Eating Outside the Lines: Exploring Bidirectional Cultural Adaptation through Immigrant Cuisine in France and the US

Candace Evilsizor

Abstract


Within the study of immigrant assimilation, the theory of “bidirectional adaptation” recognizes that any sustained contact between two cultures alters them both, but the academic literature remains relatively silent on how host societies adapt to the immigration populations within their borders. My research addresses the dearth by analyzing how immigrant cultures influence their host society, specifically in regard to the prevalence of immigrant cuisine in France and the United States. Research comparing the attitudes of French and Americans toward immigrant populations suggest that France places a higher priority on assimilation, but how is this difference reflected the presence of immigrant restaurants in these countries’ food landscape (“food-scape”)? To answer, the ratio of North African to French restaurants in Île-de-France is compared with the ratio of Mexican to American restaurants in Los Angeles. Data were collected by identifying 12 neighborhoods in each city with comparable percentages of foreign-born residents. Then both neighborhoods were searched in cityvox.com and yelp.com, and the first 30 restaurants were categorized by ethnicity. The results confirmed the hypothesis that immigrant cuisine is more prevalent in Los Angeles than in Paris. Comparative descriptive statistics demonstrate that French restaurants overwhelm any North African culinary presence in Île-de-France, whereas 15% of Los Angeles restaurants are Mexican or Central American. Additionally, the restaurants available in each neighborhood were incredibly diverse in Los Angeles, but homogeneous in Île-de-France. The implication of these findings is that while bidirectional adaptation accurately describes the two-way nature of cultural interaction, France – at least the French food-scape – is less permeable to the influence of immigrant populations than America’s food-scape. While a full explanation of this difference requires additional research, I posit that France’s long history of coupling national identity and national cuisine has created a relatively inelastic food-scape in comparison to America’s recent codification of ‘American food,’ which historically has been and continues to be shaped by waves of immigration. Such a theory encourages further academic studies that relate France’s and America’s different histories of immigration to their perceptions of national cuisine and identity. Overall, the realities of cultural interaction and dissemination have important implications for nations with large immigrant populations and merit continued exploration.


Keywords


Immigration, Cuisine, France

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