|Nostalgia has a History: Ukranian Foodways and the Generational Politics of Longing|
|The paper draws upon oral histories with three generations of Ukrainians in Britain. The interviews were collected by three projects in the mid-1980s, late 1990s, and more recently in 2006/7. The paper is inspired by attempting to understand changing generational memories of taste and our earlier work on imagined nation and home. We focus on how succeeding generations have used ‘taste’ in relation to food and foodways as part of making and remaking Ukrainian identities in the British context.
Broadly, the oldest generation, who settled in Britain immediately after the Second World War, talk about food (and food shortage) as a way of recalling the history of the father country and individual and interrupted life stories. However, it is also clear from their oral histories, that such recollections are partial and often elaborated. Removed from their homes in their youth and childhood, their recollections of Ukraine are imbued with nostalgia that is expressed through a longing for what they remembered as the authentic tastes of home cooking, indeed of Ukraine – the nation. Attempts to recreate this taste in Britain were a significant challenge for uprooted Ukrainian women; women who in early youth were forced from their families to labour in Nazi Germany. As post-war ‘displaced persons’ they were then brought to Britain to work in the country’s textile industries.
Isolated from their remembered nation and unable to return, they established new lives and families, with many seeking to retain a sense of being Ukrainian. Cooking and food customs were key parts of this project, challenging what they believed was the erosion of ‘traditional’ foodways in the homeland and attempting to recreate an imagined national cuisine. This effort was narrated and performed within families and at communal events, around Saturday Schools, churches and social clubs. And was part of a demonstration and transmission of collective identity. The resultant cuisine was also used to contrast Ukrainians from others, including initially the white English, whose cuisine in memory is recalled with some disgust.
Examining changing attitudes to food and foodways can also be a means of charting changes in nostalgia between generations. While those who first came to Britain from Ukraine used food to evoke what they believed to be an authentic, most often a pre-Soviet western, Ukraine, their children’s memory of food would become initially associated with the domestic; memories of their mothers and their parental homes through which they expressed a shared romanticism for Ukrainianess. This was set to change when daughters reached adulthood and began to assume positions within the public organisations of their communities. With increasing numbers of ageing relatives, who tended to be hostile towards the state and state care provision, the clubs and churches began to play a greater role in caring, including providing cooked meals for older members. The younger women who organised and delivered this care also began to secure more influential roles in their community and religious organisations. The public care and charity practiced by the younger women that would later extend to organising international relief, including for the children of Chernobyl. Nostalgic views of the fatherland were further complicated with the arrival of post-Soviet migrants.
While the process of food memory is still under development amongst the grandchildren of those who came to Britain in the late 1940s, we believe that ‘Ukrainian food’ has begun to be used as a cultural token by the youngest in their relationships with other Britons. This may be a third stage in the history of nostalgia amongst Ukrainians in Britain: a longing for a connection to a place of family origin that is no less constructed in their imaginations than it was in their grandparents’, but it is qualitatively, emotionally different. It is less a longing for a land of milk and honey, and more a source of distinguishing taste and claiming space in postcolonial, multi-ethnic Britain.|