I'm suddenly feeling hungry...
Tourist Productions Blog #9
April 13, 2007
Food and tourism are so completely intertwined it is easy to forget that the impact of a food culture alone upon a greater given cultural identity is not only hugely influential to the tourist industry but to all conceptions of traditional heritages across the world. Food is necessary in everyday life but becomes all the more of a focus during vacations and travel to foreign locales. Even when food is not the sole purpose of a tourist experience, it is most definitely a means by which a tourist can experience the essence of a place. There is something about the intense sensory experience (smell, sight, taste) of alien food that is unmatched by any other form of tourism. All the senses are engaged in this kind of (gastro) tourism, which adds to the making of memory, thereby “adding value and profit to an essential service” (BKG). I think that all tourism is in one way or another about food, although making food an entire tour purpose is a different (socioeconomic) matter. It is hard to imagine a tourist in France decidedly avoiding crepes, baguettes and warm goat cheese salads in favor of a corporate chain meal from McDonalds. Although this certainly happens, a prime objective of many tourist experiences is to involve all the senses in taking in the culture, food being a particularly potent way to achieve the total affect. The difference between location tourism (be it monuments, theme parks, museums or entire towns) and gastrotourism lies in the objective. When I travel with my family in various parts of the world, sampling the local foods is a given (and desired) activity; however, it is not the total structural focus. There are definitely meals on the go, American-style diners and other completely inauthentic food choices that are based upon convenience in favor of fitting in the other traditional phenomenon available to us as tourists. Gastrotourism involves a complete food-centric structure and thereby a very specific, politically charged mode of tourism.
Food has such power in shaping individual as well as collective identity. Gastrotourism is a particularly interesting phenomenon because it takes what is already a prominent aspect of most other forms of tourism and makes it THE epicenter of travel life for the tourist. The slow food movement, while definitely elitist, exhibits a way of responding to the fast-paced transnational world, that is both environmentally (as far as preservation of endangered food products and the cultures to which they belong) friendly and delectable,” The movement understands that every set of genes on its Ark of Taste encodes not only a set of biological traits but a set of cultural practices as well, and in some cases even a way of life…Food teaches a specific, irreplaceable mode that a particular people have devised for living on, and off, a particular corner of the earth. Save the genes, and you help save the land and the culture as well” (Cruising on the Ark of Taste, p76). The response to attacks on the slow food movement has been to point out the importance of cultural preservation by means of enjoyment and appreciation of consumption of “authentic foods” and taking the time to make the most of the culinary phenomenon in all its stages from start to finish. The slow food movement is a paradox because it is based on a premise that is counter to efficiency and affordability; however, it claims to be the best (and only) means of preserving “biodiversity” such that appreciation of the finer things in life becomes readily available to all. Is it though? The U.S. has the worst problem with obesity of any country in the world, due in no small part to the vast numbers of fast food chains spread throughout the nation. Would the people outside of the middle class in the U.S. likely respond to a system of eating that openly labels itself “slow” and admits to be expensive? Fast food is (abhorrent, I agree) successful because it reaffirms a certain way of life and for many is the only affordable option. It is kind of counter-intuitive to imagine the something like the slow food movement gaining ground in the U.S. given the all-encompassing American credo that is based on time saving, efficiency-oriented strategies governing all ways of living. It seems that the slow food movement, while fascinating in its purpose, is not a realistic option for people beyond (or realistically even within) a certain class bracket. As far as gastrotourism goes, the entire concept is by necessity geared toward the leisure classes; those who have the time and income to embark upon a kind of tourism completely based upon the enjoyment of prolonged, savored pleasure that is exemplified by the slow food movement. Although, the snob in me loves the idea of being a tourist whose sole purpose is to savor her way through the foods of the world, I cannot divorce myself from the discomfort of that oh-so bourgeois concept.