The Cosmopolitan Foodscape: Food and Social Encounters in an Immigrant Neighborhood

Authors: Pascale Joassart-Marcelli*, San Diego State University, Fernando Bosco*, San Diego State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: food, gentrification, ethnicity, cosmopolitan, immigrant
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Galerie 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Ethnic markets and restaurants play a central role in immigrant neighborhoods. Not only do they make food accessible to local residents and help reduce food insecurity, they also create economic opportunities for new immigrants, contribute to a sense of place and community, and help revitalize low-income neighborhoods. In recent years, ethnic food stores and eateries have begun to attract a new clientele of foodies – affluent and primarily white customers seeking to distinguish themselves by their cosmopolitan, democratic, adventurous, and authentic tastes.

This trend raises questions regarding the potential of food to enable transformative social encounters and create a more inclusive society. On the one hand, ethnic food establishments may provide “cosmopolitan canopies” that encourage civility and tolerance, in addition to generating income for business owners. On the other hand, their popularity may signal gentrification and the displacement of older businesses and lower-income residents. In other words, these place-based and food-centered encounters may forge connections, but they may also exacerbate difference, reflecting broader socio-spatial processes associated with class, race and ethnicity.

In this paper, we intersect literature on urban food landscapes, cosmopolitanism, ethnic entrepreneurship, and gentrification to investigate the tensions surrounding ethnic/immigrant markets in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, which is home to many multi-ethnic food businesses. We aim to highlight the role of food in contributing to social inclusion and encouraging activism. We rely on mixed methods that combine mapping with qualitative data from interviews we conducted with business owners and customers in City Heights.

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