I Smell You

De Souza, R. (2017). I Smell You, Life Matters, Radio National, Australia. Thursday 14 September 2017.

The wonderful Masako Fukui from Life Matters interviewed me for this story about olfactory assimilation.

I am a committed foodie, ‘somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry’ (Johnston & Baumann, 2010, 61) who is also interested in the politics of food. In particular, the politics of food in public spaces like public transport and hospitals.

I am interested in the ways in which admission into western medical health services requires assimilation into a distinct patient subculture. This coercive incorporation and relinquishment of clothing and belongings is accompanied by the loss of autonomy over everyday activities and routines, which is ceded to health professionals and institutional processes. From being a socially integrated member of a community, the person within the dominant mode of biomedicine is reduced to being an individual, then a physical body or parts. The person becomes an object who receives care.

Food is more than sustenance and nutrition, it has social, cultural and symbolic meanings which structure not only our daily lives, but also life transitions such as maternity. Food represents an arena where powerful values and beliefs about being a human are evident. Food practices also demarcate cultural boundaries of belonging and not belonging. Forthcoming: De Souza, R. (in press). Going Without: Migrant Mothers, Food and the Postnatal Ward in New Zealand. In F. Guignard and T. Cassidy (Eds.), Moving Meals and Migrant Mothers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Check out Masako Fukui’s great piece in ABC News: Is our dislike of ‘smelly’ food actually cultural intolerance?

Fish is OK, as long as it isn’t pungent. Curry is nice, as long as the spices don’t cling to the curtains. Kimchi is healthy, as long as the fermented garlic doesn’t linger on the train.

But for the migrant who feels displaced from their homeland, foods that olfactorily offend may play an important role in reinforcing identity, Dr De Souza says.

She says cooking and eating a beautiful curry is akin to “putting lotion on the part of me that feels dislocated, lonely, and isolated”. But that same curry can reek of spices that ultimately isolate her by making her smell different, even invoking disgust.

 

 

Okra and eggplant

Mouthing off about oral health

I have had several tooth adventures. The time I rather enthusiastically pushed my middle sister on her bicycle and she fell over the handlebars breaking a tooth (or was that the time I helped her break her collar-bone?). My own dental fluorosis (a developmental disturbance of enamel that results from ingesting high amounts of fluoride during tooth mineralization) and my mother’s sobering experience of periodontal disease. Not to mention my parents’ adventures in dental tourism, but I’ll save those for another time.

Apart from the personal injunction to clean and floss my teeth, I didn’t think too much about oral health as a mental health clinician until I’d left clinical practice for education, when I found myself at AUT University in a faculty committed to inter-professional education and practice, where “current or future health professionals to learn with, from, and about one another in order to improve collaboration and the quality of care.”

 

We had learned about oral health as undergraduate nurses, particularly about post-operative oral health care and oral health for older people. But even when working in acute mental health units, community mental health and maternity, I hate to admit, oral health wasn’t on my mind. Unsurprisingly, evidence shows that even though oral health is a major determinant of general health, self esteem and quality of life, it often has a low priority in the context of mental illness (Matevosyan 2010).

As the programme leader of health promotion at AUT, a colleague in the oral health team asked me to talk to her students about the connections between mental health and oral health and that’s when my journey really began. I also had the pleasure of getting my teeth cleaned and checked at the on site Akoranga Integrated Health at AUT whose services were provided by final year and post graduate health science students under close supervision of a qualified clinical team.

It made me think about how oral health care is performed in a highly sensual area of the body. I learned that oral tissues develop by week 7 and the foetus can be seen sucking their thumb. It made me think about how suckling and maternal bonding are critical after birth. It made me think about how we use our mouths to express ourselves and to smile or show anger or shyness, literally 65% of of our communication. It made me think about kissing in intimate relationships and therefore also about how it’s not at all surprising that our mouths also represent vulnerability and that people might consequently suffer from fear and anxiety around oral health treatment. This can range from slight feelings of unease during routine procedures to feelings of extreme anxiety long before treatment is happening (odontophobia). Reportedly, 5-20% of the adult population reports fear or anxiety of oral health care, which can lead to avoidance of dental treatment and common triggers can include local anaesthetic injection and the dental drill.

Poor oral health has a detrimental effect on one’s quality of life. Loss of teeth impairs eating, leading to reduced nutritional status and diet-related ill health. A quarter of Australians report that they avoid eating some foods as a consequence of the pain and discomfort caused by their poor dental health. Nearly one-third found it uncomfortable to eat in general. Oral disease creates pain, suffering, disfigurement and disability. Almost one-quarter of Australian adults report feeling self-conscious or embarrassed because of oral health problems, impacting on enjoyment of life, impairing social life or leading to isolation with compromised interpersonal relationships

People with severe mental illness are more likely to require oral health care and have 2.7 times the general population’s likelihood of losing all their teeth (Kisely 2016). Women with mental illness have a higher DMFT index (the mean number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth) (Matevosyan 2010). In particular, oral hygiene may be compromised. For people who experience mood disorders, depressive phases can leave person feeling worthless, sad and lacking in energy, where maintaining a healthy diet and oral hygiene become a low priority. The increased energy of manic episodes can mean energy is diffused, concentration difficulties and poor judgement. People who experience mental ill health and who self-medicate with recreational drugs and alcohol can further exacerbate poor oral health. Furthermore, drug side effects can compromise good oral health by increasing plaque and calculus formation (Slack-Smith et al. 2016). It is important for mental health support staff to provide information regarding oral health, in particular education about xerostomic (dry mouth) effects of drug treatment and strategies for managing these effects including maintaining oral hygiene, offering artificial saliva products, mouthwashes and topical fluoride applications.

There are organisational and professional barriers to better oral health in mental health care. Mental health nurses do not routinely assess oral health or hygiene and lack oral health knowledge or have comprehensive protocols to follow. As Slack-Smith et al. (2016) note there are few structural and systemic supports in care environments with multiple competing demands. Research shows that dentists are more likely to extract teeth than carry out complex preventative or restorative care in this population. Mental health clinicians are reluctant to discuss oral health and in turn oral health practitioners are not always prepared for providing care to patients with mental health disorders.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog post. Until the 17th century, medical care and dental care were integrated, however, dentistry emerged as a distinct discipline, separate from doctors, alchemists and barbers who had had teeth removal in their scope of practice (Kisely 2016).

Cox, S.; A Country Toothdrawer; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-country-toothdrawer-125814
Cox, S.; A Country Toothdrawer; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-country-toothdrawer-125814

I spent the weekend at the Putting the Mouth Back into the Body conference, an innovative, multidisciplinary health conference hosted by North Richmond Community Health. It got me thinking about the place of the mouth in the body and developed my learning further. The scientific method and the mechanistic model of the body central to the western biomedical conception of the body, have led us to see the body in parts which can be attended to separately from each other. And yet we know what affects one part of the body affects other parts. There’ll be an official outcomes report produced from the conference, but I thought I’d capture some of my own reflections and learning in this blog post.

Equity and the social determinants of dental disease

Tooth decay is Australia’s most prevalent health problem with edentulism (loss of all natural teeth) the third-most prevalent health problem. Gum disease is the fifth-most prevalent health problem. Tooth decay is five times more prevalent than asthma in children. Oral conditions including tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer and oral trauma create a ‘burden’ due to their direct effect on people’s quality of life and the indirect impact on the economy. There are also significant financial and public health implications of poor oral health and hygiene. Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Parliamentary Secretary for Carers spoke about the impact of oral health on employment. She reinforced research findings which show that people with straight teeth as 45 per cent more likely to get a job than those with crooked teeth, when competing with someone with a similar skill set and experience. People with straight teeth were seen as 58 per cent more likely to be successful and 58 per cent more likely to be wealthy. Dental health is excluded from the Australian Government’s health scheme Medicare, which means that there is significant suffering by those who cannot afford the cost of private dental care for example low-income and marginalised groups. Dental care only constitutes 6% of national health spending and comprehensive reform could be effected with the addition of less than 2 percentage points to this says a Brotherhood of St Lawrence report (End the decay: the cost of poor dental health and what should be done about it by Bronwyn Richardson and Jeff Richardson (2011)). The socially
disadvantaged also experience more inequalities in Early Childhood Caries (ECC) rates. Research has also shown that children from refugee families have poorer oral health than the wider population. A study by my colleagues at North Richmond Community Health and University of Melbourne found that low dental service use by migrant preschool children. The study recommended that health services  consider organizational cultural competence, outreach and increased engagement with the migrant community (Christian, Young et al., 2015).

The interactions between oral health and general health 

Professor Joerg Eberhard spoke about the interactions between oral and general health through the lifespan. His talk also demonstrated the importance of oral hygiene, not only to prevent cavities and gum disease but impact on pregnancy, diabetes and cardiovascular health. 50 to 70 per cent of the population have gingivitis and severe gum disease (periodontitis) which develop in response to bacterial accumulation have adverse effects for general health. He showed participants the interactions of oral health and general health with a focus on diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. Most strikingly, Eberhard’s research published in The International Journal of Cardiology in 2014, showed periodontitis could undermine the major benefits of physical activity. If you are interested in the link between oral health and non-communicable diseases, this Sydney Morning Herald article provides a great summary.

Key points:

  • What effects the body also affects the mouth, in fact this is bidirectional.
  • Early experiences impact lifelong health eg sugar preference, early cavities, diet.

Sugar is a significant culprit

I learned a lot about sugar from Jane Martin the Exective Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition and Clinical Associate Professor Matthew Hopcraft an Australian dentist, public health academic and television cook. 52% of Australians exceed the WHO recommendations for sugar intake, and half of our free sugars come from beverages. Sugar intake profoundly impacts cavities and our contemporary modes of industrial food production are to blame. We also need to challenge the subtle marketing of energy dense nutrient poor products eg the ubiquity of fizzy drink vending machines. To that end both Universities in the United States and health services worldwide (see NHS England) are taking the initiative to phase out the sale and promotion of sugary drinks at their sites. At the University of Sydney a group of students, researchers and academics are taking this step through the Sydney University Healthy Beverage Initiative. Check out this fabulous social marketing campaign with indigenous communities in Australia by Rethink Sugary DrinkSugar-free Smiles advocate for public health policies and regulatory initiatives to reduce sugar consumption and improve the oral health of all Australians. There’s also the Sugar by half campaign.

sugary-drinks

Key points:

  • We need to think about what we are eating.
  • Oral health promotion and oral health literacy are important.
  • We need to think about the addition of sugar in foods that are ostensibly good for us (cereal and yoghurt for breakfast for example).

The case for working collaboratively: The example of pharmacists

Dr Meng-Wong Taing (Wong) from the University of Queensland persuasively argued how other professionals can have a major role in promoting both oral health and helping to lower the risk of suffering other serious conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Wong cited recent research findings describing the role of Australian community pharmacists in oral healthcare that show 93 per cent of all community pharmacists surveyed believed delivering oral health advice was within their roles as pharmacists. People in lower socio-economic areas often can’t afford to see a dentist and so pharmacies are the first port of call for people experiencing oral health issues. The 2013 ‘National Dental Telephone Interview Survey’, which found the overall proportion of people aged five and over who avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost was 31.7 per cent, ranging from 10.7 per cent for children aged five-14 to 44.9 per cent for people aged 25-44.

Wong’s presentation and those of other speakers over the two days showed the importance of Interprofessional Collaboration (IPC)

IPC occurs when “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds provide comprehensive services by working with patients, their families, carers, and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings” (WHO 2010, p. 13).

Key points:

  • How do we get oral health in health professional curricula? Particularly given the emphasis on the technocratic and acute at the expense of health promotion and public health.
  • How can we focus on oral health from a broader social determinants perspective?
  • Let’s improve access to services and oral health outcomes.
  • Let’s develop inter-professional approaches to undergraduate education.
  • Let’s develop collaborative approaches and avoiding the ‘siloing’ of oral health.
  • Let’s encouraging partnerships between oral health professionals and other health professionals, community groups and advocacy groups.
  • Rather than developing better systems, let’s have better relationships that are consumer centred (see above and AUT’s Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice (IPECP) website.

Perhaps the best news of the two days for me is that milk, cheese and yoghurt and presumably paneer, contain calcium, casein and phosphorus that create a protective protein film over the enamel surface of the tooth thereby reducing both the risk of tooth decay and the repair of teeth after acid attacks. This information validates my enjoyment of sparkling wine (low sugar but acidic) and cheese. Cheers.

Smells and bodies out of place: Microaggressions on public transport

A winter evening, wet and cold. Squashed into a tram. When a seat became available, I swooped down into it, finding myself next to a woman who proceeded to cover her nose. As she fanned her face with her other hand, I asked her with gentle concern if she was ok. She responded vehemently and with a force I didn’t expect: “It stinks in here, full of people smelling of onions and curry and shit”. Hmm. We were surrounded by Indians including me.

The new super sized E tram leaves the South Melbourne Depot. Pic. Nicole Garmston
The new super sized E tram leaves the South Melbourne Depot. Pic. Nicole Garmston

It’s not the first time I’ve had funny looks and comments about food and smells but the last time was when it was referring to my lunchbox, quite a few decades ago. The incident on the tram made me think about how smells are political (Manasalan). I’m writing about smells in hospitals in a book chapter coming out later this year and I am interested in what makes some public smells acceptable (for example disinfectant) and other more organic smells not so acceptable or even disgusting.

The food that is a salve for the dislocated, lonely, isolated migrant also sets her apart, making her stand out as visibly, gustatorily or olfactorily different. The soul sustaining resource also marks her as different, a risk. If her food is seen as smelly, distasteful, foreign, violent or abnormal, these characteristics can be transposed to her body and to those bodies that resemble her.

Laksa by Ruth De Souza
Laksa by Ruth De Souza

Food smells categorise groups of people who are different, and those viewed as negative are seen as a marker of non-western primitiveness. The emotion of disgust is emblematic of the too-near proximity of others and the fear that we might be invaded through our mouths. Probyn writes:

disgust reveals the object in all of its repellent detail, it causes us to step back, and, in that very action, we are also brought within the range of shame

However, nutritional assimilation or sanitisation to become odourless and modern does not guarantee belonging, like citizenship it remains thin when compared to the affective power of ethnic identity. (DeSouza, in press).

Grinding my own spice mix, by Ruth De Souza
Grinding my own spice mix, by Ruth De Souza

I am a committed foodie (defined by Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61), as ‘somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry’ who is also interested in the politics of food. My partner and I commute to Melbourne, a foodie paradise. Melbourne’s food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts points out:

In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are.

Sometimes though the acceptance is also class based or related to gentrification take Nick Earles’ point:

But it wasn’t as bad as being the kid from the Italian family who had his “wog” lunch thrown in the bin most days, only to watch the perpetrators spend $10 in cafes 20 years later for the exact same food – focaccia and prosciutto – with no recollection of what they’d done.

It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced someone else’s visible disgust. How to negotiate the smell that is out of place and the identity that does not belong? An ongoing process, but I’ve had plenty of practice.

Jellyfish and cabbage salad, by Ruth De Souza
Jellyfish and cabbage salad, by Ruth De Souza

“Kiwi food is okay for Kiwis, but it isn’t okay for us”: Special food in the perinatal period for migrant mothers

I attended the 5th International Conference on Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Relational, Bio-cultural and Spatial Perspectives from Wednesday, 5 November 2014 – Friday, 7 November 2014.

Those who know me or follow my work will know that I am deeply interested in eating and thinking about food. I’m interested in how food structures our days and our lives,it nourishes and sustains us, reminds us of people, events, history, all in a mouthful.

Birthday cake
A special birthday cake, made for a surfer on his special birthday.

I’ve written elsewhere about how migrants perform identity through food preparation and consumption. I’ve also written about consumptive multiculturalism. I’m also interested in the provision of food in (monocultural) institutional contexts such as health where people are racialised by the foods that they eat and how the processes of hospitalisation strip people of their cultural and social identities and often lead people into being unable to access culturally appropriate food. This presentation brings those ideas together.

Abstract

Food, its preparation and ingestion, constitutes a source of physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural nourishment. Food structures both daily life and major life transitions, including the transition to parenthood, where food is prepared and consumed that recognises the unique status of the mother. However, the reductive focus of hospitals where efficiency, economy and a focus on nutrients dominate and where birth is viewed as a normal event can mean that there is a mismatch between the cultural and religious dietary needs of migrant mothers with the food that is available from Western instititutional environments. In this paper I outline a research study, which examined the transition to parenthood among new migrant groups in New Zealand. Based on a number of focus groups with mothers and fathers, the data were analysed using a postcolonial feminist lens and drew upon Foucauldian concepts to examine the transition to parenthood. The findings show that Asian new migrant parents construct the postnatal body as vulnerable, requiring specific kinds of foods to facilitate recovery from the trials of pregnancy and delivery and optimize long term recovery from pregnancy. This discourse of risk contrasts with the dominant discourse of birth as normal, and signals the limitations of a universal diet for all postnatal mothers, where consuming the wrong food can pose a threat to good maternal health. Paying attention to what nutrition and nurturing might mean for different cultural groups during the perinatal period can contribute to long term maternal well-being and cultural safety. Health practitioners need to understand the meanings and significance attached to specific foods and eating practices in the perinatal period. I propose that institutional arrangements become responsive to dietary needs and practices by providing facilities and resources to facilitate food preparation.

I’m hoping that the written form of the paper becomes part of an edited book about mothers and food. Fingers crossed, it’s under review at the moment.

From bystander to ally: Can small acts help?

I’m interested in what moves us from being bystanders and witnesses to injustice to being moved to act. This has been prompted by several incidents since I arrived in Australia and a few days ago, the savage beating to death of a transgender woman of colour. In our increasingly surveilled and fear based society, there seem to be more effective structures and mechanisms for contributing to injustice than remedying it. In many cases our political leadership promulgate fear and distrust in a bid to retain or increase voters, hate which is then fanned and fuelled by the media. Take the invitation to police our neighbours in the form of immigration policy in both the United Kingdom and Australia. The Immigration Dob-in Service on the website of the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) being a prime example of how with a few clicks and some information “the community” are encouraged to “dob in” people. Similarly the The UK Home Office had vans warning illegal immigrants to “go home” which demonstrated how easily the government could ignore and breach its responsibilities under the Equalities Act (eliminating discrimination and harassment based on race and religion, fostering good relations between people from different racial and religious groups).

Go home van
Photograph: Rick Findler

Luckily the racist vans were subverted with civil liberties group Liberty organising an alternative message. Other advocacy groups such as Amnesty, Refugee Action and Freedom from Torture claimed in a letter to the Guardian:

As organisations with expertise in supporting people who are seeking protection in the UK, we deplore the highly controversial advertising campaign delivered on the side of vans driven through selected London boroughs

The ‘illegal immigrants go home campaign’ is cynical and giving rise to a climate of fear. The heavy-handed ‘stop and search’ activity outside London tube stations harks back to a period before the Lawrence inquiry and raises questions about racial profiling in immigration control

Van

But what if you are an individual who would like to respond to racism but feel overwhelmed and powerless? A recent study by VicHealth (with the University of Melbourne and the Social Research Centre) investigated the role of bystanders and racist incidents by sampling 601 Victorians and asking them whether racism was acceptable in various scenarios in social settings, workplaces and sports clubs; what they would do if they witnessed racism in these scenarios and what they did the last time they witnessed a racist incident. You might have heard about the many incidents of racist violence and abuse on public transport and in sport.

The purpose of the study was to consider whether reducing racist incidents or the impact of incidents could prevent distress and illnesses in Victorian people from Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. People from Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds experience the highest volumes of racism and record the most severe psychological distress, which places them at higher risk than others of mental illnesses (Ferdinand, Paradies & Kelaher, 2013a; 2013b). The VicHealth study found that individuals’ coping strategies provided insufficient protection from harm, and therefore broader community and organisational efforts were needed to stop racism from occurring and that the role of bystanders was a particularly important one.

Encouragingly the study found that 83% of participants felt that more could be done to address race-based discrimination in settings such as workplaces and sporting clubs such as education, promoting cultures of respect and taking action when racist incidents occurred. 84% claimed they would take action against racism with 30 per cent willing to act on every occasion. However, 13 per cent to 34 per cent (approximately one in four people across the sample) claimed they would feel uncomfortable if they witnessed racism, but would not do anything. I agree with the authors that this group of people hold the potential for a new, powerful wave of action. Take this lovely example of an intervention in a supermarket from Upworthy: One Easy Thing All White People Could Do That Would Make The World A Better Place.

That action was a powerful one, but not all bystanders would be willing to act. Imagine though if all bystanders could be moved to act in small ways in their own workplace or social setting and their efforts were co-ordinated. That’s one of the reasons I love the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme, facilitated by the Human Rights Commission who hold their annual forum this week. The programme brings together organisations taking practical initiatives to:

recognise and celebrate the cultural diversity of our society (diverse) promote the equal enjoyment by everyone of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, regardless of race, colour, religion, ethnicity or national origin (equal)foster harmonious relations between diverse peoples (harmonious)fulfill the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi (Treaty-based)

Any organisation that supports the vision of an Aotearoa New Zealand that is “culturally diverse, equal and harmonious” can take part. All they need to do is to commit on an annual basis to taking practical steps to making this vision happen and these steps can be big, small or celebratory.

In the spirit of the Diversity Action Programme, this story about Mariam Issa a former refugee is delightful. Mariam transformed her backyard into a public garden, complete with chooks. She runs regular storytelling sessions bringing women from her middle-class suburb together with former refugees to share stories and better understand each other. Her story inspired me to think how food and conversations might also help us to to shift from bystander to ally and address unequal power relations and racism. I wonder if her new middle-class friends have made that transition?

I loved Mariam’s story because it made me think that the domestic worlds of food and garden can be such potent sites of transformation for social justice. I am a committed foodie (“somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry” (Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61), who is also interested in the politics of food. My partner and I moved to Victoria, Australia this year near Melbourne, a foodie paradise. Melbourne’s food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts points out:

In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are

Imagining an alternative Australian future, David Liddle asks if instead of clearing the land and its people and replacing them with cattle, the new settlers had eaten with Aboriginal people a new form of co-existence might have come into play. As a newcomer to Australia I am only just beginning to grasp this history and I know I have a lot to learn.

Which brings me to the crux of this post, can the consumption of food move us from being passive consumers, bystanders if you like, to being engaged allies in the face of racism? The example of the Conflict Kitchen, a restaurant in Pittsburgh which prepares food exclusively from countries currently in conflict with the U.S makes me think it’s possible. Highlighted in a piece in Take Part, the idea is that by eating food from such a country, “the enemy” is humanised and the consumer has an opportunity to deepen their appreciation of cultural difference. Not only is a meal provided but insight into political conflicts and world affairs through performances, discussions and stories about that country is part of the whole experience. Their website says:

…Conflict Kitchen uses the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.

Closer to my new home is the wonderful initiative by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), which has a Hot Potato travelling van rolling out across Australia and challenging Australia to 10 million conversations in the lead up to the federal election. The idea is to take the heat out of the asylum seeker conversation and debunk the myths—given that everyone in Australia has an opinion, the ASRC’s aim is to attempt to cool a highly politicised debate with facts. The ASRC claims this Australian political Hot Potato, has been manipulated and passed from one politician to another and heated up by the media.

Drowning

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you will know that Australia’s Humanitarian Program has made the news for all the wrong reasons, namely it’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat (Irregular Maritime Arrivals). There’s a huge drive to deter people arriving in this way (you can watch the videos on the DIAC webpage called “Don’t be sorry” which features prominent sportsmen). Australia has been roundly criticised for its migration policy of August 2012 which instigated offshore processing of protection (asylum) claims in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Settled in Australia

What I love about the hot potato venture are two things. First of all, food is an expression of generosity and hospitality. So these folk aren’t charging anyone for the food. Secondly, the consumption of the food moves away from the foodie zone which:

operate[s] as a field of distinction, marking boundaries of status through the display of taste … The professional and managerial classes are thronging to ethnic cuisine restaurants, while poor, working class, older, provincial people are not. Familiarity with ethnic cuisine is a mark of refinement. (Warde and Martens 2000: 226)3

So anyone can go and have a conversation with the hot potato van regardless of income.

Hot potatoI’ve always thought that eating food from other cultures offered a bridge to empathy and affection for different people as a starting point, and potentially a non-threatening way of developing an ongoing engagement, even ultimately world peace. I mean imagine if instead of bombing and fighting, we had cook offs? Perhaps if we all do a little something, whether it is food and conversation, we might have a chance of realising a vision of a world without racism.

Going back to the VicHealth study, the characteristics of allies (or as they call them active bystanders) were that they were more likely to recognise race-based discrimination, understand the harm it caused, feel a responsibility to intervene, and feel confident to intervene. They were more likely to act in work or social settings if they were supported by their organisations (via policies, culture etc) peers and colleagues. If we are to do our part to reduce or eliminate the harms of racism it will take all of us.

If you want to know where to start, here are some resources:

  1. A terrific video of Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones’ keynote speech from September 2010 at a lThe Seventeenth Annual Emerging Scholarship In Women’s and Gender Studies Conference UT Austin, where gives 6 rules for allies (cross race/gender/sexuality/nationality/religion etc).
  2. Read this terrific blog from SMARTASSJEN about being a trans ally.
  3. AWEA (Auckland Workers Educational Association) is a not-for-profit organisation that supports groups and runs community education related projects. Their core aim is to promote a just and equitable society in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They have many useful links and resources for social justice in particular the role of non-indigenous supporters of indigenous justice struggles.
  4. A new book, Working as Allies: supporters of indigenous justice reflect written by Jen Margaret is now available.

 

Cartoons displace the blame for social consequences of neoliberal policy away from real culprits

Over the last few years I’ve been involved in various public health and health promotion programmes related to healthy eating and weight management (Clinical Guidelines for Weight Management in New Zealand Adults and the Clinical Guidelines for Weight Management in New Zealand Children and Young People) as well as a social marketing strategy called Feeding our Futures. I’ve also facilitated four Asian Nutrition and Physical Activity Fora for the Agencies for Nutrition Action (ANA) since they began in 2008. I’ve also been involved in research with colleagues at AUT University about problem gambling.

It was my involvement in community organisations and governance rather than my own background as a health practitioner with its attendant reductionist biomedical socialisation that prepared me for the sheer complexities of the determinants of health. I understand now more than ever that macro-level health determinants (that is factors that affect health) including socio-economic status, education, employment, physical and social environment affect health and reinforce the unequal distribution of health-related resources. In contrast, micro-level determinants (lifestyle, genes) have modest impacts on population health. However, more individualistic views dominate our understanding of obesity, smoking and problem gambling. Within that frame, food “choices” are linked with moral acceptability and people who eat “unhealthy” food (with “bad” nutritional elements are deemed as less moral. Equally people that smoke and people that gamble are less “good” than people who “take care” of themselves. Such views ignore the systemic, structural and historical origins of inequality.

Which brings me to two cartoons by Al Nisbet, which were printed in New Zealand media. In the first one published in the Marlborough Express yesterday an inter-generational group of people of “Polynesian appearance” wearing children’s school uniforms and joining a queue for a free school meal. The male adult wearing tattoos and a back-to-front baseball cap, says: “Psst! … If we can get away with this, the more cash left for booze, smokes and pokies!”

Marlborough

In the second cartoon published in the Press today, what appears to be a family group of seven large people are shown with Lotto tickets, beer cans, cigarette packets and flash electronics. The man with a back to front cap on his head says: “Free school food is great. Eases our poverty and puts something in you kids’ bellies.”

From the Press
From the Press

These despicable cartoons highlight the media’s role in perpetuating the myth that  responsibility for poor health (whether it’s about people who are obese, smokers or problem gamblers) is an individual and group one rather than linked with broader issues for example colonisation, economic restructuring or the devastating social consequences of state neoliberal policies. The editor of the Marlborough Express Steve Mason has “apologised for any offence”, a phrase that has always struck me as being bereft of any remorse at harm caused, let alone an understanding of the ramifications of the incident. More callously he commented that “he was delighted that it had sparked discussion on an important issue”. But at whose expense? I am so over the casual racism by white male media influencers that shape public opinion so profoundly, the abuse of their authoritative positions to portray and represent vulnerable groups in ways that further marginalise those groups.

Luckily the Mana party have also noticed how the cartoon takes aim at New Zealand’s most vulnerable children in particular Māori and Pacific children. John Minto, MANA party co-vice president contends in an interview with TVNZ, that the cartoon is insensitive to over 270,000 New Zealand children growing up in poverty who will benefit from the Breakfast at School programme and invites the public to further “scorn them as devious parasites.” Equally this cartoon hits out at Māori and Pacific Island people who are hardest hit by gambling related harms. About 50,000 New Zealanders or 1.2% of the population have a gambling problem (defined as patterns of gambling that disrupt personal, family, or vocational pursuits) and research shows that gambling and social inequality are linked. Māori experience high rates of problem gambling and are more likely than NZ Europeans to be worried about their gambling behaviour and more likely to want immediate help. Pacific peoples living in New Zealand experience socio-demographic risk factors that are associated with developing problem gambling, such as low socio-economic status, being young, living in urban areas and having low educational and low occupational status. In addition, Maori and Pacific women have been identified as an at risk group since “pokies”  (Electronic Gaming Machines) were introduced into Aotearoa New Zealand. Tobacco smoking is a leading cause of preventable death for Māori in New Zealand and responsible for 10 percent of the gap in health disparities between Māori and non-Māori. 45.4 percent of Māori adults identify themselves as smokers, –double that of non-Māori.  Māori contribute over $260 million in tobacco taxes each year. Cumulatively as Minto points out, the cartoon “plays to the lazy racism and deep bigotry of many well-off Pakeha”. It also neglects to consider the historical impacts of colonisation on the health status of Māori and punitive neoliberal social policy on both Māori and Pacific people.

Given that the wider community depend and receive their knowledge of raced and classed ‘others’ through the media, often in the absence of direct experience with those ‘others’, I am grateful for Media commentator Martyn Bradbury and the Daily Blog for alerting me to the cartoon and broadcasters like Marcus Lush, a thriving blogosphere and social media which enable the wide dissemination of alternative discourses. As I’ve said in other blogposts, the racist soup of Pakeha media culture not only excludes particular groups but it also reproduces pathological, deficient and destructive representations of groups that are already discriminated against and marginalised. Take the “common sense” racism of Paul Henry, Michael Laws and Paul Holmes who all compete for New Zealand’s top racist. And now Steve Mason who claims in the New Zealand Herald that “Cartoons are designed to stimulate discussion and obviously that has worked in this case. So that’s what it’s all about.” He obviously missed the hard work that former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres and others did after the publication by the media of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in 2006 (the New Zealand Herald took a leadership role and declined to publish them). At the time de Bres asked what media purpose was served by their publication and pointed out the tensions between “the principle of the freedom of the press and the responsibility of the press in exercising that freedom”. His leadership led to improvements in the relationships between media and communities, in Auckland I took part in a forum and in Wellington religious leaders from Muslim, Catholic and Jewish faiths met with the editors of The Dominion Post and The Press.

Let’s hope our new Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy can similarly  take a leadership role in clearly articulating why publication of the cartoons is morally wrong and propose a way forward. But, she is only one person. We also need to address the other forces that reinforce casual racism and classism in our society. The media, the smug comfortable people reading the newspaper and feeling affirmed in their righteous anger by the cartoon, all of us I’d like to leave you with last words from another cartoonist and a cartoon representing another marginalised group. In an in interview in December 2012 in the Age about the role of the cartoonist as being “not to be balanced but to give balance”. Leunig said:

As a cartoonist I am not interested in defending the dominant, the powerful, the well-resourced and the well-armed because such groups are usually not in need of advocacy, moral support or sympathetic understanding; they have already organised sufficient publicity for themselves and prosecute their points of view with great efficiency.
The work of the artist is to express what is repressed or even to speak the unspoken grief of society. And the cartoonist’s task is not so much to be balanced as to give balance, particularly in situations of disproportionate power relationships such as we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a healthy tradition dating back to the court jester and beyond: to be the dissenting protesting voice that speaks when others cannot or will not.

 

Leunig in the Age Wednesday 15 August 2012
Leunig in the Age Wednesday 15 August 2012

Unsettled in Australia: Reflections on my first Australia/Straya/Invasion day

koala bear

My first stuffed toy as a child in Nairobi was a koala bear and I’ve been besotted with them ever since. So you can imagine that I was captivated by this meme where the koala realises that she’s not a bear but a marsupial. To draw a very long bow, I think her puzzlement captures the experience of so many visibly different migrants in settler societies who believe they are part of a nation and then find that they aren’t, whether it’s because their qualifications aren’t recognised which leads them to be unemployed or under-employed or they begin to realise that their skin colour doesn’t lend them to being neatly absorbed into the imagined community on national days of celebration. So here I am in Australia, not as a nine year old (when my family were looking to migrate from Nairobi) but as an adult in mid-career, here to live and work. Joining a multitude of other New Zealanders (the most common country of birth of Australian residents outside of Australia is the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, you’ll find other interesting nuggets on cultural diversity on Esther Hougenhout‘s blogpiece) who’ve also crossed the ditch. I’ve visited Australia for conferences and to visit my partner’s family, but it’s been over twenty years since I lived somewhere other than Aotearoa. In my work and community life I’ve carefully considered how migrants engage with settler institutions and their relationships with indigenous communities, but I am having a powerful opportunity to examine my own complicity in forms of oppression (in the context of another settler society) as Harsha Walia so powerfully puts it in a video on anti-oppression, decolonization, and being a responsible ally.

992894-australia-word-cloud
From news.com.au
australia-map-aboriginal-nations
Courtesy of Brisbane Murri Action Group

We’ve arrived in time for Australia day which commemorates the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788, when British sovereignty was also proclaimed over the eastern seaboard of Australia. It’s a day of festivals, concerts, citizenship ceremonies and acknowledgements of the contributions Australians have made with the recipients of honours and Australian of the year announced. Entrepreneur and electrical retailer Dick Smith even got into the jingoistic spirit with his casually racist advertisement for Aussie foodstuffs, beautifully critiqued by Sunili. I’m not sure if the stones that hit both our heads as we were walking along the Nepean highway to look at housing options were an important Australia day cultural tradition for young blokes in fast cars (I’d like to know how their aim was so brilliantly accurate). Nevertheless fervent nationalism is everywhere, cars and houses are adorned with Australian flags and there is an exacerbation in bogan behaviour as comedians Aamer Rahman from Fear of a Brown Planet and Robert Foster/Kenneth Oathcarn observe.

S Peter Davis who made a YouTube video Straya Day, notes that

as January 26 rolls around, you begin to see cars on the road with little Australian flags poking out the windows like a diplomatic cavalcade. In what is usually a pretty tolerant and multicultural nation, this is one day of the year when folks start casting suspicious and slightly disapproving glances toward brown people. Anti-immigrant slogans like “We grew here, you flew here,” and the somewhat more direct “Fuck off we’re full” begin to make the rounds. Understand, it’s the minority of people, and Australia does not hold the patent on racism. But when you combine this with a cocktail of youth, alcohol and barbecue…parts of the country just explode in a shower of beer, singlets and thongs.

Or not as the pictures below reveal.

Beer baby
Via Chalk Hotel’s Facebook page

This day of barbecues and beer is also called Invasion or Survival day. It represents “an undercurrent of division and inequality that belies the happy, egalitarian culture that the day is meant to convey, “a day of mourning for the land that was taken and the ensuing two centuries of social alienation and discrimination” as Robin Tennant-Wood puts it. There are also Survival Day celebrations like the 2013 Share The Spirit Festival featuring Indigenous music, dance and culture. Numerous Invasion day marches have also taken place across Australia.

Grandtheft Australia
Via Idle No More Facebook page

Hip hop artists Reverse Polarities recent release “Invasion Day” acknowledges the historical and continuing injustices faced by Indigenous Australians and pushes for Australians to understand their history rather than being immobilised by guilt (white Australians) or innocence (visibly different new Australians):

Many Australians feel guilt for the actions their white predesessors and claim non- involvement due to being new Australians. We must be active in our understanding of history. The past is not ours to change, but the future can be shaped.

INM Invasion day
Via Idle No More Australia’s Facebook page

Peter Gebhardt a poet, retired County Court judge and former principal asks for accountability and reckoning with the history of genocide “What might an Aboriginal person say of Australia Day? Why should the Aborigines celebrate that day?” He adds:

It was the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture, the day that initiated the pathways to the Stolen Children and, to our ultimate shame, the deaths in custody. It is a day that stands as a reminder of massacres. The wind-stench of bodies burned in bonfires hangs heavy upon the nation’s conscience and in the clouds…You can shuttle history, but you cannot shuttle facts. It would be a great Australia Day if it faced honesty, historical facts, abandonment, hypocrisy, shelved superiority and embarked upon an exercise of spiritual empathy rather than religious hubris.

A point supported by Tristan Ewins, who calls for celebration and critique of this national day:

There is a problem, here, in that there is still no formal resolution: comprehensively righting the injustices suffered by indigenous people. Without the closure provided by a just, representative and inclusive Treaty between the modern Australian nation and our indigenous peoples, it is hard to imagine a fully inclusive celebration of the Australian nation. Perhaps in the future – should such a resolution be achieved – then maybe this could become the focus of a new ‘national day’ for all Australians.

The desire for redress and accountability has a long way to go to being realised, but small steps toward reconciliation are evident. This year for the first time both the Aboriginal and Australian flags were simultaneously hoisted on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Aboriginal flag on bridge
Picture: Sam Ruttyn Source: News Limited via new.com.au

Apparently, more than 17,000 people from 145 countries took the citizenship pledge to become Australians on January 26th. Without any sense of irony whatsoever, Tony Abbott Leader of the Opposition told an Australia Day breakfast and citizenship ceremony in Adelaide that change should be welcomed “when it’s in accordance with the customs and traditions of our people” and he added that new citizens were “changing the country for the better”.

Being a new arrival in Australia myself has been interesting, there are many similarities with New Zealand. The neoliberal multicultural success stories of refugees and migrants loom large both in media and in private conversations. Take Akram Azimi, Young Australian of the Year 2013 who arrived  in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan and went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. Or diasporic Maori, Frank (name changed) who repeatedly called himself and other Maori “niggers”in front of his car salesman colleagues. He told me that his wife wanted to return home six months into their stint here and he insisted they “tough it out”, he quipped “things are fine if you just work hard”. He’s taught his children important aspects of Te Ao Maori and has disdain for the various groups that have formed stating that “if you want to learn about your culture you should go home to do it”. Rauf Soulio (chair of the Australian Multicultural Council and a judge of the District Court of South Australia) peppers an opinion piece with words and phrases like “enterprise”, “courage and commitment” and talks about people who “strove to build new and prosperous lives”.  Extolling a neoliberal narrative combined with a commitment to reconciliation:

It is one of the hallmarks of our multiculturalism that we work hard to ensure that those who come here have every opportunity to become fully participating members of Australian society, rather than remaining guests or temporary visitors. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have Australian lineage or ancestry when you arrive – as long as you contribute.

Aus-strayer
Illustration: Ben Sanders/The Jacky Winter Group in the Sydney Morning Herald

Yup, I’m here to work and become a “fully participating member” of Australian society, and to that end have also been consuming multiculturalism with relish and delight. I am blissfully happy at being able to access ingredients and cuisines that are difficult to find in Aotearoa. But consumption aside, I do want to find a way to engage ethically with this place. Shakira Hussein‘s incisive critique of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London brilliantly skewers Morrison’s selective consumption of multiculturalism:

Morrison doesn’t spell out which aspects of “diversity” would be considered acceptable under a more balanced post-multicultural regime, but I’m guessing he subscribes to the consensus view that multiculturalism has had a beneficial effect on the Australian diet. (Sharia tribunals? No thanks. Homous and baklava? More, please.) Even those most ardent racists participate in the multiculturalism of consumption. But while enjoying our pizza and laksa, we need to “send a message” that such tolerance “is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values and laws of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not licence: the primacy of the English language”.

His comments come just in time for Geert Wilder’s visit to Australia next month. See Deborah Kelly’s kit below.

Veiled woman

I was in Sydney almost seven months ago when I caught up with a friend of the family who asked me why I hate white people. I had to explain to him that my work is about critiquing white hegemony and that is a different thing. Critiquing hegemony and racism and advocating for indigenous rights is viewed decidedly un-Australian, as effectively parodied by Don Watson:

We’re pragmatists. It comes with being Australian that we don’t upset ourselves about things of no practical consequence. Of course, for some people the wine’s always corked. You’ll hear them from Ballarat to Bali, running the country down. Fair dinkum, you want to deck the bastards sometimes. But, as I said, we don’t upset ourselves. Poor things, they can’t think of the foundation of the country without thinking of the people it was taken from. They can’t think of dear old decent Arthur Phillip without thinking of the time he sent out men with bags to collect half a dozen Aboriginal heads. Nothing in the manifold benefits of British rule, British institutions, British customs and British capital cheers them up or excites a little gratitude.

Remind them of the nation’s progress, show them how human health and happiness have in general flourished here, and in return you’ll get the vale of tears it has been for the Aborigines, or the grave injustices to women, or the treatment of refugees arriving on boats: as if because some people got the rough end of the pineapple we are all supposed to be abraded by it.

Michel Foucault the French philosopher said that the point of “a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest”. For me, as an academic with a commitment to social justice, blindly supporting the status quo is not an option. I know that I have a long journey of learning and unlearning ahead of me, without the reassurance of state sanctioned biculturalism or a biculturalism grounded in treasured processes and relationships in Aotearoa that have inflected my adult life. But this grounding from the place I’ve called home for most of my life will be fundamental to examining my complicity in the maintenance of oppression, my understanding of the multicultural project and to forging my own rather than received understandings of indigineity here in Australia. Luckily there are many who’ve already walked this path. Between their wisdom and those of my global intellectual and political community I think I am koalified to undertake this next adventure.

Via Colourfest film festival
Via Colourfest film festival

 

 

 

What does it mean to be Goan?

This piece was previously published in the Goanet Reader: July 29th 2005

Issues of celebration and connection, reflected in food and song

Food is one of the many things that make life not only pleasurable but memorable. I recently met a young Goan man who is completing a degree who asked me if I could come to his birthday party and share some sorpotel and vindaloo recipes as the celebration wouldn’t be a celebration with them, especially with him being so far away from home. This led me to reflect on the importance of food and consider writing something for Goanet Reader.

As you all know Goans have been a highly mobile population and are scattered all over the globe as a result of colonisation, and in a bid for a better life and education for their children. At the beginning of the millennium I undertook a research project to explore how Goan women in Auckland New Zealand coped with the dual transitions of migration and motherhood as becoming a parent in a new county is a common aspect of migration which is also under-researched.

It is well known that migrants draw on cultural resources and links such as the notion of homeland, language, religion, everyday social rituals such as food, drink, dance and song, family, morals, community, landscape, histories and occupations.

Researchers of migrant communities have found that connection with one’s ethnic community is vital for collective cultural maintenance. This takes the forms of being involved in community-type social networks in order to maintain their culture, taking part in ethnic institutions, making trips “home” and marrying within the community. These were all identified in my research as significant, but for this piece I have chosen to focus on the importance of traditional food in maintaining Goan culture and in relation to the perinatal period. I have also incorporated words from the Goan women that participated in the research (with deep and heartfelt thanks).

Food has a symbolic and social significance that is deeply embedded in a culture and is used to express many things such as love, friendship, solidarity and the maintenance of social ties.  The significance of food is heightened with migration, where it is the most resistant aspect to the acculturation process for migrant communities. Frequently, food is integrated into the host culture, as those Goans living in the United Kingdom or from Africa will attest to as seen by the incorporation of Indian foods into African and British communities.

Traditional food and celebration are pivotal to the construction of Goan identity and an important part of ‘everyday’ food, religious festivals, weddings and special events. Food also has historical significance as seen by the impact of Portuguese, Muslim and Indian cultures apparent in Goan cuisine. Conversion to Catholicism by the Portuguese meant that foods moved from being taboo to consumable and differentiated Goans from other Indians, making them more Western.

The special foods that go with events during the year are very traditionally Goan, for example we have Christmas sweets. Besides Christmas sweets, I associate eating Pilao on a Sunday and not just any other thing, very Goan. and having your fish curry and rice as well (Lorna).

 

Fish curries and coconut curries and I had learn to cook when I was quite young and I had wanted to get into the kitchen and dad would go to the marketplace and buy all this yummy fish and come home and cook it up and basically you’d eat Goan and things like that (Rowena).

Goan fish curry is ubiquitous in most households in Goa, eaten regularly and served with rice. Pilao is possibly from Muslim times prior to Portuguese rule, made with basmati rice and flavoured with whole spices like cardamom and stock. The Goan sweets that are mentioned by Lorna originate from Portugal and the Konkan region and they are produced and exchanged with friends and neighbours at Christmas time. Every sweet has coconut in it in milk form or thinly sliced. In Rowena’s quote below, food is a way of acknowledging the family and social ties:

We often had picnics, which had all the favourite dishes like sorpotel, xacuti, food were very important in terms of being social and the family (Rowena).

Xacuti is a complicated and painstaking Goan dish made with chicken or lamb that involves the roasting of all the seasonings before they are ground to a paste. Sorpotel is a ceremonial dish made from pork that is prepared for feast days, Christmas, weddings and other special occasions. The following anonymous poem does more to illustrate the place of sorpotel in the connections of Goans to ‘home’.

SORPOTEL

For the hotch potch known as Haggis, let the Scotsman yearn or yell For the taste of Yorkshire pudding, let the English family dwell. For the famed Tandoori Chicken, that Punjabis praise like hell But for us who hail from Goa, there’s nothing like SORPOTEL!

From the big wigs in Colaba, to the small fry in Cavel From the growing tribes in Bandra, to the remnants in Parel. From the lovely girls in Glaxo, to the boys in Burma Shell There’s no Goan whose mouth won’t water, when you talk of SORPOTEL!

And Oh! for Christmas dinner don’t you think it would be swell If by some freak of fortune or by some magic spell We could, as they have in Goa a bottle of the cajel And toddy leavened sannas to go with SORPOTEL!

In this poem, sorpotel becomes a metaphor for migration and connection to home. The names of the Mumbai (Bombay) suburbs, with their differing social capital, in the second verse illustrates that no matter where in the world a Goan is, sorpotel is the social leveller. Cajel refers to a distilled liquor made of cashew and toddy is fermented coconut or palm juice, which is frequently used like yeast to make sannas, a type of rice cakes made in moulds with a batter of ground rice, toddy, coconut and sugar and then steamed. The predilection for sorpotel has been influenced by the historical context of Goans being a colonised people and as such it is an apt metaphor for the richness of the culture located in a small geographic area.

Food plays a significant part in weddings as well, as seen by these words by Flora:

The day after the wedding, It was in my mother-in-law’s house they made that plain white rice with samarachi curry with dried prawns that is supposed to be a typical dish for second day wedding lunch, then third day at my mums place, it was the three days festivities. You must be knowing about that (Flora).

The samarachi codi refers to a curry made with coconut milk. Food is significant from the most private and everyday to the ritualised public celebrations like weddings. Such events and networking with other Goans or Christian Indians were another strategy for cultural maintenance.

Perinatal Rituals

Having a child is one of the most culturally and spiritually significant events for women and their families and the significance of this transition is validated through ritual. It is thought that cultures that have supportive rituals for new mothers have lower rates of postnatal distress (PND) and that women in Western countries are at high risk of developing PND Rituals reflect the vulnerability and special status of the new mother and include being restricted to the home, being given assistance, being given special foods and massage.

In Indian communities the experience of pregnancy and birth is traditionally marked by nurturing and celebration of the status of women who are to become mothers. This nurturing is highlighted through the giving of special foods and assistance. Movements of new mothers are restricted to the home for forty days due to their perceived vulnerability postpartum. During this forty day period, assistance is given with personal care and the physical body is taken care of through massage and ensuring the mother has an opportunity to relax. Parturition is thought to generate a state of hotness and therefore weakness. Grandmothers can play an active part in the preparation of special food and ensuring a nourishing diet that includes foods such as ghee, nuts, milk and jaggery1 which are given to return the body to balance.

This attentiveness and “endless care” that is received from the extended family (Shin & Shin, 1999, p.611) can be lost in the process of migrating. This celebration of the status of the new mother in ‘developing countries’ subverts the notion of ‘West is best’ and the backwardness of the East, that was taken for granted in my post-colonial upbringing. A recent article in NEXT magazine in New Zealand have suggested that rituals need to be re-instated to celebrate the status of motherhood (Sarney, 1999). Greta found that the shift from a social process of pregnancy to an individualised one a painful loss:

Everyone else does things for you and you know in that way you are just pampered. You get all these supposedly nourishing treats and foods and things you know. Like all these pulses and the sweets that you normally have. I’m not very sweet tooth, but I think they do help in a way you know. The nourishing factors. You know things like that. At the same time being here makes you think of all these things that you take for granted back home (Greta).

Focused individual care is given to new mothers, and family members take on roles in relation to food preparation and hospitality as in Lorna’s story:

You know you get your massages and things. Mum looks after the cooking because that takes away a lot of time and then you don’t have to worry about that. Goan things like moong, godshem and other lentils millet, tizan, and things like that, you know what that is. I guess you would have had that if you were coming from the traditional villages I’m sure, but ahh we have lost a lot of culture on the way. Yeah yeah I guess you also have many more people around you in India so that if you are busy with doing something someone else can entertain make the tea or conversation (Lorna).

Migrating reminded Lorna of the loss of traditions that began with the move from traditional villages to urban settings prior to the migration to New Zealand. The drive for upward mobility (in the Western sense) in Goa and the concomitant loss of traditional ‘old fashioned’ rituals has resulted in loss of forms of nurturance from many cultures.

Being separated from family and culture meant were impediments to conducting traditional rituals. For some Goan women it meant not having anyone to consult who was bicultural and could see the importance of special food. Migration can lead to separation from family and trusteed advisers leading to a ‘vacuum of knowledge’ . Rowena was anxious about the appropriate food to be eating and struggled to create a new frame of reference and develop a sense of what she ‘should’ be doing. Rowena sought guidance but ultimately was unable to cook any of the things that she thought might be useful because her husband worked long hours and there were no extended family members available to help her enact traditional rituals:

No, in fact I didn’t know what to eat, but the hospital kept saying eat a normal diet. Do I have to have spicy food? They said since you’ve been eating it all your life and during pregnancy, you don’t have to drink milk to get milk, just eat well. Because being alone I had to cook my own stuff, so I just continued eating my normal things (Rowena).

This example again highlights the tensions of attempting to fulfil cultural expectations but also fit into what was appropriate in the new culture.

Bringing family in to support rituals

Several participants brought mothers and mothers-in law to New Zealand because it was unusual to have a baby ‘by yourself’, to help with tradition, food preparation, care of the baby and allow the new mother to rest. Lorna, Greta and Flora chose to bring family members over where possible to provide both support and assistance with rituals. Lorna was fortunate in being able to bring her mother over to help out, and points out the alien notion of the individualising of a major life event like birth:

Then you come to a place with no-one around you, you don’t really know if you can make it alone. You know you are not very independent in a way, so it is unfamiliar to have a baby on your own. Yeah, so that’s why, so you just sort of have Mum over everybody has Mum over, it’s a Goan thing to do, it’s an Indian thing to do (Lorna).

Greta was supported by both her mother and mother-in-law who came to New Zealand to assist with care of the baby and other household tasks which included food preparation and advice. Greta’s example illuminates the richness and significance of cultural rituals in the postpartum period:

Fenugreek seeds and jaggery and coconut milk and she kept giving me that and I found that quite nourishing. I don’t know whether that would generate just the milk and also a sort of porridge made from semolina. So I would bake that and a drink that would help me clear up my stomach too much of gas so those things helped me a lot (Greta).

The importance of food to many Goan rituals and special occasions is emphasised in Flora’s recount of her child’s christening which emphasised the symbolic significance of the Goan connection to the earth through the serving to guests of chickpeas and coconut: Flora’s example highlights how she feels she needs to justify the significance or legitimacy of particular types of food to ‘Kiwis’ or have it legitimated by them. This perhaps represents a sign of her wanting to ‘fit in’. This could also be a way of justifying to white New Zealanders the attachment to things Goan:

Even for a normal party you see all Goan tradition, you must make this food you know, like for an auspicious occasion, like a Christening. Coconut in it, that is a must, you know a christening can’t go without that. The Kiwis, you know wonder what are we serving boiled grams (chickpeas) for on an occasion like this. My aunt was going around to all the Kiwi guests saying you know I’m serving coconut. I didn’t know what was the meaning behind it, but she was explaining you know chickpeas are the food of the soil, and coconut is also a food of the soil (Flora).

Therefore it can be seen that food plays an important role both in the private lives of Goans and the celebrations and life transitions such as parenthood.  One of the many strengths that Goans have is the capacity for celebration and connection with each other through food and song.  The internet and increased numbers in our global communities mean that we can more easily access whatever it means for us to be Goan.