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On Culinary Tourism
The first lecture in the class I'm teaching this semester.
For the next few months, I’ll be teaching a class on culinary tourism for Boston University’s masters of gastronomy program. In the interest of open(ish) access, I wanted to publish my lectures and reading lists. These will be complemented with class discussion of the readings and viewings, my lectures, and the work of the students, as well as a class trip to Puerto Rico. (I would love to have discussion here, as well, in the comments, which are open to paid subscribers.)
I already have noticed that in preparing a lecture in tandem with a slideshow presentation, that my voice becomes a bit dulled—I’ll be working on that and I hope you’ll be following along. I’m really excited about the reading list for the class and will likely be bringing up its themes and texts long after the semester is done. This has been a necessary immersion for me into this subject that has me buying $30 magazines to scan one advertisement (you’ll see it in the coming weeks). The first class, being the first class, didn’t have any readings.
Over the semester, I’ll publish a mix of lectures and regular essays. Fridays will continue to be about cooking. I’m going to, starting with week three, try writing my lectures as essays.
For reference, this is the course description: In this class, we will work with academic and popular media to understand what culinary tourism is, why it has become desirable, and how it can change and adapt to conversations about cultural appropriation, neocolonialism, and climate change. A large part of the class will be about examining one’s own perceptions, biases, and expectations of gastronomic travel, and how these have been influenced by and in conversation with food media. We will also work to understand how to make media that is in conversation with larger forces and dynamics at play in the world, such as local economies, gentrification, and global power. Through a visit to Puerto Rico, we will examine agro-tourism and the tensions between lived vs. travel experience and discuss how food and travel media can depict more well-rounded visions of place—using economic data, history, and primary source interviews and experience—that do not privilege only the tourist.
“Could the Caribbean get any better?” asks a Celebrity Cruises television commercial. There is no mention of a specific nation or island; there is only the picture of beaches, blue ocean, and relaxation in a robe. The Caribbean is a stand-in for the concept of leisure, with no identity or purpose of its own.
Considering the richness of the texts, subtext, and imagery on the Caribbean broadly and Puerto Rico specifically—as well as the class trip in March to visit Puerto Rico—it will be a touchstone throughout the course.
But the purpose here is to unpack in general how the “myth-reality”—per Ian Gregory Strachan in Paradise and Plantation: Tourism and Culture in the Anglophone Caribbean— of a place’s cuisine comes to be and how it can be interrogated, as well as what comes after such an interrogation.
In this class, we will work with academic and popular media to understand what culinary tourism is, why it has become so desirable, and how it can change and adapt to conversations about cultural appropriation, neocolonialism, and climate change.
What is culinary tourism?
Lucy M. Long defines it as "the intentional, exploratory participation in the foodways of an other." This includes consumption, preparation, and presentation of a food item, cuisine, meal system, or eating style considered to belong to a culinary system not one's own.
"This definition emphasizes the individual as active agent in constructing meanings within a tourist experience and it allows for an aesthetic response to food as part of that experience."
When have you been a culinary tourist?
Is it possible to travel without taking part in the "foodways of an other"?
Tell me about your most memorable gastronomic experience outside of your geographical and cultural homes.
As Paulie shows us here in a scene from The Sopranos, often you can think you know a cuisine without really knowing it. Visiting Italy, which he believes to be his homeland (not the United States, where he's spent his life), disappoints him because his expectation is that it will be just like New Jersey.
His Italy myth doesn't match reality, manifesting most poignantly in his inability to order what he has grown up believing to be Italian food and being mocked by his companions. Our interactions in travel with food can often be the most frustrating as well as the most telling.
In Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Landscape by Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann, the authors write:
“How are lines of distinction drawn, and how are Euro-American eaters challenged to take up new, exotic dishes outside the culinary mainstream? We argue that, although the foodie’s desire for new, novel, and exotic flavors is indeed part of a colonial legacy, it is not only that, and cannot be reduced to a simple instance of culinary colonialism.”
A desire for Mexican cuisine in Europe, as I’ve seen on TikTok, shows a new spin on this desire, where a continent’s inability to sufficiently reproduce a food to a tourist’s desire shows a distasteful provincialism, despite the cuisines that are present. The U.S. tourist can feel superior for their openness and knowledge, despite it being the product of proximity.
Here Audre Lorde, in "Notes From a Trip to Russia"—the first piece in her 1984 collection Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches—is telling us about a trip to the then–Soviet Union. This is not a culinary essay, yet vodka and bread are through lines.
She describes in this paragraph trying to order food using a phrase book and the delicious dinner that resulted: white wine, boiled fish soup that was lemon piquant, olive rich, and fresh mackerel, delicate, grilled sturgeon with pickled sauce, bread, and even a glass of tea.
Lorde credits her "great tenacity and daring" as well as a waiter who brought cooks out of the kitchen to decipher her order.
One might not call this an "intentional" exploration of the foodways of the other, yet it very much is culinary tourism and has much to say about what food was like in this time for a tourist versus a Russian (to use her verbiage). It also describes an experience where one explains the miscommunication, the language barriers, and the inherent difference and the tension that creates. It’s this acceptance of a divide rather than the assumption that no divide exists that sets this piece apart from others. Lorde accepts her role as tourist, yet reaches toward understanding, describing scenes where everyone has bread, if not meat, and vodka flows. She observes the significance of universal bread, of life lived above the "breadconcern level."
The "breadconcern level" noted by Lorde is related to Dr. Hanna Garth's idea of "a decent meal," as described in her book Food in Cuba, which we will read. The contrast between tourist and local experience will be a major theme in this class, seeking to understand how if not to bridge it we can more fully acknowledge it—as Lorde does.
We will also see this in readings from Derek Walcott and Jamaica Kincaid.
What is a tourist?
"A temporarily leisured person who voluntarily visits a place away from home"
Who, most often, is a tourist?
• 71% of U.S. adults have traveled abroad
• 48% of those earning under $30K have not
• 7% of college graduates have not
• Women travel more than men, on average
• Black Americans are much less likely to have ever traveled abroad (49%) than White (75%) or Hispanic Americans (73%). White adults are also more likely to have been to five or more countries (30%) than Black (13%) or Hispanic (15%) adults.
—Pew Research Center
Is there a difference between a traveler and a tourist?
There are many hurdles to being able to travel internationally as a "temporarily leisured person," from the disposable income required to time to obtain a passport to education level to race.
The inevitability of experiencing what it is to be a tourist—a temporarily leisured person—is false. Thus, the notion that experiencing international travel for the sake of eating other cuisines is essential to being a “well-rounded” person also becomes classist.
This is why we will have a class on "place" writing: What it means to be deeply rooted in the culinary culture of one place and how one can still experience the "foodways of an other" under such conditions—what can that look like? What can it do that travel writing cannot?
Tourism is globally quite economically significant.
"Prior to the pandemic, Travel & Tourism (including its direct, indirect and induced impacts) accounted for 1 in 4 of all new jobs created across the world, 10.3% of all jobs (333 million), and 10.3% of global GDP (US$9.6 trillion). Meanwhile, international visitor spending amounted to US$1.8 trillion in 2019 (6.8% of total exports)"
—World Travel & Tourism Council
While the pandemic slowed tourism down, especially in 2020, there was growth in 2021 and 2022.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, "In 2020, 62 million jobs were lost, representing a drop of 18.6%, leaving just 271 million employed across the sector globally, compared to 333 million in 2019. 18.2 million jobs were recovered in 2021, representing an increase of 6.7% year-on-year."
The significance of labor and service jobs in tourism-focused economies is a key consideration we'll be discussing throughout the semester.
How can the labor involved in culinary tourism be made more visible? Would such visibility hinder the experience of tourism? Why?
Travel & Climate Change
According to the World Wildlife Foundation, "the entire aviation sector were a country, it would be one of the top 10 carbon-polluting nations on the planet. Air travel is also currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make. A passenger taking flight from New York to London and back emits more emissions than an average person in Paraguay over the course of an entire year."
The climate impact of air travel is staggering, accounting as of 2022 for 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions—a number expected to increase to 5 percent by 2050.
What are the alternatives? How do we explore and endorse culinary tourism without reliance on air travel? One class will focus on cookbooks-as-travel, the possibilities and pitfalls of using cooking to understand the “foodways of an other.”
In 2021, the EPA put out a report called “Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the United States: A Focus on Six Impact Sectors,” which found that "the most severe harms from climate change fall disproportionately upon underserved communities who are least able to prepare for, and recover from, heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and other impacts."
Is there overlap between who is able to be a temporarily leisured person and who is most likely to suffer the most immediate effects of climate change?
In this passage taken from the introduction to Culinary Capital by Kathleen Lebesco and Peter Naccarato, they describe the type of analysis they bring to the concept of culinary capital, which is what I hope to bring to culinary tourism.
The idea that we can only explore the consumption (or pleasure) of food and tourism OR the ills of it is incorrect. Both are necessary to actually advancing toward a deeper understanding.
Next week: Constructing a Food Destination
Readings: Part 1 Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place; Bani Amor on Tourism and the Colonial Project; ‘Fiesta Island’ advertisement on YouTube; “The Rise and Fall of New Nordic Cuisine”; “When the Next Big Thing in Food Isn’t Actually Next” by Ruby Tandoh
Friday’s From the Kitchen will be about how I’ve been stocking my freezer with specific sauces and broths that make life easy while also making it tasty! See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
Once again, nothing. I keep this section going each week to humble and motivate myself through the fallow periods.
We are going absolutely gaga for making dumplings from scratch, from the wrappers. Please share with me your favorite cookbooks and recipes for vegetarian dumplings and any dumpling accompaniments! We also have an Ooni oven so are doing pizza days—happy to hear suggestions for Ooni, as well!