Cornell University

SEAP Brown Bag Lecture Series: Penny Van Esterik "Meals and Morality: Commensal Power in Southeast Asia"

Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Kahin Center
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

This paper argues that nurture is at the core of Southeast Asian regional identity. While nurture has been written out of Euro-American identity, it remains a vibrant means of relating to others and even controlling others through feeding. Just as some authors have argued that cooking made us human, I argue that sharing food is what makes people in Southeast Asia distinctly and self-consciously human, and members of communities. Food sharing structures relatedness in Southeast Asia. The paper explores the morality of meals with attention to the language of food exchanges, the formation and fluidity of commensal groups, and the power of shared substance to transcend differences and create new groups. Using examples primarily from the mainland, the paper explores how eating together creates and restores “the whole” - the balance sought in social relations, and strengthens ties between the generations, including infants, elders and ancestors. The paper concludes with theoretical and practical implications following from this approach to nurture.

Event Type

Cultural, Seminar


Southeast Asia Program, Sustainability





Penny Van Esterik

Speaker Affiliation

Professor, York University, Ontario

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