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Naming Food and Creating Identity in Transnational Contexts

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This chapter explores the idea of contextualizing immigrant identities through the naming and labelling of food in the process of eating it, not just as a cultural marker but as an identity marker. It takes its lead from the semiotics of Ronald Barthes , Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Mary Douglas. According to Lévi-Strauss, human identification with food involves a complex cognitive process as food; to identify a food, one has to ‘think’ it, to understand its place in the world—and, therefore, understand the world—and in particular, to name it, order, and classify its elements. A culinary system provides criteria that can be used in these mental operations; it provides, as it were, a matrix. The implications of globalization and transnationalism on such food markers are explored in a specific multicultural context, that of the Oman where the flow of migrant communities have historically seen diverse groups of culinary influences transform the way in which food is viewed and labelled.


  • Food
  • Transnationalism
  • Immigrant
  • Linguistic marker
  • Culture
  • Cross-cultural identities
  • Semiotics
  • Symbolism

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  1. 1.

    Lévi-Strauss states that within a triangular semantic field whose three vertices correspond respectively to the categories of the raw, the cooked, and the rotte, it is clear that, with respect to cooking, the raw constitutes an unmarked pole, while the other two poles are strongly marked, but in a different direction. ‘cooked’ = cultural transformation of raw, while ‘rotted’ = natural transformation (Lévi-Strauss, 1966). This culinary triangle delimits a semantic field (from outside) which is true even for the linguistic triangle as well (since there are no phonemes a, i, u or k, p, t).

  2. 2.

    Lévi-Strauss continues his argument with “smoking”, which illustrates the “greatest affinity to the abstract category of the cooked” (pp. 36–43). Smoking is similar to roasting because it cooks as the same way as roasting. It differs from roasting because smoking makes use of the air. Smoking is also similar to boiling because a cultural object, a utensil is used. It differs from boiling since the utensil must be destroyed immediately after use while pots and pans for boiling are preserved utensils. Lévi-Strauss stresses on the fact that the boundary between nature and culture is determined by the way of “man’s insertion in nature” (pp. 36–43).

  3. 3.

    Oman is located between latitudes 16° and 28° N, and longitudes 52° and 60° E. Most of central Oman is covered by a vast gravel desert plain, with mountain ranges along the north and southeast coast.

  4. 4.

    This is reminiscent of old Western Aramaic pitt, Eastern Aramaic pitt which is related to Palestinian colloquial Arabic fatte “crumb, piece of bread”.

  5. 5.

    Limes originated in the Persian Gulf, hence the Persian name limooamani (Omani limes). The Iraqi Noomi Basra (lemon from Basra) are dried limes which are popular in cookery across the Middle East.


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Correspondence to Rashmi Jacob .

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Jacob, R., Sharma, A. (2018). Naming Food and Creating Identity in Transnational Contexts. In: Mehta, S. (eds) Language and Literature in a Glocal World. Springer, Singapore.

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