26 Callaloo 30.1 (2007) 26–39
Dyasporic appetites and Longings
an interview with Edwidge Danticat
by Nancy Raquel Mirabal
. . . every meal is a reminder that we’re not home.
With a few words the author Edwidge Danticat captures the complicated and multiple
connections among food, memory, and home. Food is home, regardless of whether we
are there or not. It travels with us as seamlessly as does language, personal histories, and
the faded photographs of the houses, people, and lives we leave behind. How we pre-
pare food, the ingredients we find and cannot find, the spices we covet and the ones we
use instead, the smells we remember and the recipes we forget, are all part of what we
take with us and what we leave behind. It reveals who we are and what we care about.
It can even speak for us when words fail. And yet, we often underestimate the power of
food. Studies and research on immigration, globalization, colonization, and space rarely
consider how food eases our diasporic transitions, how it facilitates cultural imaginings
In this interview Danticat recounts how her father’s ritual of cooking for people when
they first came from Haiti, was his way of providing comfort and familiarity to friends and
family who felt lost and lonely upon arriving to New York. Similar to many immigrants,
Danticat’s father recognized the healing power of food, of its ability to immediately connect
us to our roots through taste, smell and memory. Well aware of how food could assuage, if
only for a moment, what she terms our dyasporic longings, Danticat’s father was convinced
that we could all return home simply by raising a fork to our lips.
At the same time, as Danticat recounts, this is only part of the meanings we attach to
food, only part of its complicity. When sick, people lose their appetite for food, for life.
When poor, it signals poverty and class in the most obvious and cruel ways. It can, as
Danticat conveys, be a source of both celebration and shame. The truth about food is that
it can both heal and wound. For many, there is no guarantee of a next meal. Edwidge
Danticat’s refusal to take the easy way out, to give simple answers, underscores the power
of food, the power of nostalgia, and how our continual and effortless ability to render it
meaning can both comfort and haunt us.
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