopolitanism, and the reproduction of food and food cultures more broadly. In this paper, I draw from the sociology of translation to examine the mechanisms by which cosmopolitans reproduce food across space and time, a conceptual approach I refer to as ‘cosmopolitan translations of food.’ This approach focuses on how human and non-human actants (mostly cosmopolitans themselves) mediate and translate the discursive and material elements of food as they travel from one geographic context to another. The broader history, socio-culture, and political economy where cosmopolitan actants are situated further influence these translations, resulting in diverse expressions of food globalization. I illustrate the merits of this approach by examining the emergence of alternative food in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Based on qualitative research, I find that alternative food in Manila has striking similarities to and notable differences from its counterparts in the United States. I purport that these similarities and differences can be attributed to Filipino cosmopolitans’ unconscious and intentional translations of what they understand as alternative food. Mediating these layers of translations are Filipino cosmopolitans’ mobilities and access to new media, as well as the colonial histories and postcolonial encounters that define their consumption tastes.

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Source: Author


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    There is an extensive literature on alternative food networks that debates the movement’s transformative promise and its discontents. I will not engage that expansive literature in this paper. Instead, I refer the readers to Goodman et al. (2012) for their comprehensive review.

  2. 2.

    Johnston and Baumann (2015) and Peterson and Kern (1996) do not necessarily refer to cosmopolitanism when describing omnivorous cultural practices, although Olliveir (2008) and Cheyne and Binder (2010) use these two concepts interchangeably. Cultural omnivorousness, however, can still be a useful concept in this paper, as consumers with cultural omnivorous tendencies may also be culinary cosmopolitans, although this may not always be the case.

  3. 3.

    Refer to Calhoun (2002) for an example of an elite cosmopolitan. For rooted cosmopolitanism, refer to Appiah (2006).

  4. 4.

    Latour (2005, p. 216) discusses the relations between the “intra-psyche” (within the subject) and the “extra-psyche” (beyond the subject).

  5. 5.

    Due to space constraints, I will not delve into the debates on ANT’s compatibility with political economy/ecology. I invite the readers to refer to Lave (2015).

  6. 6.

    This number includes multiple branches of the same restaurants.

  7. 7.

    Farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture are emerging in Manila. I did not include them in this paper because they merit a separate analysis, although the translation dynamics could parallel those found in the professional culinary networks.

  8. 8.

    Champorado, or chocolate rice porridge, is a Spanish inspired dish that has become a classic Filipino breakfast meal. Inasal is a Filipino variant of roast chicken marinated with a calamansi (Citrofortunella microcarpa) and vinegar mixture.

  9. 9.

    It is highly likely that consumers of alternative food who espouse socioecological politics exist in Manila, but none of those I interviewed explicitly indicated so. They would probably subscribe to these politics if given a choice, but would not mention such concerns if unprompted.

  10. 10.

    I used pseudonyms throughout the paper to protect the identity of my participants.

  11. 11.


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I am most grateful for the research support provided by Yale-NUS College. I would also like to thank Jane Jacobs, Greg de St. Maurice, Guy Leedon, Ariana Gunderson, and Caroline Erb-Medina for their feedback on the early drafts of this paper. Finally, I would like to extend my gratitude to all the cosmopolitan consumers, marketers, and producers of alternative food in Manila who participated in this research.

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Correspondence to Marvin Joseph F. Montefrio.

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Montefrio, M.J.F. Cosmopolitan translations of food and the case of alternative eating in Manila, the Philippines. Agric Hum Values (2019).

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  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Culinary cosmopolitanism
  • Alternative food
  • Actor-network theory
  • The Philippines