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Diaspora, Food and Identity

Nigerian Migrants in Belgium


Maureen Duru

This book examines the connection between food and identity in the Nigerian diaspora community in Belgium. Encounters between people from different cultures do not lead to a simple adaptation of the diet, but usually give rise to some kind of fusion of new and indigenous food habits.

The author questions the relationship between what Nigerian migrants in the diaspora eat, their self-perception and how they engage with outsiders. Starting with a historical introduction about the country, this study examines what aspects of the Nigerian food culture is retained and what has changed. This is reflected by the dynamics in the Nigerian homes, especially the gender roles.

The new generation of Nigerians, who see Belgium as home, also hang on to a Nigerian diet that remains not only an important part of who they are, but is also used in the creation of cultural boundaries and group identities. However, the influence of the new environment is very present because each diaspora community, wherever and whenever, must adapt. Skills such as language and social norms are indeed necessary to survive in the new environment. Yet, food plays a prominent role: on the one hand, it contributes to the affirmation of Nigerian feelings, and on the other hand, food serves as a means of communication with the host country.

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Chapter One Introduction


Chapter One


1. A journey of different routes

Writing this book started from an academic quest but writing the thesis it is based on, was not just an academic venture for me. It was a personal journey as well. In the year 2001, I enrolled for a master’s degree at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. The choice to study for a Masters in European Studies, focusing on European Integration and Development was not made out of any ambition for a lucrative career at the European Commission or affiliated bodies, but rather it was the choice of a migrant propelled by necessity. Having worked for years before joining my partner in Belgium, I found myself undocumented and unemployed which was hard to bear. With nothing to occupy my mind, the frustration was putting pressure on me and those around me. A way out was to occupy myself by studying. So, I chose a master’s programme offered in English. Under no illusions about what I intended to do with the degree, most of the classes were just routine. Then I attended my first lecture for the course “European Cultures and Mentalities in Historical and Comparative Perspective” taught by Professor Peter Scholliers. Not only did I find it interesting, it was also academically stimulating for me. As a historian, who worked for years as the producer of a national television cuisine programme in Nigeria, the study of people, society and food from a historical perspective challenged me...

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