Sara Kay has an MA in Food Studies from New York University. In her masters thesis, "Authenticity in Online Ethnic Restaurant Reviews: Revealing Conflicted Nationalism in Multicultural Consumption," she analyzed 20,000 Yelp reviews of ethnic cuisines in New York City to explore how reviewers discuss authenticity in different contexts (abstract below). Sara's other academic focuses include displays of nationalism in foreign contexts, food tourism, and gendered labor. 


In the Media

Eater

Mother Jones

Presentations

Annual Meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society and the Association for the Study of Food and Society

Madison, WI, June 2017

Panel Presentation: Authenticity in Online Ethnic Restaurant Reviews: Revealing Conflicted Nationalism in Multicultural Consumption

Future of Food Studies Graduate Conference, St. Louis, MO, October 2017

Panel Presentation: “Authenticity in Online Ethnic Restaurant Reviews: Assimilation, Commodification, and Global Power”

 

Education

New York University, Master of Arts, Food Studies, May 2017

  • Academic focus: authenticity language, nationalism in foreign contexts, food tourism, and gendered labor

Grinnell College, Bachelor of Arts, Sociology, May 2013

  • Academic focus: social and technological catalysts for the new food movement


Authenticity in Online Ethnic Restaurant Reviews: Revealing Conflicted Nationalism in Multicultural Consumption

Abstract

Claims of authenticity have recently emerged as a prominent descriptor for ethnic food in the United States. This paper examines possible patterns in what restaurant consumers consider authentic. I conducted a content analysis of 20,000 Yelp reviews to search for mentions of authenticity and related terms in the 10 most popular ethnic and immigrant cuisines in America: Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, French, Italian, Mediterranean, Soul, Korean and Indian (Ray 2016). The data highlighted two major themes: that claims of authenticity rely heavily on reviewers’ prior experiences and expectations, and characterizations of authenticity break down over the socio-social boundaries of the global north v. the global south. Data from reviews exploring this global north v. global south distinction can be further classified into three distinct patterns: treatment of restaurant aesthetics, labeling establishments as “hidden gems,” and utilizing tokenism to establish authenticity. I build on Krishnendu Ray’s research around immigration, ethnicity, and assimilation, as well as Lisa Heldke’s work on Cultural Food Colonialism to discuss both why reviewers label ethnic restaurants as authentic, and how these labels impact larger themes of American hegemony. I posit that diners discuss authenticity to mitigate discomfort around foreign experiences and gain external validation for ethnic eating choices. By passing judgments about authenticity on these global cuisines, diners reinforce the conflicted multiculturalism at the core of our American nationalism.