Food, Migration, and Belonging in 20th Century European History

Sep 29, 2025 - Sep 30, 2025

Conference at German Historical Institute | Pacific Office at UC Berkeley | Conveners: Maren Möhring (University of Leipzig), Isabel Richter (GHI Washington Pacific Office at UC Berkeley)

Call for Papers

Food has a long tradition as a marker of social and cultural norms, relationships, and difference in modern history. As Sidney Mintz highlighted, eating food is “never a purely biological activity,” but rather a basic activity with social meaning(s) that are communicated symbolically, and have histories” (Mintz 1996: 7). Europe’s diverse food cultures have been significantly shaped by migration processes; migrants formed an integral, if often marginalized, part of European societies and played an important role in (re)creating Europe’s foodways. The proposed conference explores the intersection of migration studies and food studies: It tests the analytical potential of food practices and food histories for people migrating to and from Europe and asks how we might view the history of European societies differently by examining migrant foodways. This perspective opens a window onto different layers of historical analysis from individual experiences to the discourses of absorbing societies; from the domestic to the public; from everyday practices of preparing, serving, and consuming food to questions of public health, religion, and migration politics. Furthermore, food histories articulate how “modern,” “traditional,” “migrant,” and “ethnic” cuisines are constructed and have often been gendered and racialized, as well as how the local and the global intersect.

In the  last twenty years or so, food and migration have been discussed in migration studies as well as in food studies: historians, anthropologists, and sociologists have analyzed the role of food in migration processes focusing on regional case studies, such as migrant experiences in Australia (Hage 1997, Cardona 2004, Frost 2008), the U.S. (Kalcik 1984, Diner 2001, Ray 2007, Panayi 2010), and  Europe (Jamal 1996, Harbottle 1997, Cook 1999, Berg 2008, Tuomainen 2011). Recent studies also featured the making of world cuisines from a global studies perspective (Bender/Cinotto 2024). Studies in German history have highlighted the role of migrant entrepreneurs in the establishment of ethnic cuisines in West Germany since the 1960s (Möhring 2012, Möhring 2014, Marquart/Sterzinger-Killermann 2020) and in German-Jewish emigration to Palestine in the 1930s (Alianov-Rautenberg 2013). Food in migration processes has also been linked to the history of the senses and to body history (Stoller 1989, Holtzman 2006, Abbots 2013) and to gendered histories of food labor (Baxter 1988, Limeberry 2014).

The proposed conference, “Food, Migration, and Belonging in Twentieth-Century European History,” focuses on foodways as the articulation and embodiment of individual and collective identities in migration processes and will explore the relevance of food practices as an expression of belonging. The conference will discuss multilayered food histories and their potential for untangling the complexities of homemaking, hybridization and third cultures in 20th century Europe. We are particularly interested in contributions on food and its impact on the making of communities and its effects on social, cultural, and religious belonging(s). By highlighting the semiotic and material, the sensual and emotional dimensions of food practices, the conference aims at gaining a better understanding of the creation and transformation of (group) identities and social relations in European migration societies in the 20th century.  We will use food as a lens to reflect on a variety of places, spaces, and methodologies in  transregional European history, including topics such as

  • Food and memory (the commemorative function of food; nostalgia; social rituals of serving and preparing food; food and emotions)
  • Approaches to food and “the body” in migration societies (i.e., bodily senses, taste, and smell in terms of food consumption; discourses about domestic science, health, purity etc.)
  • Transcultural encounters via food; hospitality and conviviality
  • Culinary racism (negative depictions of the taste and smell of the food of the “other”; culinary hierarchies)
  • The role of food in the social lives of diasporas (food gifts from home communities and sharing dishes across time and space; food and the sense of attachment to or detachment from the home country)
  • Food and home/homemaking (notions of “belonging” and of where and what “home” can mean; use of food for asserting one’s place in a new setting)
  • Food, migration, and religion (e.g., the challenges of religious dietary laws in migration processes, kosher cooking in Jewish migration; debates in absorbing societies about migrants’ religious practices, i.e., halal slaughtering in Europe)
  • Third Culture cuisines in Europe (blending food from the first generation’s “home country” with flavors of the next generation’s current location)
  • Objects/material culture in the study of food and migration (i.e., migrants and long-term residents confronted with processing unknown food; handling unfamiliar household appliances, etc.)
  • Methodological challenges (food consumption as a fleeting practice and methodological questions about how to approach its historical meanings; question of useful sources in migration and food studies)
  • Methodological and theoretical reflections on how belonging can be conceptualized and evaluated

The conference will be held in English and will be hosted by the GHI Pacific Office at Berkeley ( Individual paper presentations are limited to 20 minutes. Proposals, which should include a title, an abstract of no more than 250 words, a short CV, and contact information (address, phone, email), must be submitted online in a single pdf (the file name should be the last name of the applicant) by September 20, 2024:

Please contact Heike Friedman ( if you have problems submitting your information. Decisions will be sent out by mid-October 2024.

Accommodations will be arranged and paid for by the conference organizers. Participants will be expected to make their own travel arrangements. Some subsidies for travel will be available upon request, especially for those who might not otherwise be able to attend the conference, including junior scholars and scholars from universities with limited resources. There is no registration fee.


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Alianov-Rautenberg, Viola (2013), Schlagsahne oder Shemen-Öl? Deutsch-jüdische Hausfrauen und ihre Küche in Palästina 1936-1940, in: Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte 41, pp. 82-96. 

Avieli, Nir (2017), Food and power. A culinary ethnography of Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Bender, Daniel E./ Cinotto, Simone (eds.) (2024), Food Mobilities. Making World Cuisines, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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Charon Cardona E. T. (2004), Re-encountering Cuban tastes in Australia, in: The Australian Journal of Anthropology Vol, 15(1), pp. 40-53.

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Freeman, Andrea (2013), The Unbearable Whiteness of Milk: Food Oppression and the USDA, UC Irvine Law Review 3(4), pp. 1251-1277.

Frost N. (2008), Strange people but they sure can cook! An Indonesian womens group in Sydney, in: Food, Culture and Society, Vol. 11 (2), pp.173–89.

Hage G. (1997), At home in the entrails of the West: Multiculturalism, ethnic food and migrant home-building, in: H. Grace, G. Hage, L. Johnson, J. Langsworth, M. Symonds (eds), Home/World: Space, community and marginality in Sydney’s West, pp. 99–153.

Harbottle L. (1997), Fast food/spoiled identity: Iranian migrants in the British catering trade, in: P. Caplan (ed.), Food, health and identity, Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, pp. 87–110.

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Jamal A. (1996), Acculturation: The symbolism of ethnic eating among contemporary British consumers, in: British Food Journal, Vol. 98 (10), pp. 12–26.

Kalcik S. (1984), Ethnic foodways in America: Symbol and the performance of identity, in L. Keller Brown, K. Mussell (eds.), Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity, pp. 37–65, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

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Marquardt, Vivienne/ Sterzinger-Killermann, Clara (2020), Zwei Kugeln süss-sauer mit scharf. Münchens migrantisch geprägte Gastronomie, München: Allitera.

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Möhring, Maren (2012), Fremdes Essen. Die Geschichte der ausländischen Gastronomie in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, München: Oldenbourg.

Möhring, Maren (2014), Food for Thought: Rethinking the History of Migration to West Germany Through the Migrant Restaurant Business, in: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 49 (1), Special Issue: Migration in Germany’s Age of Globalization, pp. 209-227.

Panikos, Panayi (2010): Spicing Up Britain. The Multicultural History of British Food, Reaktion Books.

Pitts, Johny, Robinson, Roger (2022), Home is not a place, London: Harper Collins.

Ray K. (2004), The migrant’s table: meals and memories in Bengali-American households, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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