The Norsk Høstfest: A Celebration of Ethnic Food and Ethnic Identity

Emch, Paul Thomas

What does it mean to be Norwegian-American? This study, of interest to laymen and scholars alike, answers this question by examining the prominent traditions and functions of food at the annual Norsk Høstfest celebration held in Minot, North Dakota. In this book, the author uses anthropological methodology to demonstrate the ways in which the Norsk Høstfest serves as a celebration of what it means to be Norwegian-American. There are many powerful symbols of ethnic identity in evidence at the festival, but food is the most pervasive, and so it is the chief symbol examined in this study.

The Norsk Høstfest not only allows for the maintenance and celebration of Norwegian-American culture, but it synthesizes the forces of globalization, localization, and ethnicity in order to keep Norwegian-American ethnic identity alive and vital in a changing world. Norwegian-Americans of all ages who want to better understand their own culture will find this book both intriguing and informative. Students of food, culture, and ethnic identity will find the application of symbolic anthropology useful.

Review by Arne Teigland: "Scholarly and readable"

If you look at the title and wonder, "What in the world is Hostfest?" well, you should have a bit of background. Since 1978, U.S. and Canadian residents with ties to Norway (and other Scandinavian countries) have come together in Minot, North Dakota (the Minot of devastating-flood fame in 2011) to hold a "fest"(ival) each "host" (autumn).

In thirty-two years of "festing" countless people have had the time of their lives--but without necessarily knowing why. Anthropologist and author Paul Emch has taken the time to find out why, and more importantly, to tell us. Specifically, Emch has chosen to explain the part played by food. Anyone who has ever attended Hostfest knows that food is integral to the event. What Emch does in this volume, which packs a lot of substance into a few pages, is open the door of understanding to what is really going on culturally at the event.

The author helps the reader understand Hostfest as a link between descendants of Norwegian immigrants living today and the culture brought by their ancestors. He is careful to clarify that the culture celebrated at Hostfest is not 21st century Norwegian culture. The Hostfest connects us to our forebears (in my case, my mother) who came from Norway and the food culture they knew.

Cultures change. Desire to connect to past generations may wane, Emch admits. But he concludes that the Hostfest is in no immediate danger of serving its last plate of lutefisk and lefse. And while you are waiting to be served your plate, read Paul Emch's book and you will enjoy the food even more.

About the Author

Paul Emch completed his M.A. in cultural anthropology at North Dakota State University in 2006. He currently serves as an intercultural community worker and anthropology consultant in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Table of Contents:


Interpreting Norwegian-American Foodways

Semiotic Analysis
Participant Observation
Content Questions

Localization of Culture

Literature Review
Performance and Symbols
The Symbolism of Food and its Effects on Group Identity
Foodways and the Symbolic Anthropology Perspective
Food and Religion
Eating as a Social Experience
Subconscious Culture
Food, Friendship, and Communication
Food as Language

Food Traditions of Norway in Historical Perspective
The Seasonality of Norwegian Foodways
Fish, the Backbone of Coastal Society
Butchering Time
Breads and Other Staples

Traditional Norwegian Foods that Were Never Brought to America

Demographics of Norwegian Americans in North Dakota

Traditional Norwegian Cultural Attributes Continued in the New World

The Norsk Høstfest
Historical Background of the Norsk Høstfest
Cultural Context of the Norsk Høstfest
The Elderly Population
The Norsk Høstfest 2005
The Norsk Høstfest 2006

Specific Symbols in Norwegian-American Foodways and Culture
The Lutefisk Ritual
Milk Consumption as a Symbol of “Norwegianness”
What it Means to be Norwegian American

Fieldwork at the 2005 Norsk Høstfest
Fieldwork at the Fargo Sons of Norway Lodge
Fieldwork at the 2006 Norsk Høstfest

Summary and Conclusions

Glossary of Norwegian and Non-English Terms


Retail Price:
ix, 109 p.
Norwegian American Høstfest
ISBN 13:
ISBN 10:
6 × 9 × 0.25 in
0.5 lb
United States
Content Language: