CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1 One October morning, in the Facebook group Os Brasileiros lyonnais, [1] Clara, [2] a Brazilian immigrant, posts a message in Portuguese: “Brazilian food in the city of Lyon with home delivery for today?” [3] Comments, also in Portuguese, are posted within minutes. A woman mentions the name of Cacilda. In response, another Brazilian confirms: “Yes, exactly, Cacilda’s feijoada[4] and cod fritters... score ten out of ten”. In another answer, Clara writes: “Thank you, someone already gave me her number! I’ll try it soon. Have a nice Sunday”. Then, Cacilda herself reacts: “Thank you, darlings!” On the same thread, a fifth user posts a direct question to the cook: “How far away do you take orders? Near the airport?” Cacilda answers him: “Flávio, we take orders from all over Lyon”.

2 These exchanges on digital social networks reveal the particular relationships that emerge between Brazilian immigrants [5] in the city of Lyon. Through a comparative ethnography between France and Brazil, [6] we observe that many Brazilian immigrants seek, with varying frequency and intensity, foodstuffs that they associate with Brazil. In their own words, it relieves the saudade[7] they feel for the country or their relatives living there. More specifically, the ethnography reveals that many Brazilians in Lyon seek out women who are themselves Brazilian immigrants, like Cacilda (a forty-seven-year-old woman who has been in France for more than ten years). These women cook products associated with Brazil in their homes, such as salgados, [8] home prepared dishes, [9] and sweets made from sweetened condensed milk or milk jam. The sale of their products is mainly done through informal transactions. We refer to the cooking done in their home kitchens for commercial purposes and sold informally, as “culinary work”.

3 Previous research in social sciences has already shown the relevance of focusing on food in an immigration context. Calvo (1982) described the transformations of food practices in the host country, although he tended to think of a “food culture of origin” in a way that is too rigid. More recent work helps to better understand the complexity of the relationship to food in a migration situation, taking out the notion of “culture of origin”, which does not cover any social reality (Cuche, 2012), thus making it possible to go beyond the dichotomy between continuity and discontinuity of food practices (Crenn et al., 2010). Transformation of food practices occurs in a migratory context, revealing, above all, adaptation to a new social and cultural environment in which migrants are the main actors (Crenn et al., 2010; Barou, 2010). If it is illusory to look for a “culture of origin”, food constitutes for migrants a way to assert an identity anchored in the country of origin (Ramos, 2006). Their food practices can be ethnicized by them or by an outside viewer (Juteau-Lee, 1983). The quest for and production of a Brazilian food identity in the above example helps investigate this complex relationship to origin in a migration setting. It also sheds light on the Brazilian and South American networks that appear. This is even more interesting in the case of Brazilians in France because of the lack of studies focusing on minority migratory flows, numerically less important and tending to be invisible in the host territory (e.g. Gonzalez, 2007), in contrast with majority migratory flows from North African or European countries (Théry, 2009; Mescoli, 2015). Indeed, a few works highlight the food practices of minority immigrant populations in France, for example those of Russian migrants in Paris and London (Bronnikova and Emmanovskaya, 2010) or Malagasy in France (Crenn et al., 2010). In France, South Americans represent a very small proportion of the immigrant population. Brazilians represent 0.7% of the total immigrant population, just under 50,000 individuals (Insee, 2020). However, migration flows from Brazil to France have been growing steadily over the last two decades (Schwartzman and Schwartzman, 2015; Théry, 2009). According to consular sources, 5,000 Brazilians reside in the Lyon area. [10]

4 The informal cooks included in this research are exclusively women, although mensometimes contribute to the distribution, which will be discussed later. At first glance, this seems to be in line with women’s assignment [11] to cooking tasks (Meah, 2014; Fournier et al., 2015). However, previous research has emphasized that cooking can become a privileged space for emancipation and self-realization in a migratory context, whether in the assocative (Mescoli, 2015) or domestic sphere (Meah, 2014). However, except for rare exceptions (Boniface et al., 2013), this has not been shown in a professional context, where women are a minority. Indeed, when cooking is a professional activity, it often becomes a male activity, which is particularly true in France (Bourelly, 2010) and in the context of migration (Ray, 2016). This raises the question of the role of this activity for these women, between domestic and professional activity and between assignment and emancipation, especially because these women evoke the figure of the empregada de casa, [12] often present in the middle and upper classes’ homes in Brazil (Vidal, 2007).

5 These women’s informal culinary work, the informal economy it involves, and the networks it mobilizes shed light on the role of food in an immigration context. What are the uses of “Brazilian food” in this context and how does it help investigate the links that they have to their country of origin? In the context of their choices and daily practices, how are their assignments as immigrants, as Brazillians, and as women articulated?

6 This ethnography takes place within larger research on Brazilian immigrants’ food practices in Lyon. Between August 2018 and February 2019 in the Lyon metropolitan area, the ethnography focused on thirty-six Brazilians. Among them, eleven women, on whom this article focuses specifically, developed a commercial culinary work, cooking and selling their products through an informal way. [13] The panel’s contacts were obtained through the “snowball” method, which allowed access to each respondent’s social network. Twenty-six people were interviewed face-to-face during semi-structured interviews in Portuguese. Informal conversations with ten other Brazilians were also used (eight Brazilian immigrants in Lyon who were part of the network of the interviewees and met during Brazilian cultural events, demonstrations, or food transactions; and two Brazilians living in Brazil). Outside of this group, four non-Brazilian spouses of Brazilians (three French and one Portugese) were also privileged informants. Moreover, observations of Brazilian immigrant participants in the places of production, marketing, and consumption (homes, streets, food stores, and restaurants) were conducted. In addition, a digital ethnography on the digital spaces used by the respondents (such as Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp) enabled access to additional materials.

Brazilian Women Cooking and Selling Food: Between Economic Necessity and Emancipation

7 The Brazilian immigrants surveyed present a plurality of life paths, migration, and social status. They come from different Brazilian regions, but most of them are from metropolises such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Goiânia and their suburbs. While the main reason for migration from Brazil to France in recent decades has been political, for example, to escape the military regime (Chirio, 2005), the interviewees are more involved in the recent wave of economic migration. Through their migration, they hope for higher income or professional advancement, either individually or for their family members. Also, the eleven women we focused on in this paper explain that they followed their spouses to Lyon. For eight of them, their spouse is Brazilian and came to France for a professional opportunity in his field, or to look for a job in Europe. For two women, it was a romantic encounter with a Frenchman on vacation in Brazil, who already had a stable professional and socio-economic situation in Lyon, that motivated their migration. Only one woman, who came to France with her two daughters, did not mention a spouse as motivation for immigration, but rather her passion for France. Even though the work activities and social status of these women were heterogeneous before their migration, [14] most of them admit suffering from economic difficulties or a feeling of being downgraded in France. They live in the Lyon metropolis working-class districts (Villeurbanne and Vénissieux, Lyon’s 8th and 9th districts), which are characterized by a high rate of social housing, low education level, and lower median incomes than in the rest of the metropolis (Authier et al., 2010). Cristina, for example, lives with her family in a dilapidated building in one of these districts after a chaotic migration experience, spent in indecent housing while her husband suffers professional exploitation on construction sites.

Culinary Work in Response to a Precarious Situation

8 Moving to another country sometimes leads immigrants to take a less skilled or lower paid job, with less attractive tasks, either because their level of education is devalued or because their degree or qualification are not recognized in the host country (Chamozzi, 2009; Rosenfeld et al., 2009). This phenomenon is intensified when the immigrant is a woman (Hirata, 2016; Piscitelli, 2016). To increase their low income, many Brazilian immigrants in Lyon are forced to do additional work in the sectors of catering, agriculture, civil construction, or cleaning, all of which require a large and inexpensive unskilled labor force.


The man goes to the construction sites and the woman goes to clean houses or offices. That’s the only thing we can do [...]. It was difficult because you arrive, you don’t find a job... or you don’t have a diploma yet to find work.” (Cristina, thirty-eight years old, arrived in France two years ago)

10 As they have a low academic level, [15] the eleven Brazilian women included in this research have few employment possibilities in France. By default, they have all turned to care work. This sector is defined by services whose goal is to provide a concrete response to others, to care for others or to help with daily life (Kergoat, 2016). Thus, they occupy (or have occupied temporarily) positions as housekeepers, life assistants, home helpers, or childcare workers.


I worked in there, I cleaned. I cleaned, I did housework and I also looked after a little Brazilian girl. I would pick her up from school, play with her until her parents arrived and then I would go home. Now I just do the cleaning because I only work during the day. Otherwise I can’t pick up my kids from school.” (Sandra, thirty years old, arrived in France seven years ago)

12 Care work concerns mostly women, both in Latin America (Vidal, 2007) and in Europe, especially when they are immigrants (Chaïb, 2008). Brazilian immigrant women in Europe are valued for care work because of the sterotypes associated with female Brazilian identity (affection, friendliness, cheerfulness) (Freitas and Godin, 2013; Piscitelli, 2016). Thus, Brazilian immigrant women who perform care work undergo an assignment linked to their gender and origin. These work activities, easily accessible as they do not require a high level of French and very few qualifications, are not very recognized and valued, economically or socially. This causes precariousness in the form of short contracts (temporary work, fixed-term contracts) that are not guaranteed, with part-time work and with hourly wages at the minimum wage [16] (Hirata, 2016). Faced with the difficulties inherent in care work, the eleven women surveyed felt the need to do a complentary job. That is why they turn to making familiar recipes at home and selling them.


When I started [culinary work], I was already working as house keeper. I spent the whole morning cooking, making salgados for the next day. It was a time when I needed a lot of money and cooking helped me a lot. A lot, a lot. I would get up at three, four o’clock in the morning to make the salgados for the next day and then I commuted to work [cleaning places] while delivering the food on the way. It was a race, but it was the way to get a little more money. Then, the incomes increased. Today I take orders, but only for weekends. Every weekend I take an order and make something.” (Íris, thirty years old, arrived in Lyon three years ago)

14 Crenn (2003) points out that immigrants in precarious positions develop economic strategies to survive in their daily lives. Furthermore, Barou (2010) explains that food processing is often the first opportunity for immigrants to ensure economic survival in their new country of residence. Six of these women combine care work with culinary work, this second opportunity being intended to counter the precariousness of the main activity. The other five women have chosen to progressively substitute their care work with culinary work.

15 The orientation of these eleven women towards culinary work, as a response to a precarious situation, is not a coincidence. These activities do not require acquiring any additional skills or qualifications, as the women surveyed already know how to cook as part of their daily and family life. In their daily life, the women often take care of the domestic tasks directly related to marital or family cooking (Fournier et al., 2015). Indeed, the commercial culinary work in the Brazilian immigrants’ homes is also done exclusively by women, as Sofia attests: “They’re all women, right! There are no men in the business”. On the other hand, the material investments are low because their own kitchen at home is enough. In the same way, the training costs for the development of this activity are limited. The interviewees like to cook but they carry out this activity because they already have knowledge linked to their social and educational assignment to domestic tasks (such as cooking) and do not find it possible to insert themselves in sectors that require other qualifications. On the other hand, they do it because they need a better economic position, as their care work is insufficient.

Cooking and Selling Food for her Fellow Citizens: Well-being for the Immigrant Woman

16 The women surveyed need the work of cooking and selling Brazilian food for economic reasons as explained above, but its social aspect should also be considered. For most of the interviewees, their care work occupies only part-time while their spouse is actively occupied outside the home. So some women experience “inactivity on the side” (Weber, 2009) and the syndromes encountered by people who are not able to be employed: progressive de-socialization, feeling of devaluation, and mental or physical suffering (Dejours, 2005). In addition, they feel uprootedness (Ramos, 2006), isolation — due to lack of language skills or knowledge of local cultural norms — and suffering due to distance. Several women interviewed talked about their loneliness and sadness at home. The lack of work weakens individual identity references and can cause anxiety (Dejours, 2005). In this regard, Cristina reports the feeling of “going around in circles” in her home, the need to keep busy to avoid getting sick and to not let herself think melancholy thoughts too much. It is through the culinary work that she finds the solution to these issues:


It’s just me, my son and my husband at home. So... there’s no mess! He goes out to work, my son goes to school, and me…I stay at home... to do what? What? What am I going to do in this house? So I’m looking for... something to do. We can’t just sit on the couch all day, can we? Otherwise, the anguish comes, the lack of Brazil, of family, the lack comes and you become sick, depressed here! So you have to have something to occupy your head... and one thing I like is to stay in my kitchen, cooking something to eat, that’s it.

18 To provide food for their clients and their own families, the respondents have to manage the provisioning and the cooking tasks in their kitchen. The efforts required are considerable. They have to organize themselves to travel several kilometres from their homes, either to Asian or Afro-Caribbean stores located in the “Guillotière” district, or to Portuguese supermarkets located in neighboring towns. Then they have to use a set of skills, tactics, as well as material and technical resources to cook and sell. They thus mobilize this “other side of optimization” reported by Dalgalarrondo and Fournier (2019), made of trial and error, daily compromises, and new potentialities of doing and being to achieve not only a certain well-being, but also a sense of personal autonomy and discovery. Thus, beyond the simple desire to “keep busy”, the culinary work also corresponds to a quest for social valorisation. By carrying out this work, women develop an “identity of doing” (Weber, 2009) and mobilize particular skills (Flichy, 2017) to satisfy individual or peripheral needs (of both their families and their fellow citizens). This seems to go counter to studies that, beginning in the second half of the twentieth century and still widely reported today, drew attention to women’s alienation from domestic tasks, such as cooking, and how these were counterproductive to women’s self-actualization and emancipation (Meah, 2014). Cooking activities in the family circle are indeed often underestimated, even more so when performed by stigmatized individuals such as women and immigrants (Certeau et al., 2006). Yet, cooking activities can serve as sources of emancipation and self-realization for the women who perform them, whether in the associative (Mescoli, 2015), commercial, or domestic sphere (Boniface et al., 2013; Meah, 2014). Migrant women may also find in the kitchen a space for exercise, action, and resistance to their condition as women belonging neither to the majority ethnic group nor to the dominant class (Longhurst et al., 2009). However, as the control of food cannot constitute a real counter-power for women in the domestic setting (Counihan, 1999), it must be emphasized that the investment in care work or culinary work by immigrant women constitutes an extension of their assignment to domestic tasks, which they continue to do. In this sense, this sector of commercial activity is more of a default choice while representing a significant increase in their workload. Thus, earning money and developing one’s own know-how are not in themselves evidence of true emancipation.

19 More broadly, if not a real social emancipation or the desire to be busy, the sale of products prepared by the Brazilian women at least allows them a certain economic autonomy:


We women want to have the basic necessities, because we’re not going to spend our time asking the husband for money to buy something that’s ours, you know! We want our own money to do what we want! Logical!” (Cristina)

21 By transposing a domestic activity (cooking) from the exclusive family circle to the outside, immigrant women can become visible in the local context while having an active role via the mobilization of the cooking characteristics of the country of origin (Mescoli, 2015). Brazilian immigrant women, by filling a wider segment of the economic market with their cuisine, thus affirm both their social position as women and their role as nurturers of a Brazilian community. They also reinforce their social and financial independence. Several of them then consider developing their work in the long term and raising it to a formal main activity, like other Brazilian women who have developed their business in Lyon or Paris. Sandra builds her project little by little:


I’m looking for the way to open a food catering business, but I went to the wrong place. Someone told me I had to go to the Chamber of Commerce, so I went there and they told me I had to go to the Chamber of Trades. So, I have to make another appointment and to check what they want for papers, what I need to be able to legalize this.

Selling Food Informally: Coping and Intra-Brazilian Connections

23 While some of the Brazilian immigrants interviewed have succeeded in creating their own declared food businesses, this is not the case for the subject of this study. Indeed, most of the women interviewed do not declare their activity to public institutions and do not have a legal entrepreneurial framework (with the exception of one of them). They develop their commercial activity far from the regulations of the food companies that normally require specific trainings in hygiene and security, declarations of activity, and numerous rules of transaction governed by the Code of consumption. Activities that do not comply with a country’s legislative texts, that escape state controls and that push workers into a survival mentality are often described as “informal” (Bouffartigue and Busso, 2016; Fassin, 1985). Nevertheless, informal work must be resituated in a particular social and economic context. Although it is at the margins or secondary, informal work can increase income. A move to a new territory is one such context (Missaoui and Tarrius, 2015), as individuals have to “cope for themselves” (Weber, 2009). If the precariousness while settling in France is a reason for such informal work, the uses of habits strongly developed in Brazil is another strong reason. Indeed, informality is a common feature in Brazilian society: the proportion of individuals who have an undeclared income-generating activity reaches 40% of the active population (IBGE, 2020). Historically, informality in the food area stems in part from the commercial transactions of ganho slaves [17] — especially women who were selling food products — brought from Africa during the Portuguese colonization (Soares, 1996). Today, informality is linked to Brazil’s economic situation, including to the increase of work precariousness and the intensification of unemployment (Durães, 2016). While it is a fact that commercial informality is a feature appearing in many societies and countries, some authors argue that it is as much a social as a cultural fact in Brazil (Durães, 2016; Filártiga, 2007): “the phenomenon of informality today in Brazil (and in the world) has already gone beyond the simple border of the streets. Informality is global, either composed by immigrants or by populations with a history of formal employment” (Durães, 2016). Today for immigrants, as in colonial times for slaves, the informal transaction remains a practice of survival or even emancipation for social and economic minorities. Observations and conversations held during field research in Brazil [18] attest to informal practices of production and transaction as characteristic of the “jeito brasileiro” [19] and as a necessity to adapt to, and even survive, the economic crisis. We can therefore argue that the informal practices of home-based culinary work developed by the Brazilian women in Lyon (use of digital social networks, negotiation of places and times of sale, improvised mobilization of third parties, work at home, and individual organization) are based on systems previously adopted in Brazil. The exchanges done within the framework of these networks can thus recall a kind of Brazilian trading culture.

24 What are the food dynamics developed by these Brazilian women who get into culinary work in this informal context? The example of an exchange with Sandra, in Portuguese through the digital application WhatsApp as a participant observation, reveals several particularities. “Hello Sandra! How are you doing? I would like to order some brigadeiros. [20] Would that be possible for this week or early next week? Marie”. A reply arrived a few minutes later: “Hi Marie, hello! How many would you like?”. When asked about the usual quantities sold, Sandra suggests about 20. Then she informs her of the price and the possibility to deliver the brigadeiros at the end of the week. Then they exchanged ten other messages to define the modalities of the delivery of the brigadeiros. After defining the day of the transaction, Sandra sends the message: “Are you the one who will come and get them?” After agreeing, they discuss and choose a compatible time. Sandra adds her preference for payment: “Cash is better, if possible, the exact amount because I think I won’t have the change”. On the agreed day, at her home, she opens the door, wearing a waist apron and a headband holding her hair to ensure hygiene in the kitchen. She offers her a drink, and seems a little stressed by her work:


I was in the kitchen. I’m not stopping today! I’m preparing the orders for this special day which is Valentine’s Day!

26 She then points to the two large cardboard boxes on the living room table for two more clients. There is still an empty space for the coxinhas[21] that are being fried in the kitchen. She adds:


Now I wait for my husband to get off work so he can go and deliver the orders to the people with the car.

28 Then she hands her an aluminium box with a cardboard lid. These are the brigadeiros she ordered. Marie pays in cash, with the exact account, as she had asked. Sandra gives her a plastic bag to place the box in before mutual thanks and the usual greetings.

The Use of Digital Social Networks for Sharing Information about Culinary Work

29 For the purposes of ethnography, the transaction described above places a French woman as a client. It should be noted that these informal Brazilian cooks tend to deal mainly with a Brazilian clientele, immigrants like themselves, or those who have a link to Brazil (spouses of Brazilian immigrants, Portuguese immigrants, French friends). The shared sense of belonging to a common cultural group favors the establishment of exchange networks, maintaining ties across borders (Abélès, 2008). These networks can take many forms. In France, the legitimacy attributed by Brazilians to formal Brazilian cultural associations is still low, and they prefer to turn to more informal channels such as families, friends, and churches (Rosenfeld et al., 2009). These last three entities are indeed strongly mobilized by Brazilian immigrants in Lyon, but another channel has a considerable importance in the exchange of information and mutual aid: digital social networks, particularly Facebook. The success of the Facebook group Os Brasileiros lyonnais is quite high: [22] all the Brazilians interviewed are members of this group [23]. It appears at the same time to be a bubble of mutual aid between Brazilians, as a means of exchanging information about life in France, and as a platform for cultural mediation and networking. Indeed, the Facebook group Os Brasileiros lyonnais shows the existence of a form of virtual community that recognizes itself as sharing the same “ethnoscape”, in the sense given by Appadurai (1996). Through posts in Portuguese published on Facebook, administrative, musical, aesthetic, or culinary landscapes reminiscent of Brazil appear. Like any ethnoscape, the memory of the social group’s place of origin is activated in the host territory, suggesting nostalgic elaborations. This happens especially through communication technologies, the smartphone and social networks, allowing migrants today to be inscribed in multiple environments, both related to the country of origin and to the host country itself (Diminescu, 2019). The culinary landscape is one facet of this ethnoscape of Brazilian immigrants in Lyon. Any social network in a broad sense has importance in the exchange of information between immigrants who decide on the purchase of certain foods, brands, and places of consumption (Asunção, 2011). In this sense, this closed Facebook group fulfils this role. Every day, members of this group post messages related to Brazilian food, whether they are from individuals looking to buy food products in Lyon, or from informal cooks promoting their own prepared food.

30 As the number of Facebook users continues to grow around the world, the digital platform has become a primary tool in promoting market exchange (Gonzalez-Lafaysse and Lapassouse-Madrid, 2014). Through posts, women shared content about their food production through photographs and informative text (price, quantity, contact information), most often in Portuguese.


One day, I put an ad on the Facebook group. And from that moment on, I saw that it was doing well, so I started to spread more, first on my own Facebook page and then on the page of the Lyon-based Os Brasileiros as well.” (Íris)

32 This group shares merchants’ offers, visible between sellers and individuals, facilitating the trade of services and products, like a collaborative platform while allowing sellers a great freedom in their practice (Beauvisage et al., 2018). Digital trade makes more visible, easy, and accessible activities that are on the border between work and leisure (Flichy, 2017). The women surveyed find it a particularly suitable way to make themselves known and with a certain freedom. Nevertheless, they have to be discreet and sometimes to create more restricted groups because of the undeclared status of their activity.


I don’t spread a lot on Facebook because I’m not really allowed to do that. I spread my work around a little bit with friends and friends talk about it with each other. I put announcements of the home-cooked dishes on a Facebook group I created, just for people I know more, so I can communicate more calmly.” (Cristina)

34 When they are already well known, they are less active on digital social networks and let clients come to them, thus favouring word-of-mouth:


Now I get a message like ‘A friend told me you were making cakes, she told me to contact you’ and that’s it.” (Helena, thirty-seven years old, arrived in France eleven years ago)

36 Facebook pages are not the only digital tools used by these Brazilian cooks and their fellow citizens. Instant chat applications, such as Messenger and WhatsApp, are also widely used. The ability to send photographs, audio, or video files, as well as to make calls allows for quick information exchange and food ordering directly between the seller and the client. Carla (manager of a Brazilian kitchen equipment company) testifies to the popularity of these networks in Brazil:


To give you an idea, in Brazil no entrepreneur can sell without WhatsApp. In Europe this is less the case... but Brazilians, outside of Brazil, still use WhatsApp a lot.

Negotiating the Food Exchange

38 The use of all of these digital interfaces in the marketing and sale of prepared food is due to the informal status of the activities. The use that informal cooks make of digital social networks, as well as physical social networks (via word of mouth for example), allows them to make their activity known while protecting themselves from institutional controls. After exchanging information about the products they cook, they negotiate the time and place of the transaction. Gisèle sends this message in response to an order Marie placed: “I saw your message about the salgados. When do you want them?” Informality implies this time of negotiation, because there are no predefined rules of exchange and sale, as might be the case in a store (understood as a specific place with opening hours for the public) or via a purchase on the Internet where the terms are clearly governed by sales regulations. Cooks and clients define their own rules. After seeing an ad from Cacilda on the Facebook group Os Brasileiros lyonnais, Felipe decides to send a message via Messenger to order a feijoada for the next day. Then, they negotiate via the application. As he works on Saturday morning, Felipe prefers it to be delivered. Cacilda, on the other hand, specifies the price of the transaction while demanding payment in “cash”, a desire shared by all the cooks interviewed. This is why Cristina, during an order within the framework of participant observations, specifies to me: “Cash, my dear, for me it is easier!

The Market Transaction: Between Adaptation and Mutual Aid Networks

39 Once negotiated, the transaction can take place. As Gibson (2007) noted, food, as a cultural artifact, is shifted from the door to the plate, that is, from the space of production to that of consumption. The food transaction is called “entrega” [24] by the interviewees when the product is delivered to the client, either at home or in an outside location (subway station, park, street, etc.). It also happens that the client collects the product from the cook’s home (busca).


It depends on what the client prefers, if they ask me for entregar, I deliver or they come here to pick up. I adapt to the demand.” (Cristina)

41 Gibson (2007) mentions that food, through the landmarks, social relations, and spaces that it involves, carries the symbolism of a place of residence. This is meaningful here for two reasons. First, whatever movement is negotiated (entrega or busca), the cooks and the consumers are linked, through this transactional stage, by a relationship of travel between the home of the former and that of the latter. Second, the fellow Brazilians have, thanks to these women, the opportunity to consume the food that they associate with their family, and therefore with their previous home in their home country. Food, as an object that moves, mobilizes the representations of the territories to which it is attached (Gibson, 2007). This is also the case when it incorporates take-out orders.

42 Even when the women are available to deliver to their clients’ homes, they confide that they prefer it when their clients come to pick up the prepared food at their home. This gives them the opportunity to prove the cleanliness of their kitchen to the clients, certifying the hygiene of their production environment.


I like when people come in to pick up their order so they can see the environment that I produce in, which is a clean environment. I don’t have a restaurant kitchen structure here, right! It’s not professional! Because this is my home, right... it’s family.” (Cristina)

44 By being transparent about the ways in which food is prepared, the cooks provide guarantees to their clients. Furthermore, when they sell their food products at their own home, the women save time and easily manage the organization of their family life. Nevertheless, the method of the entrega, at the client’s home, is the most practiced to satisfy the clients and, therefore, to aquire more clients. In this context, the work is particularly exhausting and time-consuming. The women report an overload of activities, having to find time to cook for clients, to travel, to carry out their main professional activity — like the care work [25] — and to manage their daily family activities:


It is very difficult! Today I did four entregas. And then it changes from one hour to the next. In the end, I couldn’t deliver as early as I wanted, but finally...” (Sofia)

46 Due to an overload of work, these women have to find ways to handle the entregas. Sofia has instituted a “rota de entrega” [26], of which she has informed her Facebook network. It is a circuit established according to the addresses of the people to be delivered to and that she carries out one day per week. As she does not have a vehicle, she makes this route on a scooter, the packages of pão de queijos[27] in a large thermal bag that she carries on her back (often loaded with ten kilos), sometimes with her son on the front of the scooter when her rota overlaps with his school schedule. Sofia is the only one to mention the existence of a “rota de entrega”, however the other women also have delivery routes, especially on weekends, the days preferred by Brazilians for the consumption of typical dishes. Íris delivers her products to a subway station halfway between her home and her work as a cleaning woman. Sometimes, they mobilize third parties to make the entregas. These are often men in their family (husband or son most often [28]). In particular, the involvement of the husband underscores the importance of the role of marriage or the couple for immigrants in the host territory. As Chamozzi (2009) points out, the immigrant’s spouse often provides economic and psychological support. For example, Ney (a fifty-year-old Brazilian), as part of a Saturday tour of entregas for his wife, delivered a feijoada to Felipe’s home. Walking around the city and taking the subway, he scrupulously follows the order and address paper written by his wife. Sandra, for her part, tells me one day:


Now I just wait for my husband to get off work so he can drive to people’s houses to deliver the cakes.

48 It is also Anna’s spouse (thirty-one years old, arrived in France six years ago) who manages all the logistics of his wife’s long-distance orders via Chronopost [29]. Cristina, in addition to mobilizing her husband, also mobilizes her son to ensure the deliveries. Prior to the delivery of food we ordered from Cristina, we received this WhatsApp message: “I’m sending Everton, my son, to give you the feijoada. He will meet you at the subway, ok?” On the way from the subway to the home, while carrying the bag of orders, Everton (eighteen years old, high school student) explains:


Today, I haven’t stopped [sigh]! Today, my mother, she cooked all morning. Nine or ten people ordered from her. I’m delivering to you now and then I will go home. The other women are neighbors. They will come to pick up the feijoadas at home or my father will take the car and bring them. But today she asked me to deliver to you.

50 Entrega is sometimes provided by non-Brazilian, but nonetheless South American people. When Sofia feels overwhelmed, she delegates some rotas de entrega to Maria, her Venezuelan friend, in exchange for services (taking care of Maria’s baby or giving some administrative help) or by paying her in cash. Maria has also been an immigrant in France for one year and is experiencing professional difficulties. Sofia testifies: “This morning, she made the deliveries for me and I met her at four o’clock to take over”. We can therefore observe that these Brazilian women also mobilize a solidarity network of South American women. People, techniques, and products circulate through the entregas they set up. In the same way, by mobilizing third persons, they manage to overcome the obstacles to delivery and to expand their cooking business. This is a productive cooperation that is built by one person — the cook — mobilizing solidarities based on family or ethnic networks (Bouffartigue and Busso, 2016). These take on even more meaning when the activities are informal. Indeed, they are often made difficult by the lack of means (space, materials, or income). The network of relationships is therefore necessary, as it provides help without monetary compensation (Weber, 2009), activating the logic of giving (of goods or services) (Latouche, 2015) and the strength of the collective. The family and South American third parties are therefore very important for the development of the home-based cooking business of the Brazilian women interviewed. When Cacilda’s Brazilian husband goes to deliver the feijoada to Felipe, the two men converse for about ten minutes in Portuguese, evoking their region of origin, their migration path, and their family and professional situation in France. Felipe’s joy during the moment of the exchange confirms the benefits of meeting a fellow immigrant. Through the transaction, social links and common practices between two individuals from the same country are thus activated. The practices of home-based cooking are much more than simple commercial activities. They connect Brazilians and, more broadly, South Americans in the metropolis.

Finding Resources to Handle the Deliveries

51 Because of its undeclared status, the cooking work at home of Brazilian immigrants gives rise to inventiveness and heterogeneity of techniques to ensure the quality of the prepared food. The informal activities often mobilize “resourcefulness” (Weber, 2009). This appears in particular through the use of containers for prepared food. Whether the products are delivered or picked up at home, there is always at least one trip, or at most one period of conservation in the client’s refrigerator, between the moment of production and the moment of consumption. The question of the thermal conservation of the products and prepared dishes is thus essential for the cooks interviewed. Sofia wants to reassure her client:


Oooooooh don’t worry! Leave it all in the bag [the packages of frozen pão de queijo], it won’t thaw! Look, I’ll give you another bag, you can give it back to me later. Let’s go!

53 The equipment of the people who carry out the entregas is as clever as it is heterogeneous. Some are more equipped than others. Ney, Cacilda’s husband, uses thermal bags, one for the cold products, drinks, or brigadeiros that accompany the main order, the size of a satchel, square, soft, and worn on a shoulder in front of the chest; the other, larger, that he carries in his hand, for the main hot dish. Cristina’s son is also well loaded: “I’m going to take this home with me, I’m going to accompany you because if you take it, it’ll all fall down” he says to the client. He carries the dishes, wrapped in cloths to keep the heat in, in a big bag. In this same bag, next to the cloths, there is also a small thermal bag for the drinks. The feijoada is divided into two hot boxes, one containing the feijão in sauce with the meat, the other containing the rice, the couve, and the oranges. When the dishes are delivered, they are still warm, despite the winter temperatures encountered by the deliverymen, or lukewarm, which is enough to consume them the moment following the entrega. The packaging of the products, as mentioned earlier in Sandra’s example, most often takes the form of an aluminium tray, of varying size depending on the oven, with a cardboard lid. This allows the product to be kept at the temperature expected for its consumption. Cacilda places the brigadeiros in small plastic boxes that originally contained a prepared meal, from the food industry, for small children, as evidenced by the half-ripped label on the lid. In the informal cooking practices, it does not matter what the container looks like, what matters is what it contains.

54 The containers of the entregada or the busca combine the logics of practicality and discretion, made necessary by the activities’ non-compliance with the law. They also integrate the food culture through the mobility of food (Gibson, 2007). Indeed, in Brazil, the purchase of marmitas — aluminum or plastic containers of food prepared in a restaurant or at a private cook’s house — is common, implying significant food mobility between places of food production and places of consumption (Garcia and Gomes, 2016).


55 The case of the Brazilian informal cooks in Lyon is interesting on several levels. Often, people in an immigrant situation who develop a restaurant business tend to use representations associated with the country of origin to offer products or services to a diverse clientele, attracted by the exoticism of the cuisine (Ray, 2016). In this case, the goal is rather to respond to a demand for “authentic” dishes emanating from Brazilian immigration and associated more with a form of nostalgia than with an exotic appeal. In this case, the Brazilianness of the dishes offers a reassuring dimension, linked not to their originality, but, on the contrary, to familiarity. This “like at home” is found beyond the food products, in the form of the sale. The informal dimension — production in the home kitchen, non-declaration of the commercial activity, negotiation of the terms of the transaction — as well as the important role of information networks between Brazilians — notably via social networks and digital applications — correspond to practical modalities that are common and valued in Brazil, contributing to the social dimension sought by the clientele. It is also interesting to see how informality as a logic of circumventing domination under slavery in Brazil becomes a valued cultural marker in the context of migration. Moreover, this role of informality reminds us of the importance of thinking about the cultural dimensions of food beyond just recipes and ingredients. While the role of food in creating community ties between immigrants has already been shown, particularly on the occasion of holidays or special moments, this more indirect way of creating ties between immigrants via food appears much less in existing research. Nostalgia contributes to the construction of collective ethnic and national identities (Bissell, 2005). Annihilating the sense of loss inherent in nostalgia can certainly involve a mobilization of food objects, such as those that are “homemade” (e.g. Ferrandi, 2013), but also involves certain rhetorics and practices associated with these identities (Angé and Berliner, 2015). This research thus highlights the centrality of certain categories of people and their marketing practices in defining “authentic” food in the context of migration.

56 Beyond their relationship to their clientele, this study directly explores the status of these women and the role of this activity in their daily lives and their relationships to others. Recalling, as we have mentioned, the figure of the common domestic worker in Brazil, one would be tempted to see in this activity a form of extension of the assignment to domestic tasks. Thus, their triple status as women, immigrants, and South Americans would lead them, in a logic of intersectionality, towards an automatic assignment to cooking work. However, this would deny the way in which they present their path and their choices. In particular, they insist on the financial autonomy that this work brings them — even if, due to the understandable desire for discretion of the respondents, it was not possible for us to get the precise amounts — and on the fact that, although carried out at home, this work takes them out of the strictly domestic sphere. This activity allows them to create links with other South American women (most often of Brazilian origin) and other Brazilian immigrants, whether they are clients or relations in the context of mutual aid directly linked to the activity. Finally, the culinary work of the Brazilian women underlines their complex status, between assignment on the one hand and emancipating initiatives on the other. They also play a central role in the construction of social relations in the host country, through food and its capacity to respond to the saudade.

We wish to thank the Brazilians we met during the research fieldwork in Lyon, as well as the anonymous reviewers of the REMI journal.

Translator: Marie Sigrist


  • [1]
    Translation: “The Brazilians of Lyon”.
  • [2]
    To respect anonymization constraints, the authors have changed the names of the interviewees.
  • [3]
    All of the quotes and citations are translated from Brazilian Portuguese to English by the authors.
  • [4]
    The Feijoada is a dish eaten in a large part of Brazil, based on Phaseolus vulgaris beans mixed with pieces of pork in sauce, served with rice, chopped Galician cabbage, pieces of orange, and farofa (fried cassava flour).
  • [5]
    Social science research over the past twenty years has tended to prefer the term “migration” to “immigration” and “migrant” to “immigrant” as it breaks with the administrative definitions, stereotypes, and political discourse around the notion of “immigrant”. However, since the Syrian crisis, the term “migrants” has been used much more in the media and tends to refer to recently arrived populations in a very precarious and often transitory situation. Therefore the term “migrant” does not correspond, in its current meaning, to the situation of the people surveyed. In fact, one of the selection criteria for the participants in this research was their desire to stay in France for the long term or indefinitely. We therefore preferred to use the term “immigrant” in its most neutral sense, referring to mobility outside the country of birth to live permanently and indefinitely in the host territory (Spire, 1999; Blanchard et al., 2016: 18-19). This choice is reinforced by the fact that this term is used by several respondents themselves, in reference to their administrative situation on French territory.
  • [6]
    The present research is part of Marie Sigrist’s PhD in social anthropology entitled “Transnational food dynamics. Food practices of Brazilian immigrants in France (Lyon) and French immigrants in Brazil (Salvador)”, within the UMR 7324 CITERES and the Institut Paul Bocuse Research Center. Marie Sigrist carried out all of the ethnographical fieldwork, the data analysis, and the writing of the original thesis manuscript. Isabelle Bianquis and Maxime Michaud supervised the project, participated in obtaining funding, and reviewed the manuscript.
  • [7]
    Saudade, more than a word, is a very common word in the Portuguese language referring to a mixture of homesickness, nostalgia for someone liked, or the memory of a past moment.
  • [8]
    Salty food preparations made from wheat, corn, or manioc dough, sometimes filled with meat or cheese, eaten with the hand and consumed as a “snack”.
  • [9]
    The most common dishes are meat with arroz com feijão (rice with Phaseolus vulgaris beans), feijoada, feijão tropeiro (Phaseolus vulgaris beans with grilled pork skin and cassava flour) and churrasco (barbecue).
  • [10]
    This number is given by the Brazilian Consulate in Lyon. As it was not possible to get the exact number of Brazilian immigrants — due to their invisibility in the country — this number also includes Brazilian students, who do not necessary plan to stay in France after their studies.
  • [11]
    The word “assignment” is used here to translate the French concept of “assignation”, which designate the act of attributing roles to a social group because of the majority norms and representations.
  • [12]
    Domestic worker.
  • [13]
    Only one of them has developed legal commercial activity, while maintaining informal commercial activity as well. We will come back to this later in this paper.
  • [14]
    One was a lawyer, five were employed in sales, one was a dancer, one was a language teacher, two were studying, and one was babysitting.
  • [15]
    Only two of them had completed higher education before immigrating to France.
  • [16]
    The minimum growth wage per hour in France (“SMIC”) is 7.94 € net in 2019 (Service-public, 2019).
  • [17]
    Translation: “of gain”.
  • [18]
    The thesis includes ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, which was conducted between February and May 2019 by Marie Sigrist.
  • [19]
    Translation: “Brazilian way”.
  • [20]
    In this case, it is a ball-shaped candy made of sweetened condensed milk and cocoa sprinkled with chocolate chips. The brigadeiro is also a dessert topping.
  • [21]
    Breaded wheat dough, shaped like a drop, filled with seasoned chicken and then fried (salgados).
  • [22]
    This group had over 9,000 members in October 2019. It is a closed group, meaning that memberships are subject to validation by moderators.
  • [23]
    This is related to the fact that Brazilians are the second largest population in the world in terms of time spent daily on digital social networks (an average of three hours forty-five minutes per day) (Kemp, 2019).
  • [24]
    Translation: “to deliver”.
  • [25]
    See the sub-section in this article: “Culinary work in response to a precarious situation”.
  • [26]
    Delivery route.
  • [27]
    Bread rolls made of tapioca flour and cheese (salgados).
  • [28]
    These individuals are counted as “informants” in the entourage of the respondents interviewed (see the introduction).
  • [29]
    A company offering the service of delivering products between companies and individuals in France and internationally.

In order to resist precariousness and to boost autonomy in their new country of residence, Brazilian women cook dishes associated with their homeland and sell them to other Brazilians in the city of Lyon. Through informal activities, not legally declared in France, adapted from their country of origin, they alleviate the social and economic difficulties of their daily lives. Thus, they bear witness to the way in which food, in a migratory context, can be part of a know-how that becomes valuable through cultural distance. Such valorization does not only concern recipes and techniques but also includes trade practices widely present in Brazil. Although immigrant women emancipate themselves through this activity, particular social rationales assign them to care activities.

  • Brazil
  • France
  • immigration
  • informal work
  • food

La cuisine commerciale informelle de femmes brésiliennes en France : entre assignation, émancipation et mise en réseau

Pour résister à la précarité et s’autonomiser dans leur nouveau pays de résidence, des femmes brésiliennes cuisinent des préparations associées à leur pays et les vendent à d’autres Brésiliens dans la ville de Lyon. À travers des dynamiques informelles, non déclarées légalement en France, adaptées de leur pays d’origine, elles pallient les difficultés sociales et économiques de leur quotidien. Elles témoignent ainsi de la façon dont l’alimentation, dans un contexte migratoire, peut relever d’un savoir-faire qui devient valorisable par la distance culturelle. Une telle valorisation ne concerne pas seulement des recettes et des techniques mais inclut aussi des modalités de commercialisation largement diffusées au Brésil. Si les femmes immigrées s’émancipent à travers cette activité, des logiques sociales particulières les placent toutefois dans une position d’assignation aux activités de care.

  • alimentation
  • France
  • immigration
  • travail informel
  • Brésil

La cocina comercial informal de las mujeres brasileñas en Francia: entre la asignación, la emancipación y el trabajo en red

Para resistir a la precariedad y afianzarse en su nuevo país de residencia, las mujeres brasileñas cocinan preparaciones asociadas a su país y las venden a otros brasileños en la ciudad de Lyon. Mediante dinámicas informales, no declaradas legalmente en Francia, adaptadas de su país de origen, ellas alivian las dificultades sociales y económicas de su vida cotidiana. Así, dan testimonio de la manera en que los alimentos, en un contexto migratorio, pueden formar parte de un «saber hacer» que se valora a través de la diferencia cultural. Esta valorización no sólo se refiere a las recetas y técnicas, sino que también incluye modalidades de comercialización muy difundidas en Brasil. Aunque las mujeres inmigrantes se emancipan a través de esta actividad, lógicas sociales particulares las destinan a actividades de cuidado.

  • Francia
  • inmigración
  • Brasil
  • trabajo informal
  • alimentación
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Marie Sigrist
Postdoctoral researcher in social anthropology, ETH Zürich Rämistrasse 101, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland; marie.sigrist[at]; marie.sigrist[at]
Isabelle Bianquis
Professor in social anthropology, UFR Arts et Sciences humaines, Département de Sociologie, Université de Tours, 3 rue des Tanneurs 37041 Tours Cedex, UMR 7324 - CITERES, MSH Val de Loire BP 60449, 37204 Tours cedex 03, France; isabelle.bianquis[at]
Maxime Michaud
Research Group Leader, Social Science, Institut Paul Bocuse Research Center, Château du Vivier, BP 25, 69131 Ecully cedex, France; maxime.michaud[at]
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