Cookbooks + activism in Somerville + Hawaii

February 13th, 2010 by gabrielle | No Comments

One of the most inspiring things I did in the past few months was to take a trip with my friend and colleague Amy Reddinger to visit Elizabeth Ahn Toupin in Somerville, Massachusetts. An English and Women’s Studies professor, Amy has been writing (in part here and here) about how the complexities of Hawaiian statehood and identity are evidenced in postwar Hawaiian cookbooks. These are cookbooks that differed greatly depending on whether they were written on the mainland and exoticized the island, or written on the island, and hinted at deeper issues of identity and politics. Of course, these books were sometimes written for, and received in distinct ways by, different audiences. Amy’s work considers how these cookbooks engage the “intersection between American nationalism, colonialism and the domestic realm” and her work makes visibleĀ  what she calls the “complex discourse on race, national identity and Hawaiian statehood that emerges in the post World War II discourse of domesticity.”

In particular, Amy has noticed that some of the prominent Hawaiian cookbook writers were also active in the statehood movement, and so, has been investigating this connection further. It was one of these investigations that brought her to visit the aforementioned Elizabeth Toupin, an eloquent and fascinating woman who has written many cookbooks, as well as being a Dean at Tufts and a social researcher, among many other things. Our afternoon at Toupin’s home in Somerville was one of delicious food, heady conversation, and the exploration of many well-thumbed and annotated books. It was also exciting for me to cross a multitude of disciplinary lines to work with Amy and to get to know Liz. In my role of photographer and ethnographer, it was a privilege to be there and I look forward to the rich work of Amy’s that I feel sure will emerge from those conversations.


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