To what extent can diet create social and cultural belongings? What is its potential significance in contexts of migration? Russian German examples demonstrate the very diverse ways in which questions of identity and diet are connected.
The cultural aspect of diet
Eating and drinking are basic human needs. If you do not do both, you die within a few days. Nobody is likely to question this scientific fact. But the significance of diet does not end there. Eating and drinking have a variety of social and cultural functions beyond the fulfilment of biological needs, both for the individual and for society. Why not try asking yourself: what significance do food and drink (or particular foods and drinks) have for you personally?
Closer scrutiny of this question and the dietary habits of different people reveals that our everyday eating and drinking practices are influenced by numerous factors. What we eat and drink, how drinks and dishes are prepared, whether we eat and drink sitting down, standing up, or walking around, where and when we eat and drink, whether we eat and drink alone or in company, and with whom – this is all related to the particular occasion, the specific circumstances of the meal (whether created deliberately or otherwise), and the significance and value that one ascribes to it. A meal is also a social situation, in which conventions, standards, and values are communicated. When we eat and drink together, we establish companionship and belonging – in particular within the family. In this setting, certain dishes and drinks can be endowed with a symbolic meaning. This association is particularly apparent in expressions like “national dishes,” or “ soul food soul food “Soul food” was originally used to describe traditional African American cuisine, which typically uses inexpensive, high-calorie ingredients and preparation methods and strong seasoning. Often the only meat available was offal or small game; dishes or foods based on maize, sweet potatoes, wheat, rice, cabbage, or beans were often prepared since they were filling. Many dishes were deep-fried, stewed, baked, or roasted. Today, soul food is recognized as an independent part of US food culture, and individual dishes such as chicken wings, chicken drumsticks, or spare ribs are eaten all over the world.<br> Today, this description has positive connotations, and in recent times there has been a tendency to describe other dishes and foods that are judged to have a positive effect on physical and mental wellbeing as “soul food.” This use of the expression fails to take into account the social and historical background to US soul food – that is, its development in the context of racial suppression and exploitation, poverty, deprivation and hard physical labour – and is therefore contested. .”
Most people would probably agree that the food and drink consumed on a feast day or holiday is usually more elaborately prepared, more expensive and more likely to be shared with (more) other people than on an ordinary working day. These meals tend to be eaten in the dining room rather than the kitchen, perhaps at a table spread with a nice tablecloth and other decorations, maybe even with the proverbial “best china” and the crystal glasses inherited from one’s grandmother. Conversely, a piece of your favourite cake from your favourite bakery can make an ordinary weekday special. The same holds true for eating rollkoke rollkoke Low German name for pastry fritters. High German, rollkuchen. prepared according to your mother’s recipe, since they bring back childhood memories and impart feelings of security and familiarity. Thus, on the one hand, a particular social situation can determine which foods we prepare and consume. On the other, the food we choose can create a particular social situation.
The influence of migration
Of the many factors that influence daily eating and drinking habits, in this article I would like to focus on one and illustrate it with observations made during a research trip to West Siberia in 2015: migration. Shifting the centre of one’s life can affect eating and drinking habits to varying degrees. Recipes and related knowledge can be taken anywhere; they are a moveable cultural asset. This means that eating habits need not necessarily be changed as a result of migration. However, not all foodstuffs and spices are available or affordable everywhere, nor do they always taste “like at home.” If not, it may become necessary to change your eating habits. This might be as simple as replacing a single spice or ingredient while otherwise keeping the dish or drink the same.
Migration can change the significance that a particular food, dish, or drink has for a person, a family or a group. For example, it can make something more important. Everyone is familiar with this phenomenon: what Brit has not longed for a “proper cuppa” on holiday? Someone from Regensburg moving to Hamburg will value buttered pretzels much more. Familiar food and drink can provide a sense of security and self-assurance, which reduces feelings of alienation and homesickness. They can even help you feel at home in your new surroundings. Food can be used to express belonging with a particular (regional, national, ethnic, religious, lifestyle…) community, or to differentiate oneself from it, depending on whether similarities or differences are emphasized.
Return, Religious Devotion, and Resettlement
During my research trip, some Russian Germans1  – who had or had not experienced migration – gave me glimpses into their daily lives. Katja’s family relocated to Germany when she was seven years old, and returned to Russia when she was 13;2  she is now 21. Very different, even contradictory, social and cultural belongings may be discerned from her eating and drinking habits. Some of these are evidently connected to her experience of migration – as a result of this, elements of Katja’s personal diet took on a new meaning.
Interestingly, Katja’s mother only had herself and her daughter baptized Russian Orthodox shortly before their emigration to Germany. In Germany this had no effect on their daily life. When Katja’s family returned to Russia, and especially after Katja got to know her mother-in-law, Russian Orthodox beliefs and daily practices became more significant. Back in Russia, Katja now conscientiously observes the fasting rules; she avoids meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, drinks holy water, and eats prosphora prosphora A round loaf that has been blessed and stamped. Part of this bread is consecrated in the Eucharist, while the rest can be consumed after the liturgy. every morning before prayers.
Perhaps the rather spontaneous baptism was itself a rite of passage with emotional significance. Maybe Katja’s mother wanted to reaffirm her Russian origin and belonging in the face of imminent emigration. In Russia, questions of religious and national or cultural belonging are closely interwoven – just like church and state. In the same way that food from back home can provide emotional support, beliefs from back home can anchor a person confronting the unfamiliar and alienation due to migration. Furthermore, it is easy to imagine how this kind of deliberate reconnection to the country of origin might facilitate an eventual return. Katja only learnt to read and write Cyrillic in Germany, but this made her reintegration in Russia far easier.
The fact that Katja observes the religious dietary practices described above on a daily basis can thus be interpreted as Katja’s active (re-)integration into Russia. The family that she has married into undoubtedly also plays a major role.
German roots and national dishes
It was Katja’s German ancestors who first migrated to Russia, and although it may initially seem to contradict her identification with all things Russian, the significance of this original migration for Katja and her identity should not be underestimated. While her daily diet consists of what might be termed “Soviet cuisine,” by her own account, she finds time about once a month to cook Strudli Strudli Yeast dumplings with braised meat and potatoes. . This is a German “national dish,” she says. Moreover, she knows her family history and her “German roots.” She explains with pride that her German ancestors founded her “native village.” She uses anecdotes to describe their neatness as an expression of a German national virtue. Conversely, she only addresses deportation and forced labour in response to my questions, although this aspect of Russian German history is often the focus of stories told by older generations of Russian Germans, and in some cases even frames their whole personal histories.
These two findings – the food described as the national dish and the family history told as a pioneer narrative, marked by self-determination and pride rather than suffering and victimhood – illustrate how Katja expresses her partly German identity in the daily practices of eating and storytelling. The Strudli symbolize Katja’s pride in the achievements of her ancestors and their traditions. It is true that she prepares the time-consuming Strudli relatively rarely; yet she continues to do so regularly. Katja consciously maintains this practice that underscores her sense of belonging. Days when Strudli are served are special. Since Katja only expresses the German side of her belongings in selected areas and situations in her daily life, there is little risk of them coming into conflict with her other belongings.
Global food
I discovered more than the religious, national, or ethnic belongings, reflected in the diet of Katja and others in West Siberia. In a globalized world, people living in Russia pay attention to global trends and conceptions regarding a good life and a good diet. Some things are only familiar through the media; others are learnt during visits abroad, including visits to Germany. Accordingly, those who I interviewed consumed pizza, sushi, or coffee (instead of the “Russian national drink,” tea) in varying quantities, on different occasions, and with awareness of the associated values and social signalling.
For 39-year-old Marina, who has never moved away, enjoying a cup of coffee (despite the need to economize) is one of her most important daily rituals. She and her husband have a German coffee machine, buy high-quality German coffee and treat their coffee consumption as an indulgence. German confectionary and imported beers are repeatedly described as being of a higher quality and are purchased in preference to their Russian equivalents whenever possible, despite their higher prices. In this respect Marina follows a “Western” global lifestyle. By emphasizing the cachet and good quality of certain food products, she is able to set herself apart from the people around her.
Soviet dietary practices
None of this should obscure the fact that the day-to-day dietary practices of the people I researched were still predominantly Soviet. It would be safe to assume that on feast days in most households across the countries of the former Soviet Union, a series of typical dishes is still prepared, in particular salads such as salat oliv’e salat oliv’e Also known worldwide as a “Russian salad,” this is made from potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, tinned peas, carrots, pickled cucumber, and mayonnaise. More about this in the article on the history of mayonnaise in Russia: <a href=""></a> or Herring Under a Fur Coat Herring Under a Fur Coat Layered pickled herring salad coated in grated vegetables and egg. . At least according to the persons whom I interviewed. The widespread subsistence economy encourages the continuation of Soviet-era dietary practices. Never completely abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union, these resurfaced following the EU sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation as a result of the annexation of Crimea.
Diverse influences, diverse belongings
Of course, dietary practices are not only shaped by the experiences mentioned above – migration, family history/ethnic origin, religion, and adoption of a global lifestyle. Our food and drink choices are also influenced by perceptions of a healthy or unhealthy diet, economic resources, work situations, gender roles, and political and social systems, to name just a few. Moreover, our daily eating and drinking habits reflect our belongings, that is where, when and how, and with whom we are seen and (want to be) identified (or not).
Belongings are dynamic and situational
Belongings are not set in stone. They depend heavily on the situation and on who else is present. The resources we draw on to form our belongings, and to what extent, can change with the passage of time. Culture – including food culture – is constantly in flux. Cultural change means that we are constantly developing and updating our habits, and the meanings that we ascribe to our thoughts, actions, and behaviour, or even discarding them and replacing them with new habits. But this does not mean that the values and practices we have adopted must be completely abandoned. Usually old and new practices exist in parallel for a long period and interact with each other, before the old is given up in favour of the new.
In light of this it becomes clear that one cannot really speak in terms of a “German,” “Russian” or “Russian German” food culture, however tempting this may be, since this suggests that it is possible to describe the world and its phenomena and distinguish them from each other once and for all. Unfortunately it is not that simple. Speaking of “German” or “Russian” food culture obscures the different influences that affect dietary behaviour and the diverse social and cultural functions that eating and drinking can fulfil. These social and cultural functions are all connected to our belongings, which in turn depend on the situation and the other people present.
A cultural consideration of specific daily practices such as eating and drinking can contribute to the understanding of self-perception and belonging as diverse and dynamic: they can overlap and even (apparently) contradict each other. Nevertheless, individuals seem to be able to combine and emphasize different belongings at different times, with different people, and in different situations. These belongings can be shaped from quite different resources, and their importance can change over time.
English translation: Kate Sotejeff-Wilson

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