Vindaloos and values - new study of multicultural Leicester provides food for thought

Posted by ap507 at May 20, 2015 01:13 PM |
Research by postgraduate students reveals different cultures ‘rarely mix’

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 19 May

While the vindaloo exemplifies how the west has embraced and adopted international influences, the first study in Leicester to investigate multiculturalism through where and what we eat provides new food for thought.

It reveals that while dining experiences bring together people from different cultures – people are together but separate.

In other words, while multiculturalism abounds, there is little or no interculturalism.

Now a new online exhibition by students from the University of Leicester aims to provide new insights into day-to-day life in Leicester through audio clips, photographs and text.

The exhibition, Cross Cultural Cuisine: Multicultural Restaurants on Leicester's London Road, is the work of students on the International Communication and Culture MA course in the University of Leicester’s School of Modern Languages.

Chunghui Wang, 41, from Taiwan, Xiaofan He, 23, from China and Fayola Francis, 24, who is Jamaican British, carried out the research as part of their core module, Representing Intercultural Meaning: Exhibition Project which allowed them to research and create their own exhibition.

Fayola said: “There are various other studies on multiculturalism in Leicester but ours is the first to explore something that we can all relate to – where and what we eat. Our online exhibition provides an insight into the link between Leicester, multiculturalism and restaurants.

“With 45.1% of the city's population identifying as White British on the last Census, Leicester is probably the best example of a multicultural British city. We study intercultural communication and a multicultural city like Leicester is the perfect place to put the academic side of our degree into practice. We decided to focus on restaurants as food is an important feature of everybody's day-to-day life, regardless of their ethnicity, culture or nationality. Also, trying new foods is an easy, cheap and accessible way of experiencing aspects of different cultures. 

“From our research we've tried to not draw up concrete conclusions as we want people to make up their own minds after seeing our exhibition. However, our research has shown that although Leicester is undoubtedly a multicultural city, it is not yet intercultural. That is to say, Leicester has yet to move past multiculturalism to an intercultural model where different cultural groups share spaces, places, values and views.

“Our research provided evidence that Leicester citizens come into contact with other cultures at festivals and in restaurants. Whilst people are very tolerant of other cultures, they rarely mix with people from different cultural backgrounds.

“We also found that people in Leicester regularly eat food that is from a different culture. Our research is therefore helpful for the future as it shows that Leicester citizens are more than ready to reduce the barriers between culture and move past multiculturalism to a more integrated, intercultural city.”

Chunghui, who has visited 23 countries in her life, said: “The University of Leicester has a great reputation worldwide. Before I came to Leicester, I knew about the University’s commitment to exceptional research and academic excellence. I thought that this would be a great student city with a vibrant cultural life and Leicester has more than lived up to my expectations.”

Academic supervisor Dr Christian Morgner said: “This exhibition offers unique insight into one of Leicester's most multicultural and busiest streets. The research findings of this study provide a fresh and interesting perspective not only to academics, but also to the general public.”

You can access the exhibition via:  http://crossculturalcuisine.omeka.net/

ENDS

About the researchers:

Xiaofan He, 23, comes from China. She studied both English Translation and Creative Writing as an undergraduate. Xiaofan has an avid interest in understanding British culture. As an Art and Museums volunteer for Leicester City Council, she helps local museums with various events.

Fayola Francis, 24, is Jamaican British. She has a degree in Modern Languages and can speak French and Spanish fluently. Born and raised in Leicester, she has lived in 6 different cities across England, France and Spain. Fay likes to bake and write articles in her spare time.

Chunghui Wang, 41, comes from Taiwan and, as well as being a native Chinese speaker, is fluent in English and German. Chunghui has 13 years' work experience in the field of booth design and international trade fairs in Germany and the USA. She is also an experienced solo traveller and has been to 23 countries.

All three of the exhibition’s curators are students on the International Communication and Culture MA course at the University of Leicester.

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