This thesis analyzes the history of Cambodian Americans using theoretical frameworks utilized by food studies scholars. Cambodian refugees and their families experienced a historical process that I describe as being “from farm to table to factory.” Many Cambodians maintained a self-sufficient agricultural lifestyle prior to the Cambodian Civil War. As Cambodian refugees resettled in the United States, they faced a slew of challenges in navigating urban infrastructures and governmental institutions, as well as in adjusting to hegemonic discourses. Such issues constitute a metaphorical table to which Cambodians needed to adjust as they made their lives in the US. Adaptation also included adopting the furnishings of modern US homes, such as kitchen appliances, tables, and chairs. As Cambodians settled into their new lives, they, like other Americans, had to learn to negotiate the consumer-based, industrial-commercial US food system: the factory. Younger Cambodian refugees and U.S. born children consumed a diet that was a mélange of Cambodian foods adapted to the U.S. system, and standard American fare. Cambodian women, who largely carried the responsibility of feeding their families, adapted as necessary. The American factory contributed to defining the contours of what Cambodian Americans could become. Literal factories also offered employment opportunities for many refugees, whose agricultural skillsets had little value in the modern, American economy. To show this historical process, I follow the paths of Cambodian foodways from their roots in Southeast Asia all the way to their new contexts in twenty-first-century United States.
Date of Degree
Master of Arts (MA)
Program of Study
Humanities and Social Sciences
Smith, A. C. (2023). From farm to table to factory: Paths of Cambodian American foodways [Master’s thesis, Minnesota State University, Mankato]. Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for Minnesota State University, Mankato. https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/etds/1326/