December 4, 2005
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 December 4, 2005 12:56 PM