Cooking with Mama Kim: The Legacy of Korean Women (Re)Defining Cultural Authenticity
Bolles, Augusta L
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What is considered “authentically Korean,” how those concepts are imagined, and in what ways authenticity is constructed through the vehicles of food and Korean motherhood is the core focus of this dissertation project. This study employs visual and discourse analysis, utilizing historical archives, vlog personalities, cookbooks, web portals, and various forms of food branding and packaging. Within the interdisciplinary field of Food Studies, the conversation regarding authenticity is a fundamental one, with varying work being performed to examine what and how it is employed, and who/what are the gatekeepers that determine the parameters for something as “authentic.” The intervention into this conversation is to explore the ways that authenticity as a theoretical model has intersectional, subjective, or adaptive, potential. This entails employing the term “plastic authenticity,” which is a model of authenticity that favors the positioning of non-normative bodies (i.e., multiracial and diasporic) as brokers of cultural authenticity. In the end, this dissertation contributes to scholarship in Women’s Studies, Food Studies, and Ethnic Studies by pushing the boundaries of how cultural/racial authenticity is constructed, and the ways that women and food have direct impacts as gatekeepers on this process. Analyses range from a historical timeline of Korean immigration to the U.S. with a focus on Korean women, an analysis of a popular YouTube chef, Maangchi, and her employments of the concept of authenticity, analysis of Korean food branding strategies and their claims of authentic Korean food in the U.S., and the website analysis of a mixed-race Korean community to explore the ways that authenticity is invoked by persons not traditionally deemed “authentically Korean.” This research is critical, as it expands the field of research in Korean Studies to not only focus on women and mixed-race Koreans as historical objects, but as active agents in cultural production, meaning-making, and history writing.