Jam, Tarts, Spotted Dicks and Curry: Teaching Empire and Nation in Singaporean Home Economics
Tarulevicz, NT, Jam, Tarts, Spotted Dicks and Curry: Teaching Empire and Nation in Singaporean Home Economics, Food and Agriculture under the Big Sky: People, Partnerships and Policies, June 9-12, 2011, University of Montana, Missoula, USA, pp. 70. (2011) [Conference Extract]
The study of home economics in postcolonial states offers an exciting way of approaching both the cuisine of new nations and some of the processes by which national identity is formed. The paper begins with an analysis of textbooks to show that, as young women studying home economics in Singapore were taught how to make cakes in ovens they did not have, ideas about empire, and later nation, were at the centre of the curriculum. Through educational materials, the colonial authorities and then the Singaporean government utilized the domestic sphere to encourage specific gender and racial constructions. Via these constructions they sought to imagine, and thereby define, the nation. Examining discursive sites that were particularly subject to government efforts to sculpt femininity shows that the state took a keen interest in gender roles and the organization of domestic space. Cooking at home is marginalized in discourses of femininity, reflecting the importance to the state of domesticity as a site of citizenship training - with ideology preeminent over outcome. That is, teaching young Singaporean women to have a neat kitchen or to prepare thrifty meals enshrined the values of social order and fiscal responsibility, not how to bake a sponge-cake. The home economics student is both proto-housewife and proto-citizen, and she is taught citizenship, gender-ideology and ideas about class and race by learning to make elaborate British desserts, afternoon tea-treats and Anglo-Indian adaptations. Chicken-pot pies, cucumber sandwiches and jam-tarts are thus transformed from food of empire to food of nation.