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Culinary tourism and the anthropology of food 
Grant McCall (University of Sydney)
Kaori O'Connor (University College, London)
Mary Douglas
Series E: Enchantment
Henry Thomas Room
Start time:
11 April, 2007 at 14:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

In honour of the work of Dame Professor Mary Douglas on the Anthropology of Food and Drink. Food has now become a destination and medium for tourism, a primary site of cultural engagement and expression, thus opening up new terrain for anthropological exploration. By interrogating food through tourism and tourism through food, this panel aims to better understand social processes, and to advance anthropological theory and methods.

Long Abstract

In honour of the work of Dame Professor Mary Douglas on the Anthropology of Food and Drink.

Cornish pasties, Parmigiano Reggiano from Emilia Romagna, Tiki cocktails and Hawaiian luaus are all paradigmatic foods of culinary tourism. Throughout its history, anthropology has been concerned with the ways in which food is fundamental to identity. Nationality, regionality, locality, belief, history, heritage, gender, class, group, temporality, memory and much more are embodied in food and drink and codified in cuisines. Initially, the anthropological study of food took place in relatively closed systems, conceived of as geographically fixed, gastronomically unchanging and therefore authentic. In a globalising world characterised by mobility, national boundaries have been redrawn, societies altered and communities dispersed through migration and diaspora, yet culinary identities, mythologies and terroirs persist, transformed and even intensified by dislocation and change. Food has now become a destination and medium for tourism, a primary site of cultural engagement and expression, thus opening up new terrain for anthropological exploration. By interrogating food through tourism and tourism through food, this panel aims to better understand social processes, and to advance anthropological theory and methods.

Contributions are invited that approach culinary tourism from a distinctively anthropological perspective, ethnographically-based and focussing on the 'natives' and on the production of tourism through cuisine, rather than solely on the consumption experiences of the transient tourist. Papers should move beyond the preoccupation with authenticity, exploitation and appropriation of early tourist studies to explore nuanced ways in which food is used to facilitate the enchantments of tourism, to link commerce and culture, and to make the new identities, values and power relationships of tourism material.

Accepted papers:


Pauline Adema

Paper long abstract:

Since 1978, Gilroy, California, has been celebrating its identity as the self-declared "Garlic Capital of the World" with an annual festival. Other towns throughout the United States similarly have festivals commemorating their association with a particular food item grown in or indigenous to the area. As agriculture and production methods shift, however, some of these towns lose their direct connection to the food product, yet the festivals remain, sometimes memorializing an association that is more a part of the localities' past than present.

Examples of annual commemorations of food-place associations throughout the United States range from the Margaretville (NY) Cauliflower Festival to the Kodiak (AK) Crab Festival. Through consideration of Gilroy's successful food festival, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, this paper explores the creation, negotiation, and celebration of a food-themed identity in the service of generating a positive communal identity and promoting tourism. I scrutinize the deliberate signification of garlic, produced in the Gilroy area, as iconic of that locality's communal identity. I am interested in how this relationship is commemorated, and how the chosen food is, as a tourist attraction, iconized and becomes a defining element of the localities' identities.

Rather than focusing on a particular cultural or ethnic group, my research focuses on localities—geographically defined clusters of people—and the way image makers in these places articulate their collective relationships, past, present, and future, through food events. When the association between a place and a food item is abstracted and promoted, and the food becomes emblematic of the place, the communal landscape becomes a foodscape. When a locality stages a festive performance of its food-themed identity, it becomes a festive foodscape. Attention is given to the complimentary notions of useable past and invented traditions, as well as to the consumption of place and the seeming importance of differentiation.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival began as an attempt to draw attention to Gilroy's garlic production. During its 28 years, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has grown from a small, local initiative to a large, internationally recognized food festival. With the Gilroy Garlic Festival, we can explore how place and identity are realized through food association, and how residents and visitors partake in the invention and subsequent consumption of place. Conversely, there are unsuccessful attempts to commemorate a food-place association, one of which I discuss briefly.


Joyce Hsiu-yen Yeh (National Dong Hwa University)

Paper long abstract:

This paper seeks to probe these different facets within a new line of tourism research, involving consumer culture and cultural studies, merged with sociological explorations of food studies and touristic experiences. By approaching tourism from a socio-cultural perspective and applying theories of consumer culture and representation issues, the project examines how indigenousness, as a sign, is desired, experienced, consumed, interpreted and represented, based on the analysis of tourist consumption of indigenous foods and restaurants in Hualien, Taiwan. Multiple qualitative methods are used in this project. Drawing upon fieldwork, participation observation, visual analysis of tourist-ordered indigenous meals, and in-depth interviews, this project explores what Hualien and indigenous food mean to tourists and what forms of representation and consumption culture arise within these tourism practices. One theme which I will address in my analysis is the relationship between the construction of tourist experiences and their encompassing relationship with food culture. This paper argues that the relationship between tourism, food consumption and representation is complex and multifaceted. It also calls for the recognition of the significance of tourism objects and visual texts as these provide multiple contested meanings and perspectives (especially those of indigenous people versus tourists) from which the complex dialectical relations among tourism, consumption and issues of ethnic representation can be examined.


Nicola Frost

Paper long abstract:

The Brick Lane Festival and the Baishahki Mela are annual one-day events established in the late 1990s in connection with local regeneration schemes. They were developed as part of explicit strategies to use cultural activity to stimulate economic development in a neglected neighbourhood of east London. The focus of both events is Brick Lane itself; relieved of its incessant traffic, the curry restaurants that line the street set their tables and chairs outside on the pavement, and visitors are invited to sample the exotic delights of Bengali cuisine. With an eye on the glittering oasis that is London 2012, organisers today talk of their festivals as part of a cultural tourism initiative in East London. As well as international visitors, they speak of wanting to create a sense for Londoners of 'being tourists in their own city'.

Food is the medium for this magical transformation, yet the use of food as a centrepiece for tourism-based development is also ripe with ambivalence. Bengali curry houses are what makes Brick Lane famous, and work in the catering sector has sustained Bangladeshis in London from the earliest days. But food is both the solution and the problem: media reports from the Brick Lane curry houses regularly focus on the poor quality of the food, or the aggressive nature of the restaurant touts. Restaurant owners themselves complain of the difficulty of recruiting waiting staff, as young Bengalis reject the long hours and poor pay; and the intense competition between businesses can cause conflict. Festival organisers have had to respond to this paradox, seeking ways to counter negative publicity, and continue to attract the tourists. The Brick Lane Festival in September marks the beginning of the fortnight-long International Curry Festival. For the 2006 Festival, a 'green curry' recipe was devised, without artificial colouring or flavouring, and using ingredients grown locally, to minimise 'food miles'.

This paper looks at the ways in which food shapes the area's identity for tourists, at the same time as defining local social, political and economic relations. It traces the efforts of local restaurateurs to manage the Brick Lane 'brand' proactively, and examines the implications for social practice of food's critical role in local economic prospects.


Gerald Mars (London Metropolitan University)
Valerie Mars (University College, London)

Paper long abstract:

These 'conjectures' derive primarily from fieldwork in Emilia Romagna (E.R.) in northern Italy and from development literature Assembled in the form of an 'ideal type' construct, they highlight the features which underpin that Region's highly effective food based tourism. To extend and generalise from these findings involves making comparisons with data from elsewhere. An approach is offered that applies concomitant variations using data from Blackpool (a seaside resort in northern England), and Malta. It is hoped that these will be extended with data from other milieu.


E.R. is noted as a prime destination for culinary tourism because it has:

1) Well known and iconic produce - much Italian food, in fact derives from E.R.

2) Superb restaurants, based on ideals of long-run family ownership.

3) A varied domestic cuisine, traditionally held in common by the whole population - not just an elite.

4) A culture with a tradition of hospitality and the gift-giving of food and which competitively - and repetitively - assessed households and allocated prestige on the quality of their domestic performances.

5) A culture that recognises, values and rewards entrepreneurs.

6) A market that is sophisticated, informed and demanding about food standards and whose tastes 'fit' the parameters of the domestic cuisine.

7) A 'good' climate, fertile soil, and high levels of expertise in their exploitation that is dependent on peasant household's continual association with the land.

8) The availability of communal or/and commercial institutions able to maintain an infra-structure that effectively offers: a) financial support; b) marketing and PR; c) training in catering /hospitality; d) effective means of transport; e) the ability to enforce standards (eg. of hygiene) and f) enforce civil contracts.

9) An awareness of global influences on taste / allied to preparedness to adapt to the expectations of visitors.

Attention will be directed at the attenuation of domestic based cooking skills in the face of commercial pressures and at the means of countering these trends. Tentative comparisons are made with data from Malta and Blackpool that discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their tourism in terms of the presence, strength or absence of the above. At this stage of the analysis these ideal type components are not weighted though they obviously vary in significance.


Aitzpea Leizaola (University of the Basque Country)

Paper short abstract:

Basque cuisine has become one of the main strongholds of tourism in the Basque Country. Drawing from ethnographic data, this paper focuses on the way culinary tourism introduces significant changes in local values, raising questions on the production of new cultural practices.

Paper long abstract:

"You eat so well!" That is what almost systematically comes out when talking of the Basques. Indeed, Basque cuisine gives way to what can be considered amongst the most positive contemporary stereotypes about the Basques circulating in Spain.

Since the 19th century, the Basque country has been a tourist destination both for French and Spanish elites. Today, the Basque Country still attracts thousands of visitors despite broad significant changes in the tourism industry and the existence of a long-term political conflict in the area. Tourists include mainly Spanish and French citizens, but also American and British, as well as people coming from all parts of the world. Culinary tourism has become one of the main strongholds of this attraction. In Spain, where Basque cuisine is well known and where traditional dishes together with the most sophisticated creations of the so-called New Basque cuisine are much praised, Basque restaurants and bars have opened in the main cities, gathering those who did not dare travel to the Basque Country at times of high political confrontation. Basque cuisine has thus become a major commodity both for identity purposes and tourism development.

Today, together with the economic weight of culinary tourism, tourists themselves are introducing significant changes in the way Basque cuisine is thought of and locally displayed. These include new patterns of eating as well as specific tastes, such as those encountered in the Basque borderlands, where certain Spanish dishes are presented to French tourists as typical food. Among the first are changes in the way of eating pintxos, small bits displayed on the counter one eats during the pub crawl. These miniature culinary masterpieces are very much appreciated by foreigners who however are not always eager to follow the local "rules". Tourists have thus introduced new manners of eating pintxos, which have in turn been adopted by bar tenders. Drawing from ethnographic data, this paper focuses on the way culinary tourism is introducing significant changes in local values, raising questions on the production of new cultural practices.



Peter Howland (Massey University)

Paper short abstract:

Key words: wine, tourism, consumption, reflexive distinction, metro-rurality

Paper long abstract:

Mary Douglas' insight that "sampling a drink is sampling what is happening to a whole category of social life" (1989: 9, 11) is pertinent to the analysis of wine tourism in Martinborough, New Zealand, where producers, operators and tourists routinely articulated collective and discrete notions of time, place, gender etc.

Martinborough, a small boutique 'wine village' - approximately one hour's drive from Wellington - is an especially popular holiday destination for the capital's affluent, tertiary-educated and urbane 'middle-classes', who aside from desiring a 'vineyard experience', were also drawn by romanticised notions of clean-green, picturesque (yet productive) landscapes; harmonious and intimate communities/ rural families; and artisan, hand-made 'crafts'.

In this paper I explore how the appreciative, in-situ consumption of Martinborough's 'fine Pinot Noir wines', together with other urbane consumption opportunities (e.g. gourmet dining etc), were not only ethnographically cast as markers of superior status (Bourdieu 1984) but also engaged many of the core ideals of reflexive individualism (e.g. choice, progressive change, intentional social connectedness etc - Beck 2002; Giddens 1991. I argue that the meta-narratives of the metro-rural idyll in conjunction with the idealised 'French tradition' of fine wine production/consumption essentially framed hierarchies of social distinction - while a collusive nexus of 'New World' innovation/pioneership in wine; the structural 'democraticisation' of wine/food (via tasting notes, quality rating systems, tiered production and singular/ episodic consumption); and the personalisation of the purchase/consumption of wine/homestay accommodation encouraged the parallel creation of reflexive distinctions that articulated and emphasised praiseworthy notions of the exalted self (Howland 2004).

E-paper: this Paper will not be presented, but read in advance and discussed