‘Authentic Originals’: Questions from a comparative approach to translation and foodways
‘The concern with authenticity indicates some sort of doubt, and this sort of doubt is rarely part of the discourse of an undisturbed culinary tradition’ (Appadurai 1986:25)
Emphasising the transactional nature of ‘ethnic food encounters’ (Heldke 2005) brings out interesting parallels with translation studies and the growing attention devoted to translation practice as a quotidian instance of cultural mediation. Cronin (2014) has highlighted the long-established connection between food and migration in translational terms, suggesting that ‘translation operates as a strategic factor in the triangular relationship between food, mobility and culture’. In part, this paper utilizes perspectives from contemporary translation studies to read the ‘translation’ of Italian foodways (practices and beliefs surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of food), focusing on the notion of an ‘authentic original’. Drawing on Appadurai’s identification that the need to shore up certainties of origin alludes to a context-related insecurity, ‘authenticity’ is posited as a facet of experiencing ‘outsidedness’, and its value is deconstructed according to its relations with marginality. Food, chefs and consumers are all examined this way as ‘cultural mediators’, Through reference to individual case studies dealing with the translation of ‘Italianità’ in its broadest sense (‘Italian-ness’, or ‘being Italian’) in contemporary Britain, these margins are examined both as ‘boundaries’, whereby authenticity is linked to exclusivity and self-making via distinctions of belonging and not, and as ‘thresholds’; sites of creative opportunity and empowerment. It is therefore equally concerned with problematising the concept of ‘authenticity’ as a quality of exchange, seeking to use approaches from food studies to reflect on literary translation and generate self-reflexive questions regarding the significance attached to ‘authenticity’.
Georgia Wall is currently studying for a PhD as part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Culture’. Her research is supervised by Dr. Jennifer Burns, and explores notions of ‘success’ in migration, considering the role of Italianita’ – ‘being Italian’ or ‘Italian-ness’ – in the construction of popular celebrities and iconic figures associated with Italian food in the UK. More general research interests are: Foodways and the translation of ‘authentic originals’; mobility, nostalgia and heritage.