Abstract

As mainstream examples of Polish foodways, pierogi and pączki function as what Michael Owen Jones refers to as “emblems of ethnicity,” symbolizing Polishness for Americans with no ancestral ties to this ethnic group. In this article, I explore the opposite: foods that serve as emblems of ethnicity when the emblems in question are of contested ethnic origin. I also examine what that uncertainty means for the construction and transmission of ethnic identity. As documented in the literature, ethnic identity can be performed through food. Family recipes provide the script for this performance, allowing members of an ethnic group to navigate the boundary of inclusion with foods that—to them—symbolize ethnicity. Drawing on a case study involving a special-occasion cookie served at Wigilia and multigenerational interviews with my Polish American family supplemented by analytic autoethnography, I argue that an ethnic emblem need not be authentic to transmit ethnic identity. Informed by Annie Hauck's concept of the food voice, I posit that something as fragile as one family recipe can speak with multiple food voices to reproduce and resurrect ethnic identity, regardless of authenticity or provenance because, as objects of material culture, family recipes are linked not to a place but to the people—and the ethnic identity of the people—who made them.

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