Thursday, December 2, 2021

Melissa Fuster's "Caribeños at the Table"

Melissa Fuster is associate professor of public health nutrition at Tulane University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Caribeños at the Table: How Migration, Health, and Race Intersect in New York City, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Caribeños at the Table will take the reader to the initial pages of Chapter 4, Gathering, Cooking, and Eating Comidas, beginning as follows:
The preparation and consumption of certain foods, such as Puerto Rican pasteles, Dominican mangú, and Cuban ajiaco, are facilitated by the movement of foods, cooks, eaters, and ideas between the Caribbean and New York City. The practices behind these dishes emerge from structure, reproduce structure, and can also transform structure. In this chapter, I aim to disentangle these interactions, demonstrating the influence of structure in the practices that help maintain and also change eating behaviors among caribeños in the city. I approach this task by addressing how we interact with food within three interrelated practices: gathering (or buying), cooking, and eating. The examination of food practices provides further evidence of the complexity of dietary changes, reminding us that these experiences can be universal, not just guided or prescribed by culture.
Amazingly, the Page 99 test worked quite well. The page provides a good summary of the work presented in the book. Caribeños at the Table is an interdisciplinary book, intertwining scholarship from public health, nutrition, history, migration studies, social sciences, to take a deep dive at how global and structural forces intersect to create the persisting health inequities we see among immigrant, racialized communities in the United States. Chapter 4 is the last content chapter of the book, based on ethnographic data, coming from experiences cooking and eating comidas – traditional Hispanic Caribbean foods or meals – with Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans in New York. The chapter builds on the evidence presented in the preceding chapters, including archival sources to showcase the histories of the communities via a transnational lens, interviews with dietitians working with the community, and the voices of caribeños. The work demonstrates the importance of structural factors – including race, class, gender, and migratory history – in influencing food practices and health outcomes, while also showcasing how these are often overlooked in food and nutrition scholarship when examining the diets of immigrant communities.

As a Puerto Rican food and nutrition scholar, one of my goals for Caribeños at the Table is to shift how immigrant or ethnic communities are addressed in both scholarship and practice, by showcasing new perspectives from an understudied group within Latin American communities, from a transnational and comparative perspective. I hope this understanding pushes our practice and research to shift the focus on individual behavior change to new social and environmental approaches to address food and health inequities among Latin communities and beyond. Yet, aside from the scholarly aims driving Caribeños at the Table, I also wrote the book for fellow caribeños interested in learning more about our cuisine and history, for practitioners working with the community, and for food lovers in general by showcasing the influence of Hispanic Caribbean sazón within the global foodscape of New York City.
Visit Melissa Fuster's website.

--Marshal Zeringue