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From tourist product to ordinary food?

The role of rural tourism in development of local food and food heritage in Norway
De produit touristique à produit alimentaire ? Le rôle du tourisme rural dans le développement des produits locaux et du patrimoine alimentaire en Norvège.
Gunnar Vittersø and Virginie Amilien


Local food products, either new, “traditional”, or based on a specific conception of food heritage, play an important role in the development of the rural tourism sector in Norway. Building on different concrete Norwegian case studies, this article seeks to better understand the role tourism plays in the creation, or revival, of cultural identity based on local food products and food heritage. The paper uses the concept of the “tourist gaze” in order to analyze tourists and local consumers’ perceptions and appropriation of local food. The article highlights the consequences of the emergence of culinary and local food heritage for tourists in Norway, and concludes that tourism increases the awareness of food heritage and strengthens local identity, although these food products are not much used in ordinary food consumption.

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We would like to thank our colleagues Ane Christine Engh for punching data and transcribing interviews in the Food at Farm project and researcher Alexander Schjøll for executing statistical analysis. We are also grateful to all those who have commented on earlier drafts of the article and especially the two blind reviewers from AoFood.


1Associating food and tourism has so far not been controversial in Norway, a country where nature is both the foundation of the main features of national identity and the core attraction for tourism. On the one hand tourism research and marketing campaigns confirm that tourists visit Norway for its fjords and mountains, for its magic light or snow and for the purity of nature and water, but seldom for its food. On the other hand, food has often been considered by Norwegian people as a substance necessary to survive. “Food is just fuel for the body”is a common expression in Norwegian food discourse (Roos & Wandel, 2005), and a previous study about local food and tourism showed that Norwegian food tourists often emphasised the location of cafés or restaurants, their cleanliness and furniture rather than the culinary experience (Amilien, 2002: 63).

2Food heritage is then a new area compared to nature heritage. The foundation Norwegian Heritage was established in 1993 “to preserve Norwegian cultural heritage […] by help of historical vitality1” and in recent years there has been a progressive focus on food heritage. The promotion of food within the tourism industry was intensified during the 1990s, when food quality was launched as a new strategy for food production by the Norwegian Ministry for Agriculture and Food. “Quality” was one of several strategies meant to mobilise against international competition and a possible Norwegian membership to the EU, also related to ideas of using local productions as a resource or value. As stated in the white paper about Norwegian agriculture and food production in 1999: “In order for agriculture to be able to attend to important social tasks in the future, it should be interesting to take local resources into use for value creation, as the basis for income and employment” (St.meld. no. 19 [1999-2000]).2 In the same period, the importance of local food and rural development in the French tourist market was described by these words: “The heritage component, and more particularly food, is likely to be a factor in tourist attraction, integration and social dynamization” (Bessière, 1998).

3Following the example of Jacinthe Bessière and considering several studies reporting that tourism have had positive effects on local cultural identity (Franklin, 2003: 59), we shall observe some dynamics of appropriation of local food products and consider the effects of the recent emphasis on Norwegian “culinary and local food heritage” on tourist attitudes and everyday food consumption. Local food products are central to the development of a “Norwegian cuisine” within the travel-business, thus restaurants and chefs play a core role in the construction of food heritage. Although food heritage often refers to gastronomy or well-known restaurants, this paper will specifically focus on local and localised food products (Amilien et al., 2008). We distinguish between 1) Local food products that refer to short-travelled, products where relationship between consumer and producer is close; and 2) Localised food products (see Bérard and Marchenay 2007, similar to locality food, Brunori, 2007)referring to products from a particular geographical area in which they have strong spatial and cultural roots. In contrast to local food, these products have “culture” and “tradition” as added values. Local and localised food products are linked to agricultural policy, tourism and “cultural identity”, which make them much more pertinent in the Norwegian rural context than a gastronomic approach.

4This article will explore the following research questions: What role does local and localised food, as a tourism product, play in the development of food heritage and local food consumption in Norway? How is local food conceived by tourists and local inhabitants, and what potential effects may experiences with local food heritage in a tourist context have on the general food consumption and food heritage?

5After presenting the methodology and theoretical perspectives, as well as defining central concepts, we will give a general view of the institutional frame on which the development of Norwegian culinary and local food heritage is based, including the agricultural policy and local food market system. In a second part we take a more empirical approach following tourists, getting their impressions about local food and discussing the way local food is embedded in consumption practices. The third part will then focus on the consequences of culinary and local food heritage, emphasizing both the influence on everyday life practices and the emergence of cultural identity.

Data material and methodological frame

6In order to discuss the role of tourism in the development of local food heritage in Norway, we will refer to different concrete case studies in different tourist areas, issued from different but complementary research projects. This article is based on qualitative in-depth interviews with actors in the local food chain and informants’ comments from interviews and focus groups discussions. Two qualitative data sets, stemming from two different series of interviews between 2007 and 2008, focusing on local food and the way consumers perceive the products, were chosen to illustrate, analyse and discuss the research questions of this article. Qualitative data will be supplemented with references to quantitative data collected within the frame of the same study (see table 1):

Table 1: Fieldwork, field area, informants and methods


Field area



Food at farms



Domestic tourists

Local inhabitants

In-depth interviews



Mountain/ local


Ordinary eaters


Focus groups – food tasting


The “Food at farms” project

  • 3  “Recreational consumption as market for farm based food and tourism businesses”, supported by the (...)

7The first fieldwork (called here “Food at farms”) entirely focusing on tourism and food, was carried out in 2008 in the frame of a farm tourism project3 in two different geographical areas. Data material consists of in-depth interviews with farmers offering their own products in farm shops and farm shop customers. Altogether, 11 in-depth interviews were carried out with farmers and 18 in-depth interviews with customers recruited from different farm shops in the same areas. The informants (different customers such as tourists on vacation, visitors just dropping by or local customers) represented both blue- and white collar occupations, aged between 25 and 70.

8As the geographical and social patterns and structures of domestic tourism are quite different on the coast, as compared to the inland, the research took place in one coastal area in Vestfold county, south of the capital Oslo, and in one inland area in Buskerud county west of Oslo. The farm shops we visited in each area differed according to their products, services and marketing profile: In the coastal area they mainly offered vegetables, berries and potatoes while two farm shops of the inland area marketed different local food such as fresh eggs, herbs, smoked sausages, thin pastry, crisp bread, juices, jams, jellies etc. The third shop offered fresh raspberries and raspberry juice (see table 2). Interviews with tourists and local inhabitants focused on the experience of buying local or localized products from these farm shops and the appropriation of these products on vacation and when back home.

  • 4  Results referred to in the present article from these surveys were previously published in Terragn (...)

9From the Food at farms project we will also refer to survey data concerning customers’ visits to farm shops. The first survey was carried out in ten different farm outlets throughout Norway in 2007 with a total of 251 customers answering a questionnaire about motivations for visiting the farm shop and consumption of local food. The second survey data is derived from a national statistical representative survey, the SIFO-survey answering to what extent people visit farm shops and other “alternative” markets4.

Table 2: Products, markets and sales channels in the case areas

Table 2: Products, markets and sales channels in the case areas

The EuroMARC project

  • 5  EuroMARC, European Mountain Agrofood products, Retailing and Consumers, is supported by the 6th fr (...)

10The second fieldwork (called here “EuroMARC”) had a mountain perspective5. Data used here consists of four focus groups, in two different places, with altogether 27 people interviewed in 2007. The aim was to gather information about consumers’ conceptions of mountain food products, both for local people and tourists. One group consisted of ordinary consumers and another group of connoisseurs both in Oslo, urban area, and in Bjorli, a small mountain village. “Bjorli mountain food” [Bjorli fjellmat]has had an important food processing SME in this area (also with a small outlet selling cured meat products). In the focus groups, there were also references to other local products (almond potato, local cheese, see table 2).

11One important methodological issue of the focus groups was to taste products without naming or defining them in advance. The groups were made up of six to eight people, with a majority of women between 40 and 60, although we tried to balance gender and age as best as possible. Recruitment for the connoisseur group of local people was made two weeks before, and we met a dynamic group with extremely interested people, almost specialists, including local women with good cooking skills who knew about traditional food processing techniques. However, none of them worked directly within the food sector. They had no special interest in food products from mountain areas a priori, but they knew those products which they called “local”. Recruitment for the “ordinary” group was made the same day at a local autumn feast including a food festival. This was after all a quite special group, mixing two local people and several tourists: the mix created an interesting dynamic, mostly because tourists and local people asked questions to each other.

  • 6  Conducted by TNS Gallup for SIFO.
  • 7  Those were representative for age and gender in Norway, but not the first group which featured a y (...)

12We will also refer to a quantitative “EuroMARC” web survey6 including 303 respondents, where half of the respondents lived in a mountain area (local) and the other half in a “non mountain” area7.

Tourist gazes: a theoretical perspective

13The starting point for our theoretical discussion of tourist experiences with local food and food heritage is the concept of ‘The Tourist Gaze’, first introduced by John Urry in 1990. Development of local food in Norway must be seen in relation to the parallel development of rural tourism, thus we found the “tourist gaze” concept to be relevant when analysing specific Norwegian cases. The tourist gaze offers different perspectives for analysing the “education” of the tourist as well as the relations between food consumption in a tourist context and the more ordinary consumption in everyday life.

The first gaze: The institutionalization of the tourist industry

14The way tourism is organised greatly affects the consumption of tourist services and products. Urry underlines how tourism is organised around the vision, or gaze, as the ‘essential’ and ‘primary sense’. He makes a historical exemplification of how tourism was, and still is, constructed by pointing at the early tourist experiences of the ‘Grand Tour’ between 1600 and 1800 in England:

“There was a visualisation of the travel experience, or the development of the ‘gaze’, aided and assisted by the growth of guidebooks which promoted new ways of seeing” (Urry, 2002:4). There is, however, no single tourist gaze as such: “[…] rather the gaze in any historical period must be seen in relation to its opposite, to non-tourist forms of social experiences and consciousness.” (Urry, 2002:1).

15He further states:

“Gazes organise encounters of visitors with the “other”, providing some sense of competence, pleasure and structure those experiences […]. It is the gaze which orders and regulates the relationships between the various sensuous experiences while away, identifying  what is visually out-of ordinary, what are the relevant differences and what is ”other”.” (Urry, 2002: 145).

16Viewing the landscape by literally gazing upon it, as in the ‘Grand Tour’, has been a particularly attractive object of the tourist gaze. But Urry also recognizes that other senses such as sound, smell, taste, etc. have been important in order to produce “sensed environments” within the tourism industry. There are’nt only “landscapes, but also soundscapes, smellscapes  and tastescapes to be “exploited” by the tourist industry and explored by the tourist (Urry, 2002: 87, 146).

The second gaze: the staging of tourism industry

17Urry emphasises the binary division between leisure and ordinary life and states that what makes the tourist experience essential is what it is contrasted with, and in particular those everyday practices based within home and work (Urry, 2002: 1-2). Dean MacCannell (2001) is critical of this strong division between tourist experiences and everyday life, and introduces a focus on individual agency rather than structural ‘determinism’ of the tourist gaze. He seeks to nuance the division between everyday life as dull and ordinary on the one hand and leisure time as pleasurable and extraordinary on the other. The unexpected and extraordinary happens all the time also at home in everyday life, he states (MacCannell, 2001: 25). The tourist seeks to get beyond the touristic representation, and thus MacCannell introduces a second gaze implying that the tourist experience lies not as much in what is seen (in the first gaze), but in what is unseen: “On tour, the second gaze may be more interested in the way attractions are presented than in the attractions themselves” (MacCannell, 2001: 36). Further he states that the tourist experience for most people has a meaning that goes beyond the extraordinary sensation, and that (the second gaze) “[…] refuses to leave this construction to the corporation, the state, and the apparatus of touristic representation” (MacCannell, 2001: 36).  

A third gaze?: touristic products back home

18Urry and MacCannell represent structural and individual perspectives on tourism both relevant for analysing consumers’ conceptions and experiences with local food and food heritage. However, the tourist gaze opens towards many thoughts and questions: to what extent and in what ways are experiences in leisure time transferred to everyday life (and vice versa)? Could it be fruitful to speak of a third gaze implying that the tourist experience might have another meaning when viewed and reflected upon back home in the domestic sphere? What do tourists do with the local products that are bought from small scale food enterprises and farms? Are the products conceived as souvenirs, gifts or meant for other purposes?

19De Certeau sees the consumer as an active agent in appropriation and use of consumer goods (de Certeau, 1984; see also Money, 2007). He emphasises the ability of the consumer to resist the imposed meanings of cultural goods through processes of appropriation, or re-appropriation. Appropriation in everyday life of local food products must be seen as influenced by the intentional activities of individuals themselves, or as Warde (2005) emphasises, may also be governed by the social conventions of practices these products are parts of.

Figure 1: Three gazes of local food heritage tourism

Figure 1: Three gazes of local food heritage tourism

20Figure 1 illustrates potential effects on local food heritage from promoting local food in a tourist context. From an initial tourist experience with local food the tourist gets to know and may want to learn more about local food through a second, backstage view on local food and farming. A third gaze could be imagined through the virtual experience tourists enjoy “back home” which, in our case, implies an active appropriation of local food in daily life, or not. In this article, we use the model both on tourists and local inhabitants thus we believe that local customers also may have tourist-like experiences when visiting a local farm and buying local products (Cook & Crang 1996; O’Dell 1999).

21Before further analysis of such processes of appropriation of local food and food heritage, we will concentrate on the tourists’ own words and impressions (translating their experiences) and look at the structural frame in which culinary and local food heritage evolves. Strongly supported by governmental measures, local food products are promoted as part of tourism experiences and in different leisure contexts.

The institutionalization of culinary and local food heritage

22Local and localized products are often small scale manufactured mostly sold in alternative distribution channels such as farmer markets or direct sale at farm. After almost two generations of rationalised production and centralized distribution, such niche markets had progressively disappeared in Norway. This forty years standardisation is characterised by agricultural policies in favour of mass-production by national cooperative manufacturers. At the same time, retailers and wholesalers have standardized their ranges of products and rationalized their supply chains, leaving producers with no option but to conform. Moreover, Norway’s traditional grocery stores have increasingly given way to supermarket chains with centralized purchasing policies and a preference for standardized products. Over the past thirty years, the supermarket sector has more than doubled its market share, with four big retail chains now accounting for almost 99% of overall sales. This monopolized distribution system is one of the main barriers for small scale producers to reach the conventional market.

23However, during the 1990’s the Norwegian government launched a new policy aimed at the development of niche products and speciality foods that opened up opportunities for small producers to reach different markets. Governmental programs, as for example the “Added-value-program” [Verdiskapingsprogrammet], were designed in order to support small scale producers (Amilien, Schjøll and Vramo 2008: 35-36).

24Governmental and regional authorities grant individual farmers, as well as the organisation, “The Cockerel” [Hanen], with different support measures. The Cockerel is a rural tourism and local food organisation representing about 500 Norwegian farmers from all districts of the country, with the aim of promoting farm tourism services and products to domestic and foreign tourists. One special task has been to support farmers in the transition from producing standardized products for the food industry to production of unique or singular products for a tourist- and local market. This process of specialisation, or singularization, may include developing new products, new recipes or special packaging, labels and logos on the products, but also the pricing of products is important in order to make the products look either “exclusive” or “cheap” (Kaland 2007, Lotti, 2010). Lastly, direct sales where the consumer gets a chance to meet the producer face to face is an experience in itself and may add a special quality to the food product. When promoted within a tourism context, it is likely that local products appear as extraordinary and special as compared to food distributed in ordinary grocery stores.

25Several initiatives support tourism as a major tool in the development of local food products: Tourist routes that are well established in Europe (especially wine and cheese) also exist in Norway, as the “The Golden Detour” [Den Gyldne Omvei] in the heart of the Trøndelag area. “Matstreif” (an annual food festival in Oslo since 2005), completed by regular farmer’s markets are also important channels for food tourism. The Cockerel (see logo in figure 2) is presented as “(…) a sign of quality and excellence. Genuine food from the farm – when taste, experience and heritage are important!“8 and is to be found on labels on local food products and as signposts alongside country roads.

Figure 2: The Cockerel logo

Figure 2: The Cockerel logo
  • 9  Let’s note that, as far as we know, there is no direct relationship to the French symbol of cocker (...)

26The Cockerel symbolises the fact that Norwegian tourism is not only linked to nature, but also to rurality9. Rural recreation and tourism activities are close to each other and strengthened by the fact that more than one third of all sales within the Norwegian tourism industry originated from rural districts in 2005 (Forbord & Stætre, 2008).

27With this institutional perspective as an umbrella, we will have a closer look at how food heritage, and particularly local food, is perceived among tourists, local inhabitants and producers and what kind of comparisons and associations they make when describing their visits to local farms, farmers markets and local food outlets.

The tourist gaze and experiences with local food in Norway

  • 10 From Synovate MMI ” Norwegian food habits survey 2008” [Norske spisefakta 2008].

28In Norway, there has been an increasing interest for visiting farms and buying local food products as part of leisure and holiday experiences (Haugen & Midtgård, 2009). During their summer holiday, in 2007, about seven percent of Norwegians had visited a farm tourism business, which was twice the number from 1991. More than 30 percent indicated an interest in such visits (Blekesaune et al., 2008). Buying food at open-air markets has shown a marked increase over the past five years and the share of Norwegians who had visited these markets within the last month in October 2008 was reported to be 26 percent. The number of people buying food in farm shops was significantly lower. Only 11 percent stated that they had visited a farm food outlet during the same month (Terragni et al., 2009). In another survey 10 percent stated that they had bought food directly from the farm at least four times last year10.

29These figures imply that visiting a farm either as a tourist or local customer is a rear activity among Norwegians and only a small percentage (10 percent or less) does this on a more regular basis. According to figures from the national SIFO-survey, people who buy food in farm shops have a tendency to visit other “alternative markets”, such as farmer markets, and also show an interest in buying organic and fair trade labelled products (Terragni et al. 2009). Customers participating in the farm shop survey differ from the average Norwegian consumer in the sense that they reported a much stronger interest in cooking food and trying out different types of food, including both new and traditional dishes (Vittersø & Schjøll 2010).

  • 11 From deliverable 7, EuroMARC.

30In the quantitative survey in the EuroMARC project, we found that consumers mark a difference between “everyday food” and “special food”, and that consumers first of all expect to buy local food (or in this case mountain food) directly from the producer. Respondents were asked about places of purchase for different types of products, to which in average 95 percent of respondents answered they bought food at the supermarket. But when we asked the same respondents where they expected to find mountain food products, only 13 percent answered supermarkets and more than 62 percent either chose “from open markets” (23 percent), “directly from the producer” (22 percent) or “in special shops” (17 percent)11. Respondents in the same survey also associated purchasing and consuming local food as a holiday and leisure activity. To the question concerning which occasions they would buy mountain food products, the first chosen answer was “when visiting a mountain area” (25 percent) while the less chosen answer was “everyday use” (3 percent).

Local products in a tourist setting

31The farm shop survey showed that the most important motivation for buying food in farm outlets was to get fresh and healthy products, but also to get products typical for the place of production (Vittersø & Schjøll, 2010). In interviews with farm shop customers, farm products were in general terms regarded as of high quality. More specific they were conceived to be fresher and to taste better, as Mari, a seasonal tourist, stated: “To buy strawberries on the street or alongside the road rather than from an ordinary store is a little bit more fun […]. I imagine it is more fresh and orderly. It comes straight from the producer instead of travelling through separate storage and different places […]” (Mari, seasonal tourist, Food at farms project).

32For some seasonal tourists one important reason for stopping at a farm shop was to get special or typical products from the visiting area. These products, which were not available “at home”, would be used for an enjoyable meal at the cabin or as souvenir and memory of the visited place which is associated to a nice experience, as expressed by Olav, Mari’s husband: “Goats went round the houses there, and cows […] the kids watched how the cows were milked and everything. It was very positive. And we got fresh eggs, milk and stuff every day. It was great fun. […]” (Olav, seasonal tourist, Food at farm project).

33Olav and his wife seem to make an implicit link between the contact with animals and the food quality. They emphasised the short distance (in time and space) between production and consumption as an advantage regarding the quality of the food. In opposition to the “non-places” which Marc Augé (1995) consider as symbols for supermodernity, farms or local processors stand for these places of origin where people live and where products really come from. The gaze granted by the tourist experience concretizes the link between the food product and its local origin. This tourist gaze influences the impression tourists get about such food products.

34However, the extraordinary aspect of local products may diminish over time or be “rationalised”: a seasonal tourist explained for instance that there was a limit to how often he was willing to eat a cheese from a farm cheese factory just because it was produced in that particular place. He meant that the cheese does not automatically have high quality just because it is produced in small scale, and “I don’t buy expensive products just to buy expensive products,” he underlined.

From first gaze to second gaze

35The food heritage experience involves actually more than a gaze upon products: buying products at the farm is associated to smells, tastes but also social contacts and first-hand impressions, as told by this informant: “You see, it is very nice because here you can talk to people as opposed to an ordinary store were you walk about just picking things from the shelves. It’s almost like an old fashioned ‘behind-the-counter-shopping, where you can talk to… point at (the goods) and… I think that is an important advantage” Mette, seasonal tourist, Food at farm project).

36The “travel experience”, through farm visits, may evoke nostalgic feelings of an almost “pre-modern” way of food provisioning. This seasonal tourist underlines not only the importance of “smellscapes” and “tastescapes”, but also the contrast between the tourist experience and one’s ordinary life. As written previously in this article, culinary and local food heritage are not - yet - central values of Norwegian tourism experiences.

37In the farm food study, we recruited a couple, Per and Greta, in a farm shop in Buskerud. They had travelled from their cabin located in a mountain district some miles further away. Now they were on their way home. They lived in a suburban area outside Oslo. Both were in their 60s with grown up children. This time they had taken a detour in order to visit some friends when they incidentally saw the road sign to the farm shop and decided to take a look. They often stop at places with the ‘Cockerel’ road sign symbol and “if they have good products we always pay the place a new visit if we happen to be in the area”, Greta said. The couple told about several visits to outlets and farms with local food and said that they used to take trips to local farms and outlets at home. Per gave several reasons for buying food from these farms:

“It is this feeling that this is something that not everyone has got. It is a kind of exclusivity to purchase direct from a farmer for instance. Gradually you get to know this person and you get coffee when you get there. [And] you sort of know more about the products you buy, and you get a bit proud when you have guests and can brag about that you have got the potatoes from here and the meat from there, beer and aquavit (Norwegian liquor) from that place”, he laughed (Per, seasonal tourist, Food at farm project).

38They used to stay at the cabin during summer holidays and following Greta on these vacations they always stopped on the way to buy local food: “then we have some extra (nice) food that we do not usually have at home. (…) These local food products we can’t get at home, which gives us an extra pleasure to stay at the cabin”. After some visits to local farms they got acquainted with farmers and other food connoisseurs and were introduced to different products or places, such as mountain almond potatoes from Oppdal. Greta spoke about the quality of the mountain almond potatoes from Oppdal:

“I have now got acquainted with these products and wish to continue with this […]. I am very reluctant to buy almond potatoes in an ordinary grocery store because I associate almond potatoes with the ones I buy in Oppdal which are so good! […]. I think they have patented the brand “Mountain almond potato from Oppdal” [Fjellmandel fra Oppdal]. ”They have to be special since they have achieved this designation on their potatoes” (Greta, seasonal tourist, food at farm project).

39She emphasized that similar products may be valued differently when bought directly from the producer rather than in a supermarket. For this couple, what began as a tourist gaze on local products, guided among others by the Cockerel road sign, developed into a second gaze where they got acquainted with farmers and other food connoisseurs. For this couple, as for other informants in both projects, local products have taken a significant place in their social life, both when vacationing at the cabin and when having dinner parties at home. One informant at Bjorli told us: “I always buy some cured meat here and I take it back to Ålesund to serve it when we have guests” and his wife specified by explaining that: “If we say that the food is “Bjorli mountain food” [Bjorli fjellmat] that adds some extra pleasure” (Petter and Mari, seasonal tourists, EuroMARC project). Still local products are viewed as extraordinary, exotic or rare: they are kept to special occasions and do not enter into everyday food consumption.

A local gaze on local products

40The localness of local food is not only a question of locality, but also a question of definition and marketing. In the Buskerud area some local farmers, supported by national and regional development agencies and the “Cockerel” organisation, have cooperated for launching a common marketing brand “Fairytale taste” [Eventyrsmak] which distingushes food specialities such as pastries, herbs, cured meat, jams, jellies and local flour made of spelt grains, etc. These products are sold next to local fresh products such as strawberries, raspberries and eggs.

41If the definition of local food is quite complex from the production perspective, where fresh local products cohabit with localised and innovative food, it is not much simpler for consumers. A local informant from Buskerud, “Eva” (in her early 30s, married, mother of a young child) told us: “Here we eat food – we don’t talk about it.” Eva did not consider herself as a food connoisseur, and she seldom talked with her friends about food. She bought locally produced eggs from the local retail store because she meant it was important to support local producers and she was impressed by “(…) anyone daring to take a risk, and it is sad when they don’t succeed. But local food was not supported at any cost: “Products must be good and it must be something I have use for, and I do not want to  pay an outrageous price for something I can get much cheaper in another place” (Eva, local tourist, Food at farm project).

42However, she had decided that the theme for this year’s Christmas gifts would be “local products” and planned to visit a local farm shop to buy presents “because there are so many fine products from this place (…). It is fun to give away something which is produced in the same place where one lives in and which is good and ‘one of a kind’” (Eva, local tourist, Food at farm project).

43Eva found that the local “Fairytale taste” products are nice presents to give away, and especially the “Spruce shoot syrup” [Granskuddsirup] could potentially be offered to a person with culinary skills and interests. As indicated in the name, this syrup is based on extracts from fresh, green shoots from spruce trees which are widespread in the local area. According to one of our farmer informants, the spruce shoot syrup is based on an old recipe also known in other parts of the country, but because of the label “Fairytale taste” it has now gained a bond to this local area. From the information tag on the bottle, we learn that the syrup was traditionally used as a domestic remedy against sore throat, cough and sniffles, but is now also recommended as sweetener in cold and hot drinks and as flavour additive in sauces. Actually Eva had once bought this syrup, but did not find the right use for it: “Obviously it did not go with the type of food that I usually make”,she admitted.These “Fairytale” products seemed too special, and Eva had difficulties in finding use for them in her own cooking, but they were suitable as gifts because they were unique and represented the local place.

44With her local background Eva used her “backstage” view on rural tourism and thus seemed critical to ‘overpriced’ local products. However, this gaze also included a rise of consciousness in the sense that it created greater awareness about food products stemming from the local place, alongside with pride about these products. The critical eye of local inhabitants is often related to their conception of “reality” or how products are promoted as “authentic” local products. One of the focus groups in the mountain area discussed the promotion of a new local cheese called “The Mountain Queen” [Fjelldronning] which aroused strong reactions: “That is pure marketing. It is about to find association between cheese and place… No mountain taste at all, but nice name! (…) and the tourists buy it…” (Ragnhild, local inhabitant, EuroMARC project). Llocal consumers had tasted it: they preferred traditional cheeses but they agreed that the mountain attribute could attract consumers and joked about the possibility of naming local potatoes “high mountain almond potatoes”: “I feel that this mountain thing is fashionable: but for us it is not mountain, it is here, which is important” (Pål, local inhabitant, EuroMARC project). The frontier between the different dimensions of the product, that is local, from the mountains, fresh and traditional, enable local consumers and regular tourists to have both a first and second gaze on those products. Furthermore, several local informants told that the local food manufacturer has been important for the area, not only because it created employment, but also because it emphasized the local quality of food. This stimulated production of local herbs, as well as the revival of a local dairy, which launched several new products, as for example this controversial “Mountain Queen Cheese”.

Appropriation of local food in everyday consumption

45Fresh products bought locally from farms may well be part of the daily diet both when staying on vacation and back home in everyday life. Strawberries bought in the season may for instance be served as dessert with ice cream or milk and sugar when celebrating a birthday, but may just as well be eaten as an ordinary snack without any trimming. One can make jam and store it for the winter season or use it like this woman on vacation in the coastal area: “It is so nice to buy fresh vegetables grown in the area, and berries to take home and make jam with. (…) I have it for breakfast”. She said she did the same thing when visiting a local apple farm back home: “I use the apples daily. I drive by and buy these huge bags with apples, Aroma apples (the variety), that they got there. I eat them at work and at home, and make apple pies. It is delicious, a very tasteful fruit”(Anne,seasonal tourist, Food at farm project).

46However, as we have seen from previous examples, local and culinary food heritage is mostly linked to special occasions, and some tourists describe their use of local food as “out of the ordinary”. A tourist recruited in the inland area told us that: “It would become banal if it was on the table every day (…) so we keep them for Saturday meals” (Greta,seasonal tourist, Food at farm project).

47The woman was referring to special cheeses and sausages they used to buy on their holiday trips, thus, there seem to be a distinction between local products, often fresh, well known and available in the area, and localised products - small scale manufactured food specialties - which are bought from particular places and which are less likely to be used as part of everyday food consumption.

Tourists’ appropriation of “foreign” food

48Interviews with customers at farm shops emphasize a sort of “learning by doing abroad”, where informants tell about how their foreign experience with buying local or localised food products influence food experiences back home. If we are to believe our informants speaking not only of France or Italy but also Sweden, Denmark, UK, Switzerland or Greece, local food heritage seems to be better established and stronger abroad. Most discussions about Norwegian products ‘authenticity’ or ‘better quality’ led to experiences with foreign local food, which our informants unanimously considered as positive and enriching. When travelling abroad our informants taste local food and bring new products and ideas to be introduced in their own cooking at home, as told by Petter:

“Down there [in Greece] we eat local food. (…) and my wife brings some impulses and tries out a couple of things at home. “[…] well my wife does it, because she is so interested in food, loves food […]. She sort of takes notes of the things that we eat down there in order to look for it at home so that she can make something similar […]. But it is not everyday food. It is for special occasions” (Petter, seasonal tourist, Food at farm project)

49The food product is not only a material souvenir, but a “living” souvenir which can be integrated in the social life of the tourist back home. The tourism experience abroad brings a greater awareness of local food culture in Norway and may in this regard have both an innovative and “consciousness-rising” effect.

Conclusion: A real gaze on food heritage through tourism?

50Tourism is one of the tools chosen for valorising local food and niche production by the Norwegian government, together with labelling policies and diverse financial support to producers and processors. This has contributed to frame important parts of the development of local food and food heritage in a specific tourist context. Following Urry (2002), this way of organizing tourism develops a special gaze which affects the ways tourists conceive and use products and services. In this perspective, looking for local food products, local food in restaurants or direct sale at farm is part of the first gaze. Guided by the “Cockerel” symbolizing farm tourism along the road, tourists can experience farm life, see animals and taste local food by visiting farms which have been chosen and validated by the system.

51In the Norwegian context we have seen that this tourist staging has contributed to increased attention and interest in the general public towards farm tourism and local food. These farm tours represent an “extraordinary” experience as compared to everyday life. Local food products are conceived by our informants as “extraordinary” in many different respects, that they describe with diverse superlatives such as “better” or “fresher”. Moreover, both experiences and valuations of the food are usually contrasted with everyday life and ordinary food practices. Following Urry’s conceptual framework, we could conclude that what makes the tourist experience essential is what it is contrasted with.

52However, like MacCannell (2001), we also find that both tourists and local inhabitants do not necessarily only look for the extraordinary and the “tourist package” which rural tourism providers present, but that they also seek beyond these tourist representations of local food. In many ways the tourist object (in this case a food product) is a journey in itself: by tasting a piece of dried lamb meat, our informants go back to the place they visited. Food bought directly from a farm is a concrete way to go backstage: it is possible to see and smell the cow and to taste the cheese at the same time, while discussions with farmers give special insight in what politicians call “the story” behind a product. Food may also function as a concrete part of the second gaze, and as a concrete souvenir tourists take back home representing a sign of the place one has visited in order to recapture the tourist experience after the trip (Urry, 2002: 3). Local inhabitants who have another local view backstage will in some cases dissociate from the ways local food is promoted and thus think that these products are primarily aimed for tourist consumption.

53Taken together, approaches by Urry and MacCannell shed light on the potential effects tourism may have on food consumption and food heritage. Although we introduced different types of food products in our field work, as varied as eggs, fruits, vegetables, dairy products or processed meat, most informants kept those food products for “special occasions”. Thus local products are often ascribed a significant symbolic and social value which make us assume that: 1) the difference between everyday food and festive food is definitely a pillar of Norwegian food culture; and 2) that the recognition of a local cultural identity to a certain extent builds on exclusion and exoticism and not - yet – integration in everyday practices. This especially applies to local food products which often are promoted as ‘typical food products’ and displayed with fancy packaging and special logos. They are often thought as more expensive and seldom distributed in the most usual retail channels, which could also explain that most our informants do not introduce them in their ordinary food practices.

54However, following de Certeau & Giard (1998), these structural conditions, regulating the tourist and ordinary food market, do not inevitably have to prevent local food from being appropriated in everyday life. Consumers take information and bend it to their own taste in order to overturn the imposing power of the readymade and pre-organized” (de Certeau & Giard, 1998: 254).

55The appropriation is both concrete and mental, as tourist experiences and food heritage stimulates a cultural appropriation, when for instance our Norwegian informants make tsatsiki in their own kitchen at home, and a product adaptation, when the tsatsiki is made from local cucumber and farm sour cream. The appropriation of local food is both part of the first and second gaze, hence we ask whether there is a third gaze stimulating the consciousness of cultural identity? Local people adopt local products which have been launched on an almost specific tourist market. Visitors also adopt local products and tell about their experiences when they return home.

56In this perspective, the tourist gaze operates as a stimulus for one’s own local identity. On the one hand, there is a “self raising consciousness” and acceptance of local “cultural identity” among local inhabitants. On the other hand, this “cultural identity” builds upon the opposition to “tourists”, in a first phase, and to “those who have not been there at all”, in a second phase. In the case of “Bjorli mountain food” [Bjorli fjellmat], we noticed a process of exclusion, where local people feel they owned the local products, while visitors felt they owned the local products less than local people, but still more than other people.

57Tourism, local food and direct sale at farms give an added value often translated by our informants as an expression of pride for “cultural identity”. Observing our informants, we can conclude that the staging of local food products with the aim to attract tourists may both increase the general interest in local food products and strengthen local identity, or “cultural identity” linked to the very place.

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1 Consulted 16.09.09.

2  Our translation.

3  “Recreational consumption as market for farm based food and tourism businesses”, supported by the Norwegian Research Council Program: Area and Nature-based Industrial Development (AREAL).

4  Results referred to in the present article from these surveys were previously published in Terragni et al., 2009 and Vittersø & Schjøll 2010.

5  EuroMARC, European Mountain Agrofood products, Retailing and Consumers, is supported by the 6th framework programme for Research and Technological Development, Priority 8.1: Contract n° SSPE-CT-2006-044279.

6  Conducted by TNS Gallup for SIFO.

7  Those were representative for age and gender in Norway, but not the first group which featured a younger sample.

8  Retreived from, Consulted 16.10.09.

9  Let’s note that, as far as we know, there is no direct relationship to the French symbol of cockerel.

10 From Synovate MMI ” Norwegian food habits survey 2008” [Norske spisefakta 2008].

11 From deliverable 7, EuroMARC.

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List of illustrations

Title Table 2: Products, markets and sales channels in the case areas
File image/jpeg, 36k
Title Figure 1: Three gazes of local food heritage tourism
File image/jpeg, 16k
Title Figure 2: The Cockerel logo
File image/jpeg, 3.8k
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Electronic reference

Gunnar Vittersø and Virginie Amilien, “From tourist product to ordinary food?”Anthropology of food [Online], 8 | 2011, Online since 13 May 2011, connection on 26 September 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Gunnar Vittersø

National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO), Oslo, Norway,

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Virginie Amilien

National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO), Oslo, Norway,

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