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Tasting Displacement: Couscous and Culinary Citizenship in Maghrebi-French Diasporic Cinema

Durmelat, Sylvie
Food & foodways 2015 v.23 no.1-2 pp. 104-126
foodways, immigration, society, France
Ethnically coded as Maghrebi and experienced as a familiar comfort food, couscous consistently ranks as a favorite dish of the French. Following a short history of this migrating dish, I discuss representations of couscous as ethnic body in popular culture and analyze how couscous scenes shape tastes of homes both within and across six films about the Maghrebi diaspora in France produced from 1999 to 2007 whose plots span roughly five decades from 1961 to 2006. Surprisingly rare, these scenes complement the spotty historical archive on immigrants’ foodways and dramatize the immigrants’ assimilation into consumer society, from consumed others into consuming citizens, as couscous takes on a number of meanings. I argue that films depicting the Maghrebi diaspora resort timidly to couscous because they face constraints to retain ethnic credibility and show characters in an appealing manner, without serving them up on a platter or alienating majority viewers. Ultimately, my analysis shows that although food creates a sense of place, home, and continuity, cinematic couscous provides a sensory prism that embodies intimate stories of displacement and provides the means to foster new cosmopolitan affiliations through cultural and gustatory reconfigurations of home.