December 6, 2005
Gastrotourism: BKG's bullet points
Posted by BKG at 8:16 AM
December 4, 2005
My Slow Food Experience
As Pollan has mentioned in “Cruising on the Ark of Taste,” the globalization and the hectic pace of contemporary society prevent people from appreciating the food that cannot be served quickly on the dinning table. We lost the patience to wait the turkey to grow up at natural pace. Genetic engineering is used to accelerate the process of growth, to create tasteless Broad Breasted white, and at the same time, to push those full of flavor, slow-growing species to the brink of extinction. The Slow Food Movement is a reminiscence of the past as well as an alternative way of living in the world in which the efficiency is over-emphasized.
My food experience is rather different form other typical Taiwanese of my age--it is much slower. Though I was born in a Taiwanese speaking family, my food experience is pretty similar to that of Cantonese immigrants from Southern provinces of China. I was entrusted to a Cantonese nanny in the neighborhood and lived a Cantonese life during the day. My Taiwanese experience was mainly nocturnal for my actual encounter with Taiwanese people, my parents, started around 5pm after they came home from their work place. I never went to a kindergarten to learn the basic arithmetic or mandarin phonemes. As a small child I stayed with my nanny all day and observed Cantonese culinary practices in her kitchen. The “Slow Food Movement” reminds me of my childhood experience fading away in the fast-food-oriented context.
My nanny’s schedule was never hectic. She started her day with a visit to the traditional market to pick up raw materials needed for dishes of the day. I was her not-so-helpful assistant in the chaotic marketplace and, therefore, participated in the process of choosing produce, meat, seafood, as well as spices. After the visit to the market, we returned to her place and started to cook our lunch. If she did not run into to too many familiar faces, we normally got home three or four hours before noon and embarked on the slow food processing, which I cannot recall the details.
The standard lunch for two, that is, for my nanny and me, consisted of a plate of meat/seafood, a plate of vegetable, a side dish, sometimes a small dish of pickled vegetable, and a pot of soup, simmered for approximately three hours before it was places on the table. I rarely have such slowly prepared Cantonese style lunch after I officially entered elementary school. Cantonese slow food experience fades away in my memory over time.
Now, I am more adapted to the fast-food idea prevailing in the society and stop complaining about my mother’s super efficient cooking method. However, I firmly believe that my encounter with Cantonese slow food in childhood was a precious experience for the whole thing was about savoring the culture embodied in the culinary practices passed on for generations, migrated from another part of china. To some extent, I visited that part of China and experienced their culinary culture in this sense.
Posted by Stella Yu-Wen Wang at 4:21 PM
Preserving turkey heritage
Culinary tourism’s capacity to provide a surrogate for travel seems based on food’s capacity to carry place through the taste buds. In her forward to Culinary Tourism, Barbara seems to locate the power of food to embody place in the realm of memory. Food is a mnemonic device, indeed capable of bringing place to life by providing a sensual experience. The world is, therefore, contained in this “edible map” composed of “edible chronotopes” (xiii).
If anyone is interested, an anthropologist, David Sutton, explores this power of food to carry place through an ethnographic study of greek immigrants’ relationship to food, and their way of bringing “home” and “home memories” with them through the arts of their kitchens. (the book is called Rememberance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory). Although his work is about immigration and not about tourism (although we might argue that immigration is a type of tourism), Sutton’s work locates food’s chronotopic power not only in the taste buds, but in the social practices around food (for example, preparing the meal, telling food stories from the past, table manners, conversations during meals, etc.).
The relationship between culture, locality and food is certainly evident, but I wonder about whether or not food can be heritage as it is consumed in situ, in the present, or does it have to be dead or dying to be valued as such. The piece on the Slow Food Movement seems to point to the latter. Only when the non-white breasted turkeys were on the verge of extinction were they seen as needing preservation in a rhetoric that is very reminiscent of heritage discourse. Not to mention that a European organization, not the Native American communities that raised, prepared and ate them, is the bearer of the food as heritage flag.
Is the Slow Food Movement not also standardizing and universalizing local heritage, and therefore expropriating it, much like the UNESCO Heritage of Humanity lists? (Here it is interesting to mention that the latest candidate for intangible heritage recognition is Mexican “traditional” cuisine). Is food tangible or intangible heritage if it is heritage at all? How does culinary innovation/fusion fit into the picture? Also, perhaps we could talk about the fascinating paradox that Pollan mentions in his article: food as heritage needs to be consumed in order to be preserved.
Posted by Sandra Rozental at 4:07 PM
Eating in the Dark
Forgot to mention this restaurant in Switzerland, called The Blind Cow, that is in complete dark, so that guests have the experience of what it means to be blind. THe food is not outstanding, but the thing is that you have to find your utensils in the dark, use your knife in the dark, drink from the right glass... the waiters are blind, and they wear noisy bracelets to announce themselves...
more (in German) there:
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 2:47 PM
late entry for 'Sense and Place'!
Apologies for this really late entry – something I missed some weeks back, and did not want to remain ‘voiceless’ on and so here’s my two cents on it. Edward’s Casey’s article ‘Between Geography and Philosophy’ is an interesting insight into the relationship between self and place.
The way we conceptualize a place and experience it is not a given but is influenced and determined by its relationship and conversation with the place not necessarily in a conscious way. The Surveillance camera tour elucidates an ‘uncertain’ or an overtly ‘care-less’ relationship between self and place, geography, space and agency. I am particularly interested in the affectual dimensions of this relationship, as in how a place is actually sensed and felt, and how these senses are critical in the self’s construction of place. Steven Feld writes about how places are sensed and senses are placed – “as places make sense, senses make place”.
In my research of the Hornbill Festival which I have not yet had the opportunity to attend, there are two kinds of music that are performed – traditional folk music in the day and in the same space in the evenings, western rock and popular music with electric live bands. The experience and the sense of the place and the festival indeed – the relationship of self to place differs for the Naga youth particularly, in the day the space is an offering to a constructed heritage and a reiteration of one’s idealised identity. Whereas in the evening, the same youth experiences the space actively participate in the music, socialize and enjoy. The bodily experience within the same geographical space is sensed sonically and determines the experience. Feld calls this the acoustemology of place, in that the experience of place potentially can always be grounded in an acoustic dimension. The visitors at the festival perhaps are oriented in their experience of the space by other sensory dimensions not necessarily the ‘acoustemology’ of the space. The relationship of sense and place is definitely an important and overlooked inquiry.
These readings definitely open up more doors of exploration for my research. What is it that I am experiencing and what are the other possibilities and perspectives, what agency, what unseen limitations and unconscious determinants are there between the self and place. What are the psychogeographic responses and reactions to a place, what is the orienting factor of the experience?
Posted by Senti Toy at 2:13 PM
Movement and Food
The Slow Food Movement shows how something as commonplace as food can take on strong political ramifications. It also shows it is not simply the food which is important but that which it represents: the culture, lifestyle, identity, or heritage behind the food.
When I think of the relationship between politics and food, as the Slow Food movement initiated, I immediately think about the annual spiritual lecture within yoga class about vegetarianism.
It is not a topic they preach often, for although on the yogic path to enlightenment, they still have to be mindful of their paying audience and vegetarianism is often viewed as radical. This year’s lecture came last Thursday. The topic of the lecture was that it takes bravery to commit oneself to acting for the benefit of others. “Others” obviously went beyond humans. With only 6 billion humans on earth, Uma pointed out that we consume some 25 billion animals annually. One million dollars, she stated, creates a tower about two feet high; one billion dollars is higher than the empire state building so with this metaphor she demonstrated how unimaginably violent it is to kill 25 billion animals. Like the Slow Food Movement, to Uma and to the rest of the yoga community, food consumption, although a basic need, is not a mindless act but should be considered for its global, environmental, energetic impact on this organism called the universe. (What about water? Do we inflict pain or cultural negligence upon the world’s water organism by consuming it without regard? There are organizations to protect the world’s water supply but that seems to be in order to consume more of it. Are there any political groups that propose we stop drinking water or that we drink it differently?)
Defined by BKG in the introduction to Culinary Tourism, as events where food is the focus of travel, I tried to think of culinary tourism I had participated in. What I realized though is that I could not think of any travel experience of mine that food was not a primary concern. Every place on the map conjures up a food representative of that place that would need to be tasted in order to have fully achieved the experience of place. Food is a thematic descriptor of culture, but more easily recognizable as a thematic description of place. When I went to Italy I had to get gelato, when I went to Morocco I had to have harira Soup, when in France, cheese and baguettes…. and so forth. Last week in Puerto Rico, my friends insisted on finding a not so easy to find rice and beans restaurant. Our mind’s image of the food representative of a certain place is not always predicated on the actual food of the place. What factors determine the strength of correlation between a place and food? Why did I go to Italy knowing the generalized conception that pasta and pizza would be available there but in Morocco I learned of the foods common there. Why do some countries get culinary representation in the American landscape while others don’t?
Where it gets particularly interesting, is when place does not determine food and the location where this is most visible is none other than New York City. New York City represents culinary tourism at its greatest hybrid variety. When my parents came to town, they had to go to “Sammy’s Romanian” a Jewish shtetl like dining experience that combines Klezmer Music, Frozen Vodka, and Fat enhanced chopped liver, with Egg Creams for dessert. Could one get an egg cream in the shtetl? Or was this culinary tourism of a constructed nature with inherent migration and assimilation built into the cultural identity displayed for digest? My parents traveled from Michigan to New York and part of the tourist experience of New York was to further travel (back in time and across in place) through an imagination process instigated by a meal.
Relegated to the land of senses as opposed to intellect, culinary considerations become highly malleable factors for tourist productions. Within the web of Sepharad 92 events, which commemorated Jewish expulsion from Spain, or outward movement, dinners were held that served Sephardic Food, festivals were arranged that offered Sephardic food, and a cookbook was published of Sephardic food. Sephardic food in this context was considered to be that which was cooked by Iberian Jews previous to the 1492 expulsion and cuisine was used to chart movement away from place. In an article published in 2002 (just ten years after the expulsion anniversary) titled “A Cuisine Returns After Centuries of Exile,” the author uses Sephardic cooking to chart movement into place. Goodman states, “Jews finally began returning to Spain in the early decades of the 20th century” and with them, they brought back Spanish cuisine transformed into Sephardic cuisine by the influence of the host countries that accepted them post expulsion. Also, efforts to “preserve a sense of Sephardic identity” within contemporary Spain takes place in the framework of food. In the once Jewish town of Girona, a Spanish Jewish group called the Red de Juderias de Espana formed to sponsor events and workshops related to Spanish Jewish cooking. In this sense, dynamics of site, exile, heritage construction, and food collaborate to represent cultural changes that reflect historical movements of people.
What this article and the notion of New York as a culinary tourism breeding ground have in common, is the relationship to moving people. Although the movement was forced in the instance of Spanish Jews, there seem to be interesting correlations to make between migration patterns of people or more generally movement, and culinary events. Food is proxy for place and people take place with them when they move.
Another idea I wanted to put out there that I don’t have time to fully think through or work in because I have to get back to Sepharad 92, but seems interesting……. is wine tasting tourism. Wine countries as they are called, invite tourists to travel within their nations without borders. Tourists travel from vineyard to vineyard collecting tastes, similar to the way medieval man made pilgrimage collecting religious experience. Modern religion in the sense of the wine pilgrimage becomes that of breeding cultural capital within oneself. Cultural capital takes the place of spiritual devotion to god.
Posted by Erin Madorsky at 1:32 PM
pierogi on my mind
A few summers ago I spent some time in Greece. When sitting down in a terrace of a restaurant, I would wait at least 20 minutes for the waiter to leisurely bring the menu over. This may have seemed peculiar at first, but after several restaurant outings with my Greek friends, I soon grew extremely fond of the slow and relaxed pace of life. So much so, that I vowed to observe the same pace upon my return to New York. I imagined that there too, I would spend luxuriously long and slow hours talking to friends in restaurants while savoring fresh well prepared food. Needless to say my naiveté was about to rupture. BKG’s notion of “immobility of coalescence” is true not only of the taste of food and wine, which never tastes the same when transported to another location, but also of ambiance.
I was really enjoying reading “Cruising the Ark of Taste,” until I got to the discussion of turkey insemination. I don’t eat turkey but now I understand why the few turkey sandwiches I’ve had in my life always tasted so bad. It’s back to vegetarianism for me. While an admirable theory Slow Food is feasible in very particular circumstances. Putting the philosophy into practice in New York is quite the task. In a city where everyone is in a hurry, scheduling a Slow Food feast with friends may be possible, under the stipulation that you are not enrolled in a one-year graduate program. Unless, of course you happened to take Raul’s summer course where we cooked for grades.
I wish I could spend more time savoring the articles, but I have to wolf something down so I can get back to working on my paper.
Posted by Dominika Bennacer at 1:10 PM
Rumbly in my tumbly...as long as I get to pay!
While nibbling on yesterday’s readings, I (perhaps predictably) found myself growing rather hungry. How I would have loved to leave the delightful Bobst and go spend 3 hours eating a five-course meal! Alas, this was not to be the case. However, whisking my focus from my growling stomach to the grating gears of my mind, I was able to fry up several questions that I hope will lead to some tasty conversation.
In Cruising on the Ark of Taste, Michael Pollan’s discussion of the “slow food movement” got me thinking about other preservation organizations such as UNESCO, and several questions quickly followed, spicing up my appreciation of the “slow foods movement.” I was first impressed by the skill with which SLM was able to make their preservation efforts both pleasurable and commercially viable by catering to the hedonistic desires of culinary tourists and adding profitable products to the food market. By utilizing a complex web of outlets and marketing devices, such as local “peasant” food producers, who inherently provide an air of the exotic, small commercial food producers, upscale catalogues such as Williams-Sonoma, and high profile chefs, the SLM is able to simultaneously generate demand for their products, make money, and help ensure the continued existence and production of endangered products. If this is not already being done, I wonder how organizations like UNESCO might be able to frame other heritage practices in such a way as to make them profitable. I don’t like to think of a practice’s survival being entirely dependent upon commercial viability, but sadly, this largely seems to be the case. (Disagreement anyone?)
Thinking about the commercial with a specific eye to the culinary, I found myself returning to a question that I’ve had come up before. Why is the touristic desire for experience seemingly always bound up with commercialism? Why don’t people create their own experiences? This question has particular resonance for culinary tourism for several reasons. First, we should note a unique attribute of culinary tourism and the sense of taste. To taste a food is an ephemeral and individual experience that can be brought to the tourist, rather than being traveled to, though setting does often add something to the experience. Unlike a tourist site, food experiences cannot be photographed, recorded, duplicated, or transcribed into language to the degree than other sites can. There are too many variables in the production of the product, and the eater’s palate. Seeing a picture and reading a description of a Naragansett turkey is less satisfying than reading a description and seeing a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. However, one can cook a Naragansett in the comfort of his home. He needn’t go to Paris to find one. This being so, and one of the primary joys of tourism and culinary tourism in particular being to “unsettle habitus…. familiarize the new and estrange the familiar (BKG 1-2), why do so many people feel the need to pay others for the pleasure, when they could provide it for themselves and their friends and family? My question extends to tourism in a more general sense as well. If the essential tourist attraction is new and unfamiliar experiences, why does paying for these experiences seem to be required as well? One could have an unlimited number of new experiences in her own home or hometown. These experiences could be equally, or more, strange and exciting than those provided by travel. However, “tourists” appear to have two desires that conflict with this. First, as Bruner briefly describes, is the desire to take part in a community and communal narrative. Apparently, we would rather see and experience the same attractions as everyone else rather than have our own unique experiences. Secondly, it seems that there’s something very important about paying for the experience. What does the commercial exchange offer? A record and a quantitative rather than qualitative value for the experience? Does requiring one to save up and work towards the experience have something to do with it? Contribute to the pre-trip narrative as Bruner might say? I find all of these to be interesting questions, that can potentially lead to the root of why we love to be tourists while simultaneously mocking the group to which we belong.
Posted by Tyler Sinclair at 12:56 PM
If it's about pleasure -- then I'm there! But seriously . . .
I am all for Slow Food – if it’s about pleasure – then I’m there! But seriously, or not so seriously, I too experienced the change of heart that Pollan experienced when I read about Slow Food. At first I was ambivalent – I mean, a movement called “Slow Food” about enjoying good food – are we just forming another activist group so that people can feel like they’re “doing something”? But then, as I read, I thought “Well, why not fight the globalism capitalist beast with the basics – and enjoying food is defiantly one of the basics of life.” So really what’s there not to like. I agree it’s good to eat slowly, to enjoy your food – it feels better and plus it is better for you. And just thinking about these turkeys who can’t fly or reproduce themselves, one of which I ate on Thanksgiving, makes me move than happy to try out the Narragansett variety - especially since it’s a tastier bird!
My question is – where is the middle ground? I mean, are the only two choices -- McDonalds or a five-course Italian meal. Not all of use have the time or money to sit outside by the piazza with our wine and enjoy the two hour meal. What about the quick yet delicious tofu stir-fry? Or the every tasty Mexican omelet? Where do such quick, easy, cheap and healthy dishes rank on the Slow Food list ‘o edibles? Is it a question of whether I use non GMO soy in my stir-fry?
On that note – I’m going to saute some veggies!
Posted by Sarah Zoogman at 12:55 PM
Say hello to Rice Burger!
You might find hard to believe, but in McDonald’s Taiwan, we have rice burgers. Yap! You got it right, the rice burgers. What they do is that they replace the bun part with rice and use some fillings that sautéed in asian style (like beef with teriyaki sauce, or chicken.). It is a local product developed by McDonald’s Taiwan in the past two years. Personally, I am not a big fan of it, however it was a huge success for McDonald’s Taiwan and helped them to earn a lot of profit from it. According to the news, the headquarters in the States already sent the message to Taiwan branch and ask them to share the recipe with the McDonald’s in pan-asia area. It is very interesting to see that the globalized McDonald’s industry developed its local product, which obviously served as an accommodation to Asian appetites.
I am definitely one of the pickiest Chinese food gastronomes in my age, especially in Shang Hai cuisine. I was born in a big family that praise the importance of each meal and welling to spend time in the whole process of finding materials and cook. My family was immigrants from China in my grandfather’s generation due to the civil war between two political parties in 1949. There were so many immigrants at that time from different province and brought all kinds of cuisine into Taiwan, and make Taiwan, especially Taipei, filled with delicious and various Chinese foods. My family and Taipei spoiled me indeed. The first time I read about chicken with strawberry sauce from a Chinese food restaurant in New York, I almost screamed. Then I realized this is just an accommodation to American appetites like what McD’s did with the burgers.
After reading the articles for this week, I started to think about all the cultural shock experience in the past six months, and found out so that most of them were based on food. Food certainly reflects culture, especially for someone who came from a different cultural background.
Posted by Yo-Chi Li at 10:55 AM
Last but not the least for the journey this semester. Culinary tourism – experiential tourism. I didn’t realize that all I have been interested in and immersed myself in when travelling is culinary tourism. And I see that was not just because of my love for food in general but that was the only ‘real’ ‘authentic’ tangible experience I was sort of privy to in a foreign land. It comes closest to entering a ‘local’s’ kitchen in their home and sharing a meal – which has always been my fantasy when I travel! I enjoy going grocery shopping in local farmers’ markets when I travel and discovering new greens in particular! And yes, I am all for eco-gastronomy to contribute to the survival of endangered species of foods : ) Particularly when I recently read somewhere that the grains and the vegetables that we eat represent just a small fraction of natural produce that is enriching and equally importantly – experienced.
My memories of travel are always associated with tastes, smells and textures of food – and it does not have to be a ‘gourmet’ over the top bill. Eat where the locals eat – that is always a fun exploration – much more fun that museums for me! I would rather be at home if I had to travel and eat regular plain old food! – such is my determination! I travel to eat!
Reflecting over culinary tourism, the Nagas have somewhat been ‘bashful’ and uncertain about ‘exposing’ the local cuisine to outsiders. The missionaries and the colonizers took everything away but our food! So perhaps that being the only ‘untouched’ ‘unconverted’ ‘un-born-again’ tradition of the Nagas, there was a sense of uncertainty and inhibition as it did not particularly ‘adapt’ with the ways of the new lifestyle and religion. We did not start eating white bread and marmite! When strangers visited from outside Nagaland, Naga food was not proudly served up – instead one would have to go looking for white bread and tumeric and white flour and cooking oil etc…which is not part of our cuisine. However, that said, with the recent advent of tourism in Nagaland things are changing in a big way. Naga cuisine is coming out as it were. The annual Hornbill Festival boasts not just of music, dance, handicrafts, architecture, but cuisine. For the Nagas this is an occasion to celebrate and really enjoy each other’s cuisine (each tribe has its own particular specialty and preparation) and have visitors taste and experience Naga. For the first time, one sees an occassional Naga restaurant in Nagaland. Perhaps, this is an important expression in the struggle to determine our identity. And tourism has been an important bolster it seems.
Posted by Senti Toy at 10:14 AM
You are what you eat
Food, like language, is an interesting thing to study because our relationship to it is partly biological and partly cultural. It is hard to distinguish what is natural instinct, and what is a product of socialization. It's even harder to try to eat something you have learned to find disgusting. There is nothing more disgusting than disgusting food.
Most of us, with the exception of those who grow organic gardens and feed themselves, are alienated from the production of the food they eat. Most of us, I assume, are neither subsistence agriculturalists or pastoralists nor hunters and gatherers. Ethnic food once told us who was who. But now, those who live in any major metropolitan area, and even not-so-major ones like Urbana-Champaign, have a myriad of carryout menu-cuisines from which to choose every night of the week. Nevertheless, food marks who we are in many ways.
Do you eat asparagus with your fingers or a utensil? Do you own a set of an ice cream forks? One’s level of cultivation is revealed both through table manners and the ability to consume cosmopolitan delicacies (and, more importantly, the inability to eat base foods). One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Disgust helps distinguish the radically alterior. Remember the monkey brains in Indian Jones?
Slow foods conserve things by making them fashionable and expensive. Eat them to save them. The glaring classism of the movement fact might set off red flags, but in fact everything has an economic substrate. When local peasant economies no longer found these products viable, these specialized products became endangered. As McLuhan has written with respect to media, obsolete media can be preserved by elites as high culture. The same apparently goes fro labor-intensive stinky cheese, tough gamy fowl, and low yield varieties of crops. In fact I think slow food is an ingenious solution. People will pay more to eat well than they will give to charity. If they can simultaneously garner two types of distinction –moral and economic –so much the better.
Delicacies once came from far away. Now everything comes from faraway. Slow food is a new source of culinary distinction. Slow food is difficult to get, make, and know about. It requires education. The nice thing about it is that is a bourgeoisie source of distinction. Anyone with enough money (yes! Even new money) can join in. It does not require dispositions inherited as birthright from certain family backgrounds. Rather the ability to “properly” consume these foods comes through education. It is kind of like a book club.
Slow food chic may keep rare species from extinction, keep artisan producers in business, but it does not keep the original consumers consuming in the bucolic ways they did before industrialization, or whatever happened to make them stop producing their stinky cheese and buy Velveeta slices instead.
It is a strange thing when one group’s food becomes, not just a different group’s luxury, but a source of moral pleasure. I think confused ideals about conserving rare species, demonstrating good taste, and “eating healthy” by ingesting rare, primitive items, comprise the slow food appeal.
I wonder what are the limits? What local cuisines are never going to be slow foods and why? And this question is not limited to Slow food movement foods –also non-brand-named forms of rarified, adventurous, culinary conspicuous consumption. Some foods may always be too “disgusting,” hence marking the outer cultural limits of the movement. (e.g. quinoa - yes; raw free range monkey brains - no). And I think some foods may be without distinction, and can never be considered spiritually “healthy” even if they are the local cuisine and have the same grams of fat (e.g. foie gras – yes, big mac - no). And I think sometimes we just feign disgust to mark our cultural distance from very base popular foods.
Posted by Pilar Rau at 10:04 AM
one world, one authentic taste
The opening of the first McDonald’s in Budapest was a historical moment. People were standing in the lines long hours to taste their first Big Mac and McChicken, to experience the taste of freedom…
I was also standing there in the line on the first day with my teenager friends. After the first cathartic experience, this is how we spent every Friday evening for a while. I became such a big McDonald’s fan, that wherever I traveled with my family, I insisted that we try the local McDonald’s. If McDonald’s intention was to realize the ideal of “one world, one taste”, their intention failed, in my opinion; despite the same recipe, Big Mac tasted different in every town.
The website of Culinary Tourism Association emphasizes that “culinary art is the only art form that speaks to all five human senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch)”. While we are enjoying smelling/tasting the “work of culinary art”, we are also enjoying the sights/sounds of the venue/place. Therefore, our experience of culinary art depends on the setting (the space and the atmosphere) as much as on the actual work of art. I am not sure whether Big Mac should/could be considered as a culinary art work, but it surely felt different in the tiny medieval main square of Freiburg, Germany, under the shadows of the gothic cathedral in Strassburg, France or on the sandy beach of Croatia. Were any of the experiences more authentic than the other? Why is it inappropriate to ask this question in the case of the Big Mac? And why were we obsessed to find the most authentic Frankfurter, Quiche or Pleskaviča in town the next day? What is it that makes culinary art authentic: the dish or the experience?
BKG suggests it is the “authentic experience” that “makes the question of authenticity”, and that it is not the authenticity, but “the question of authenticity” that is “essential to culinary tourism” (1). This question not only “organizes conversation, reflection, and comparison” as BKG points out, but also, as Marx would say, it defines the exchange-value of the experience as a commodity. The more we read and think about authenticity in the context of tourism, the more I believe that ‘authenticity’ is merely an invention of capitalism to legitimize and sell certain products. Without the label of ‘authentic’, many of these products would not sell so well. ‘Authenticity’ in this context is a tool to objectify subjective differences of tastes and senses, to justify the claim that one is more valuable than the other.
But why are we “buying” this? Are we looking for authenticity or are we looking for good food after all? Which one would you choose?
Posted by Aniko Szucs at 12:00 AM
December 3, 2005
Watch out!! Eco-Gastro Terrorist Coming Through…!!
I have to admit I would probably eat nothing but fast food if it wasn’t unhealthy, meat-laden, bad-tasting, and expensive. Okay, bad example. Then let me say that I would eat nothing but bananas and Powerbars if they didn’t cost so damn much. In other words, on the continuum of Carlo Petrini and Slow Foodists on one hand, and Costco on the other, I happily wheel up my cart and buy in bulk. The gastronomic nuances of organic grapes and Iroquois white corn are lost on me…even if I could be bothered to find them. To use a somewhat trite saying: I eat to live instead of live to eat. While others enjoy savoring home-cooked meals with multiple ingredients, I am happy eating out of the food bins at supermarkets. So where does this place me in relation to Petrini’s crusade?
Well, actually, I am as eco-conscious as the next guy (probably more) and stopped eating meat for over ten years not because of I’m morally opposed to killing animals but because of the politics of food production on our planet. (Living in Jamaica, however, forced me back to poultry due to the fact that they practically eat chicken seven days a week. And I never stopped eating dairy, so I'm somewhat of a hippocrit.) At any rate, I’m responsive to eco-friendly marketing like much of consumers today. And the PETA-type people *are* starting to get to me. For example, I was paying double for “cage-free” eggs, thinking that I was buying the products of a small band of chickens happily living their lives on some family farm, leisurely strutting about and eating worms and seeds as God intended. Unfortunately, I took the time recently to investigate what this “cage-free” and “free-range” business is all about. (“Free-range” seemed much more promising that “cage-free” so I wanted to see if there was a differnce.) Well, in the end, all of the information I could find stated that there isn’t any difference at all. Nor does it mean such eggs come from little Mom-and-Pop farms with just a handful of birds. “Cage-free” can mean living in a huge factory room with multitudes of other chickens as long as there is a minimum of 1 square foot per bird. In other words, a ten by ten foot room can have a hundred chickens in it. That’s a lot of birds. “Free-range” means that at the end of this indoor building there must be a little tiny opening where a chicken (if she happens to find it) is able to go outside into a caged off area. Needless to say, I was less than happy to find out about this. Does this mean I might as well buy the cheap eggs, or do I have to give up a quick form of protein? God forbid I actually look at how dairy cows are treated. I’d starve without ice-cream and cheese.
All of this is to say that Slow Food’s strategy of connoisseurship seems to me to be the restaurant side of a general speciality trend towards “organic” and “humane” food production. These options ultimately need to be economically competitive in the market-place. After all, as Pollan says, restaurants still want their 18 lbs turkeys. And no one wants to pay 8 dollars for a dozen eggs. Is Slow Food really that radical, or just a niche market that responds to market forces like everything else?
Authenticity Again Rears Its Ugly Head
Ah…authenticity…I was starting to miss you. Or was it only last week that you were in our discussion? Nevermind. When it comes to culinary tourism, authenticity really hits home for me. This is all the more striking for me considering I don’t care that much about food. (Ask me what I had at almost any restaurant I’ve been to in the past…I won’t be able to tell you.) But if I’m traveling abroad, I want to stay away from the “tourist” restaurants…even though they probably have the food that I will most recognize and enjoy. Also, if I happen to be in a restaurant at home, I immediately tend to gravitate towards the weirdest thing on the menu. Not because I think it will taste better, but because, hell, if I’m going to actually go to a restaurant, I might as well experience something new. This relates directly to what BKG mentions regarding the “question of authenticity.” I order stuff not because I hope that it will be a culinary delight, but because I want something new and exciting. (Preferably some strange sea creature…) If I have never seen it before, it is “authentic” to me and thus more valuable.
Well, I’m going to wrap this up now. I’m really hungry and it’s time to heat up that frozen pizza. Now then, how does this oven-thing work again?...
Posted by Scott Wallin at 11:58 PM
The Politics of Yum (and the lingering memory of Yuck)
The Slow Food movement approaches heritage in some of the same terms we have thought about before - safeguarding, protection, conservation. Slow Food sits at an interesting intersection between natural and cultural heritage, recognizing that in the case of food, raw ingredients are not divorceable from their means of production. In order to safeguard the continuing existence of ‘heritage turkeys’ or a rare species of corn, a market must be created for these products. If successful, this can mean the livelihood of small farmers, struggling against the tide of big agribusiness. Slow food appeals to the “ enlightened” (and sufficently well-off) consumer’s sense of artistry and authenticity when it comes to cuisine. But it would be cynical, and I think incorrect, to claim that there is no loss to biodiversity, or to the roster of flavors, if we do lose all these species to monoculture. I mean, how many times have you eaten a tomato from the supermarket and noticed that despite its bright red color, it has almost no flavor at all?
What is interesting to me is the appeal to TASTE and appreciation, which is oddly reminiscent of a high culture-low culture debate. Those with refined tastes will appreciate slow food; those without may not. The Slow Food takes pains to “educate” people’s palates so they may become more refined.
The Halifax Farmer’s Market is a tourist destination, to be sure. It is conveniently located near the waterfront, which has recently become redeveloped for tourism in the last 10-15 years. But it is also a tourist destination of sorts for some locals, who come not only for the jovial atmosphere, but to buy fresh local produce, when the ‘regular’ grocery store is the norm. I know a few people who shop at the Farmer’s Market year-round, cooking and eating only what is seasonally and locally available. From talking to local farmers, this is becoming a bit easier with the development of vaccuum packing technology, which allows certain produce, like apples, to be preserved for longer after being harvested.
Recently, a gourmet grocery store, Pete’s Frootique, has opened downtown, making quality (often imported) produce more readily available, particularly unusual fruits and vegetables. My parents, once farmer’s market devotees, now prefer to buy most of their produce at Pete’s (once a small business, now a franchise), especially if the green beans or what-have-you “look better” than the ones at the Farmer’s Market. Pete’s preaches on a similar philosophy as Slow Foods - organic, gourmet, for the refined and adventurous of taste. In order to be a “one stop shop”, however, they carry conventional
(non-exotic) fruits and vegetables as well (also organic, I believe) - some of which are local and some of which, like oranges, (not exotic but not local) are imported. As the website states: “Where local meets cosmopolitan”(www.petesfrootique.com/hfx_location.asp). It is obviously more beneficial to the farmers if we buy the produce directly from them than from Pete. How do you uphold a food politics based on pleasure that is also responsible to local producers? Is it possible to do so ( in a wintry province like Nova Scotia) without nobly sacrificing your palate? Or is it necessarily such a sacrifice to eat seasonally? How many people you know still make jams, pickles, or other preserves? It has become unneccessary, in the land of plenty (and imported and prepared foods) to preserve foods on your own, so that for example you can have fruit in the winter. Does the slow food movement speak to this loss of skill, at the level of the consumer (who as the cook, is also a producer)?
Finally, a word on gastrotourism. When the experience of newness is so totally bodily and unmediated, it becomes difficult to “fake it” so to speak. I can pretend to enjoy the Gilbert and Sullivan performance my great aunt and uncle treated me to, but the body’s response to a food item, especially if it is a strong negative reaction, is harder to disguise. Sometimes the preference is very personal - my mother despises strawberries, she thinks they taste like battery acid. We think she must have some kind of genetic disorder that makes them taste bad to her - but we don’t mind - more for the rest of us! Sometimes, the preference (or not) is more akin to a habitus, on a cultural level. For example - texture of meat. I was working in Japan and my parents came to visit me. We went to a restaurant that served some kind of yakitori (meat on skewers). Chicken hearts, gizzards, it’s all good to me. Yum yum. I thought “I’m so adventurous, I’m impressing my parents with my worldliness.”
But when it came to some white things on the skewers that we mistakenly thought were some kind of vegetable, we were all unpleasantly surprised to find that it was chicken cartilage. So foreign was this idea to us that we did not even see it properly, and were shocked to have our mouths tell us it was actually part of an animal. Now, chicken hearts and other unidentifiable sweetmeats are one thing. But (as I tried to explain to my students the next day) we were not used to eating a part of the animal that requires many minutes of enthusiastic chewing. I had never realized it so fully or so viscerally before, but I wanted, bodily, for my meat to break down when I chewed it. Who knew?
Thinking on this memorable experience, I wonder whether bad food experiences are remembered more strongly than unmemorable ones, or extremely pleasurable ones? The way that some foods imprint on people in a negative way often in childhood, sometimes never to be overcome, makes me think that our negative bodily memories are very striong when it comes to food. And it certainly makes for good after-tour storytelling!
Posted by Sarah Klein at 10:29 PM
When traveling to Europe, McDonald's was all I could afford. I was on a TIGHT budget. As much as I wanted to eat, taste, devour, it was impossible--I couldn't afford it. “Authenticity” was too pricy. Slow Food wants people to take time to savor real food, but with what money? The Slow Food movement sounds wonderful with its top-notch chefs, restaurants, their smart turkeys, and sweet, earthy corn, but this only makes the phenomenon more expensive for tightwads like myself.
Slow Food reminds me of a cultural organization we read of earlier this semester. Slow Food aims at saving endangered plants and animals from extinction. UNESCO aims at saving endangered cultures from extinction—ah-ha! Like the UNESCO website, which presents an overview of their masterpieces, the slow food website also presents some of its “masterpieces.” Do these organizations really aim to protect or profit? I found the Michael Pollan article pretty hilarious. The following is my favorite quote: "Slow food aims to teach us to taste what makes Iroquois corn special (It's wonderful stuff, with an earthy, sweet, extra-corny flavor, that makes commercial corn products taste pallid by comparison) and to slow down to enjoy some slow dishes traditionally cooked with it" (76). Yeah, sounds tempting, and I would love to, but before spending money on expensive corn that is not going extinct, I’d rather spend 50 cents on some corn at the farmer’s market.
When I came back from Europe, I laid off the McDonalds. I was disgusted, and tired of it. I was back in the states where I knew where to obtain even cheaper, healthier and tastier food. I know McDonald's is bad for you. I also know McDonald's is cheap. If you’re broke, you’re broke. Oh, well.
Man, I sound pessimistic.
Posted by Alma Guzman at 9:49 PM
When I lived in Europe, I had an annual ritual of driving to France for wine tasting in a different region every year. The trip would inevitably include a “dîner gastronomique” and a few cases of wine in my trunk, to mature for a while in my cellar. The whole ritual was carefully planned around the palate, slow in its implementation (from wine tasting to buying to having dinner to digesting to driving home), and terribly elitist. There is something arrogant, extreme but oh-so-satisfying about gastrotourism. As much as enjoying lavender salt, truffle oil and Epoisses cheese is an acquired taste, it is also a reserved to the happy few who can afford the subtle flavors, the adventurous experience and the steep prices. When I mean ritual, I think of a small cult of initiated who are ready to drive for miles off the main roads, stay overnight in an unknown place (who would drive after so much wine and liqueur?) and dish out in two days the equivalent of a 2-week package deal on a sandy beach (and all-you-can-eat buffet).
As a member of this elitist confrerie in Europe, I thought I would renew my culinary adventures in the U.S. Well, not quite.
The wineries of Sonoma Valley devote more space to the gift store (with made in China souvenirs) than to the wine tasting counter, and charge visitors $3 to $5 to taste (average) wine. I observed the visitors last July: the freeway takes them straight to the manicured entrance of the castle-like winery. They pay, drink their three choices, eat as many free munchies as possible (peanuts or crackers), but one bottle of each (I mean BOTTLE, not CASE), let their kids run around the store, and get back into their car. 10 minutes, it’s done. Let’s go to the next entertainment site. Artisan recipes have turned into mass production and consumption.
The same is true for gastronomy restaurant (including French chefs who migrated to the U.S.). How many signature Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Daniel Boulud restaurants can you have in one city, or in multiple cities? Gastrotourism used to involve traveling to a unique place (usually off the main roads) to enjoy the cooking of a chef highly rated in Gault & Millau (the top addresses were also described as “worth the trip”). Is it still gastrotourism when there is no traveling involved? When Boulud even comes to your house and cooks in your kitchen (see the recent NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/30/dining/30kitchen.html?oref=login)? What about the fact that celebrity chefs open “low-end” restaurants, in which you can eat hamburgers, fries and eggs, and pay less than $30 a person?
Maybe it’s a cultural thing, and the Europeans have not completely sold their palate to fast food and mass production. The only nostalgia I have for Europe is about food (does anybody know a good place to eat venison in NY? And a cheese store that smuggles reblochon into the U.S.?)
On a completely different topic, I was intrigued by the issue of food that changes and ends up not resembling to its “original” recipe (the Philadelphia roll with cream cheese is not a traditional maki in Japan, and there was never such a thing as a potato boreka in Greece). But people migrate, cook with the ingredients they can find in their new environment, adjust to local taste, dietary trends… and that’s how you get brown-rice sushi and kosher crab-looking non-crab sticks, and sugarless biscotti.
Personally, I would never have a decaf Turkish coffee, it’s against my culinary beliefs (funny how I keep using religious metaphors, this is worth exploring in terms of performance…). But we live in a (non-fat-)free world…
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 7:56 PM
Lisa Sells Her Soul to the Devil
I've worked in theme parks. Man, have I worked in theme parks. This picture was taken at Universal Studios Japan, while I performed the character "Hell Witch." The Hell Witch didn't cook, however.
Directly after graduating high school, I worked at a now out-of-business theme restaurant in Kissimmee, Florida. The restaurant, Wild West Saloon, was, as one could imagine, made up to look like a John Wayne movie. I was hired as a costumed interpreter to play a number of female character roles that were loosely defined by the restaurant administration. The restaurant almost exclusively catered to the Orlando tourist crowd. Although, occasionally, the management spoke of ways to draw repeat local business, those ideas were generally discounted in favor of focusing energy on attracting tourists. Although the restaurant went out of business fairly quickly, due to poor management and increasing competition, it did provide a unique dining experience for those who came.
The question of authenticity did not arise much in my interaction with the patrons. Perhaps this is because nothing in Orlando is authentic--truly the trope of the entire city. If anything, the restaurant offered authentic inauthenticity. The food was mostly modern American, if not Wild West cuisine. In this way, the food provided a unique culinary experience for the foreign tourists, if not Americans. The food, however, was expensive, and generally of very poor quality. The nearby fast food chain, Checkers, offered cheeseburgers far tastier for $15 less.
The key to keeping patrons in the restaurant happy, however, was not the quality of the food, but the quality of the experience. When the costumed interpreters were doing a good job distracting and entertaining the guests, few food complaints came in. If there was a lull in restaurant activity, then the patrons began to send complaints to the kitchen.
As far as Wild West authenticity was concerned, occasionally children would try to pull apart the illusion of the restaurant. However, once again, this usually happened when they were in the restaurant for several hours and were bored with the spectacle. Birthday parties were the hardest, because they lasted around three hours. By the end, there were 25 kids trying to figure out how the talking buffalo head on the wall worked.
Orlando currently houses more eating experiences than one can imagine. Sea World and its sister Park, offers a Polynesian Luau dinner show, as well as “Dine With Shamu,” for those who want to eat next to a killer whale tank. Not to be outdone, Disney offers tank side dining in Epcot, as well as Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Luau. Also, an unaffiliated Luau called, Wantilan Luau, has popped up on Hollywood Way. There are too many dine with costumed characters opportunities to contemplate. Every theme park offers a chance to eat while being visited by men and women in insanely hot mouse or bear suits. Some of the dinner theatres outside the parks include Medieval Knights, Arabian Nights, Pirate’s Diner Theatre, Dolly Parton’s Dinner Theater, Mystery Diner Theatre, Al Capone’s Diner Theater, King Henry’s Feast, and Masquerade Dinner Theater. Disney offers tons of dinner shows as well, including the Diamond Horseshoe Review, Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, as well as a number of restaurants that offer periodic shows throughout the day, such as the Beirgarten, Marrakesh, or the House of Blues. You can add to the list every bar (around 8) in Disney’s Pleasure Island, which, may not serve dinner, but which all have live performances every single night of the year. Universal counters with Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Hard Rock Café. Please note, that I am not even mentioning the theme restaurants, which do not specifically feature live performances. For the most part, the trend provides overpriced food of shoddy quality. Yet, these restaurants are not selling food. They are selling entertainment with an added benefit of a meal food. Also, in tourist destinations such as Orlando, these restaurants are also selling rest. Parents need the brief respite from dragging (being dragged by) children from Adventure Land, to Key West Zone, to Jurassic Park Land, to Gift Shop Land. Theme restaurants are baby-sitting services. The unfortunate wait staff and performers are far too often left with full responsibility over children as the parents take the opportunity to relax. (Threats of lawsuits are leveled against these companies daily.) As a kid, I could never understand why my Mother insisted on going to the Polynesian Luau every single time we went to Sea World. It was getting very old. Now I understand that she did it for the rest and the tropical drinks.
Posted by Lisa Reinke at 7:37 PM
Alert Halle Berry! Food Can Act!
Download file See this website for more information on Nine Night discussed in my paper. http://www.looksmartusa.com/p/articles/mi_m1546/is_n5_v11/ai_18965680
Posted by Siobhan Robinson at 11:13 AM
"We love to see you smile"
This statement taken from McDonald's ads/slogans, aims to do just that-see people smile. It is the very convenience of fast food that does so. Here, in the United States/capitalist society, instant gratification is what is championed. However, the Slow Food movement challenges introduces a paradigmatic shift in how one experiences food, or even does what BKG's foreward in Culinary Tourism: Food, Eating, and Otherness suggests, "familiarizing the new and estranges the familiar"(2). For someone like me, a McDonald's baby, the Slow Food Movement and culinary tourism engenders a new territory or unexplored terrain of the edible world. The Slow Food movement asserts its political implications but also challenges or offers a rethinking of politics of pleasure. Much like nature food suggests cultural aspects as well, mapping a "lively cultural terrain" (Culinary Tourism, 2). I appreciated the Slow Food movement USA's work to reach beyond the affluent "foodie crowd." The article even mentions barbecue and beer as a part of the movement! I concur with the analysis that with an industrialization of the food system comes an industrialization of eating. It is refreshing to encourage the complete sensory experience of food, to indulge and immerse one's self in food-outside of a quick-gratification realm. Again, our convenience when choosing food reflects issues not only in the States, but in other imperialist nations. After all, "what we eat, is a marker of our cultural identity..." ("Cruising on the ark of taste, 76). The only question I now end with and propose is , "what about cultural identity that is marked by assimilation/acculturation?" (Many cultures have been influenced by others?)
Posted by Michelle Brown at 5:14 AM
December 2, 2005
slow food, nyc
I grew up a fast food kid, and converted to the slow food movement after living and working (and eating and sleeping) in a small fishing village on the Ecuadorian coast for two months. There, I experienced a sense of “living off the land” as they call it – eating and cooking meals without the assistance of industrial production. My food, for the first time, was not traveling thousands of miles to get first to my supermarket, then to my plate. We took long walks through the coastal mountain ranges, searching for sugar cane with machete in hand, ate what the fishermen caught that early morning, lived amongst the animals providing our staples. Our small world was completely culinary, “defined by particular coalescences of geology, climate, history, and culture” as Barbara writes in her introduction to Long’s text. It felt so… authentic. Or maybe I naively idealized it as such.
In any case, it sure was world’s away from the “fast food nation” I was accustomed to. After returning to the states (to my apartment in Berkeley, CA – the perfect place to become a Slow food convert!), I recall taking an interest in the foods of my “cultural heritage.” My sister and I took pleasure in making “traditional” Korean dishes as passed down to us from my maternal Grandmother; I suddenly actively appreciated the presence of sashimi dishes during our Japanese New Year family parties. Food, for us, became a way of accessing (indexing? physically incorporating?) the past. The idea that the 3rd generation remembers what the 2nd tries to forget suddenly rang true: we wanted to remember what my parent’s generation had chosen to dismiss. My mother always wrote off the idealized notion of “living off the land” as she had grown up on a farm in the central Californian valley and her family’s livelihood was contingent on the erratic nature of the agriculture market – she fought hard for her stable suburban existence, complete with easy access to goods and quick, reliable meals.
Culinary tourism seems to open up a space for true food – and, possibly, cultural – appreciation. If one is not hedonistically set on jetsetting across locales, then one can cultivate an appreciation for the labor, pleasure, time, and secrets that go into preparing a meal for someone else. And the goals of the slow food movement could be integrated into the project of culinary tourism. Food, as the leaders of Slow Food like to point out, is the stuff – cross-culturally – that makes us whole. We all need to eat to survive, so what kind of politics can be predicated on food-appreciation? As Pollan points out, the anti-globalization and anti-free trade movements might consider how eating with awareness (eating locally, organically, naturally, etc) can itself be a small (and pleasurable) political act.
Nonetheless, one wonders to what extent Slow Food and culinary tourism are habits of an elite class of individuals who can afford to buy outside the box. There are many who are simply too overworked and underpaid to purchase heritage turkeys. As the movement develops, it will be interesting to see what sort of programs are developed to take this economic disparity into account.
**If I can find it, I’ll bring in guidebook I found called “The Slow Food Guide to New York City.”**
Posted by Brynn Noelle Saito at 10:05 PM
My Normal Friday Night - Food-Filled!
Expanding upon the response I made to Justine's posting, albeit this time in a non-defensive mode, I wanted to bring up, and tease out a little bit, the idea of gastronomy as related to chronology.
Or, to put it plainly - the issue of food & time.
Despite what (m)any of you may have observed of my eating habits, I enjoy a long, filling, healthy, gourmet, delectable meal as much as anybody else (though, I will freely admit, the carniverous side of me usually desires some kind of fish or fowl as a part of that meal). I find that eating is an experience that not only can help you get aquainted with a foreign culture, but also a foreign person - cross-culturally, meals are often bonding experiences.
The perfect example of this in our culture, I feel, is the first date, where we are generally advised to get a meal, or at least a drink, rather than go to a movie or some other event. Sharing the experience of a meal together, we get to know one another.
As a tourist in Italy (I was travelling with two college friends from Rome, to Florence, to Venice, the closest I have ever was to being a "backpacker"), the culinary experience was a vast part of "doing Italy." One of my friends was almost a slave to his guide-pick, hoping to seek out the "hidden treasures" that were "off-the-beaten path" (I failed to ever convince him that the fact of a guide-book-approved-sticker in a restaurant's window was fairly indicative of being smack dab in the middle of the beaten path). Regardless of where we ate, though, we very often structured our days around meals, knowing that we didn't want to rush what we ate for the sake of seeing any tourist sites - or, perhaps I should say, any OTHER tourist sites. Indeed, the only times we ate a quick meal was when that was the experience we were hoping for, enjoying pannini sandwhiches from "authentic" vendors.
What, however, was even MEANT by "authentic" in this context? We were eating alongside tourists from all countries of the world, especially including our own, at restaurants that knew they were catering to a universalized taste bud. Was the cuisine there thus altered from "authentic" Italian to be non-offensive to a McDonaldized world stomach? How could we even possibly know what "authentic" Italian food was like? Would we need to visit with a family, sit in on their daily repast? Or would our very presence at such a meal ruin the authenticity of it? Is it, thus, even POSSIBLE to eat an authentic meal outside of one's culture? Perhaps the food itself can be "authentic," but one gets the feeling of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in an ethnographic context, at work here - simply by being present at a meal in a foreign culture, something of the experience is altered, since you have brought your own cultural background to it one way or another.
All of that is merely background to express my uncertainty as to what sort of "authentic" cultural experience one can have through food in the first place. However, I think that in additional to the cultural aspect of food, one also has to look at the very important biological aspect - you have to eat, or else you will die. Granted, it will take a while, usually, but eating is simply a necessity. Sometimes, you have to worry about that rather than think about the cultural and ethnographic repercussions of your meal.
This leading up to the following admission - on a one-weekend trip to Paris, I ate McDonald's.
The reasons for this were, of course, the corporate structure upon which McDonald's has built itself - cheapness, pre-known uniformity and familiarity of food, and ease of recognition. The first time, I needed to get something to eat extremely quickly while waiting on line for tickets to Robert Wilson's newest show to go on sale, and the second time it was very late at night and several of use were looking for a snack to take back to our hotel room (which led to, oddly enough, one of my absolute favorite memories of my trip to Paris - sitting in the hotel room with my friends, eating McDonald's and watching MTV Europe in a curious blend of French, American English, and BBC English - which I think is an odd, interesting, and somewhat moving metaphor for the tourist experience in general as I enjoy it - just to be very summation-atory in this last posting).
Now, these two moments, some may say, were sacreligious - to consume McDonald's, of all things, in a city of such marvelous tastes. Yet, in those two moments, they were the most reasonable option for the need to eat something, to raise my blood sugar level.
I suppose the point I'm dancing around here is this: How do we negotiate between the cultural experience of food and the biological need to eat? Is it or wise to experience another culinary culture, to experience a gustatory moment, but to do so at the expense of feeling well, of eating when our body tells us to do so? If there isn't the TIME to eat a meal slowly, should we feel like we are betraying the movement? Or is the lack of time merely indicitave of a culture that is too on-the-go for its own good, and we should slow ourselves down by slowing down our meals? Indeed, I have to wonder if "quick food" is an American concoction. Surely fast food developed here, as did eating literally on the go (a hot dog, a pretzel, etc., eaten while walking - go to Europe, it's a rare sight), and American is known for being on the move and fast-paced.
Must food and time be at war with one another, the tick-tock seconds of the clockwork kingdom mounting their gears and springs for an attack against the sizzling juices and vaporized aromas of pan-fried palaces? How can we negotiate between an on-the-move culture and the Slow Food movement? CAN we? Must one be sacrificed? And if that happens, who will win - will time be cut short, or will food be put on the chopping block?
Tick tock, sizzle sizzle, the war drums are a'beating, a'ticking, and a'munching . . .
Posted by Andrew Friedenthal at 8:53 PM
November 30, 2005
Food for the Road and on the Road for Food
First of all, I wanted to note the fact that so much of our experiences of food are related to smell, not taste. Our taste buds are far more limited than our nose in terms of the variety of sensory impressions they can process, yet we often describe our food experiences in terms of taste. In an era where so many scents or smells are artificially manufactured, including many “natural” scents that are copied from nature, it is easy to forget just how precious spices and fragranced products have been throughout the course of economic history. The question of “authenticity” surfaces in a number of ways in the history of fragrance, from current laboratory production of artificially simulated scents to all the way back to the precious nature of exotic spices and in relation to practices like the use of fragrance to mask such unpleasant odors as unwashed human beings (in medieval times when bathing was far more infrequent) or the fresh leather of a new pair of gloves. (The fragrance industry in Grasse, France grew out of the glove-making industry.)
Thinking about scent makes me think of the spice routes of old and of the role that food has played in travel and tourism. Marcel Proust would aver that the sense of scent as associated with food is a strong carrier of memory, both of time and place.
Although we have mentioned accommodations in a number of ways over the course of the semester I am not sure that we have ever focused on the ways in which all tourist destinations and productions must assure the accommodations for basic necessities of food and shelter, for visitors and tourists will not be able to come visit without their being provided, so I appreciate its mention in the review of “Culinary Tourism.” The inclusion of food and lodging establishments is a staple of all travel and these also serve as sites for tourists to interact with each other and as well with the locals who provide these necessities and serve them. In addition to adding “value” as BKG notes, these interactions are often almost a “hidden curriculum” of learning about a particular place, although savvy tourist productions like theme parks – the Holy Land menu and its “camel burgers” comes to mind – incorporate them as part of the crafted (nicer than “controlled,” no?) experience being provided. This was true in times before our own commercial era – think of how many travel stories are set in taverns or inns.
The nature of the food industry as one that rests on service, and the arena of commercial interactions more generally, bring up the issue of socio-economic status. What food people are able to acquire and consume is related to what they are able to afford and procure. Gastronomic tourism can seem especially decadent – to be able to afford to travel for the sake of consuming special dishes in exotic locales, thereby turning a necessity of the road into a luxurious destination and purpose of travel. Eating is also the ultimate “event” – one that is literally consumed and incorporated into oneself even though one cannot bring home a souvenir of a fresh dish – “the immobility of a coalescence-the specificity of experiencing it on the spot.” As a contrast, I am reminded of the short story “the Oranging of America” by Max Apple, in which he imagines Howard Johnson traveling throughout the country in search of locations for his motels. His vision, “the oranging” of the title, is that tourists will see the distinctive roofs of his franchise and know, wherever they are, that they are assured of a familiar standard array of services, including food offerings.
This desire for food that offers us expected consistency is one of the drives behind the fast food industry, as is the increasing freneticism of our daily lives and the speed with which we expect to receive typical services – just think of the local Starbuck’s on a weekday morning or a typical take-out establishment at lunch time. The Slow Food movement runs counter to this aspect of contemporary life, advocating for a re-calibration of the eating experience. It attempts to craft the experience of eating as a kind of “mini-vacation” within daily life, an opportunity to slow down and savor necessities. The use of the term “tradition” in the description of the movement is not accidental – Slow Food suggests that as a global world culture we have lost much and are in danger of losing more – we can seemingly go anywhere or do or experience anything with great speed and immediacy, but we have lost the ability to truly savor simple pleasures and luxuries. Perhaps this trend helps to explain the fascination with constructed experiences in the tourism industry – we have grown so removed from the ability to appreciate our own daily experiences and must rely on others to construct experiences for us. The Slow Food movement is smartly aligned with a host of issues that are in keeping with this: environmentalism, globalization, the endangerment of cultural treasures. “Paradoxically, sometimes the best way to rescue the most idiosyncratic local products and practices is to find a global market for them.” I find it curious how globalization offers these surprising bubbles that seem to act counter-intuitively to what we might think. Another, non-food example: the internet, even as dominated by the superstore super-companies, have proved a boon to used booksellers, who can now reach a huge audience of potential customers unthinkable before this. What other odd markets and synergies are created by the commodification of pleasure? Also, how do these movements re-align sense of place and individuals’ understanding of their connections to place in this new global world? (Since I live across the street from H&H Bagels I am reminded of the fact that they have, for a number of years now, shipped their bagels anywhere in the U.S., seemingly erasing place and distance with the help of UPS. H&H Bagels sold elsewhere commercially are typically sent in dough form and boiled at local establishments in the local water supply, thereby subtly altering their flavor. This tidbit (pun) suggests that place is still important and a significant factor in food production. Likewise, one can order anything from the Zabar’s catalogue but cannot conjure up the experience of standing online in the store on the evening before a major holiday.)
There seems to be an educational aspect to this as well: we must be taught to experience these pleasures and we supposedly will be attracted to activities that serve purposes both immediate and grand: “Eco-gastronomy isn’t going to save the world, but if it can bring politics and pleasure together on the American plate, the Vesuvian apricot and Delaware Bay oysters won’t be the only species to benefit.”
One final anecdote: I am reminded of stories of how concentration camp inmates in the Holocaust sometimes kept themselves and each other hopeful by sharing stories of meals and sharing recipes and imaginary feasts. This ability to recollect pleasure in the face of stark deprivation is a strong testament to the power of our sensory memories and experiences.
Posted by Leah Strigler at 12:43 PM
Ahh, now this is the subject for me. These two tantalising appetisers for this week have made me think that culinary tourism, or maybe just plain eating, is the area for me. A notoriously quick eater, I do in fact put a lot of stock in my...well, stock. Unless it has great gobs of avocado on top (I know you all love it, but I can't get away from the feeling that it is like a mouthful of lard), I 'll try it. And if you grew it, I'll try it even more. And if I grew it: well, let me just give you this little known gardening tip - snails love bok choy leaves so if you plant a row next to your lettuces they won't touch anything else!
This may be the subject for me because as BKG writes, restaurants "are prime sites of designed experiences, collaboratively produced." (1) More than just restaurants, family meals, dinner parties, picnics... sites of eating incite deeply held cultural practices, eating is an event and food links us strongly to locations, people, memories, sensations. If not all of us take our food seriously (and you know I'm talking about you, Andrew), we at least take our hunger seriously. The Slow Food movement remembers that consumption is pleasurable, when unequal trade practices in the name of globalisation have given consumption a slightly bitter aftertaste.
In Australia, our eating is highly influenced by the flavours of South East Asia - even if our current government has worked our international policies back into the 1950s over the course of the last nine years, the proliferation of sambal, lemongrass, and green curry paste in every supermarket extends the country's early 1990s persuasion to locate ourselves in our geographical region.
But if food can place us, it also has the power to let us travel. Through time, and place(s). Growing up in an immigrant family, food (preparation and consumption) was an important way to maintain traditions (living intangible heritage you might say*) and to activate memories of another place and to know who we were. This was similarly evident in our readings of the Smithsonian's Folklife Festivals - where national foods are always included. It may seem superficial, that the local foodcourt's 'World of Flavours' can give you an experience of having traveled the world. On the other hand, foods are infused with cultural practices and peculiarities of place. High-end gastronomically themed tour packages attract lots of takers, precisely because there is something of a place that reveals itself in its food. Food is sensorially enveloping, connecting us to a range of experiences. This fits right in to the end of last week's discussion about 'experience' - not so high-end tour packagers like Intrepid also sell foodie tours, as part of their get off the beaten track and really experience the true [fill in name of country] mission. Sensorially immersive = the real experience. And then this leads me back to much earlier in the semester and backpacking: maybe the backpacker's 'authentic' experience is linked to the fact that discomfort of the body (carrying a heavy load, constantly negotiating a place to sleep, locomotion through the place) reminds you of the body and requires the senses to be constantly on the ready? Tim Edensor writes in his article on walking in the countryside, that there lies a paradox between this kind of walking practice and its themes of getting away and freedom on the one hand, and on the other, a practice that requires the walker to constantly be assessing their body in place, matching it to compass, map and topography.
Quite unexpectedly, gastrotourism seems to pick up right where my Janet Cardiff research has ended. A meal like a memory palace -
PS - hmmm...vegemite...can't live without it....
* I hope you all noticed this on the Slow Food web site:
Stop press! Mexico - 25/11/2005
¡Que viva Mexico!
National cuisine to become UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
Posted by Justine Shih Pearson at 10:37 AM