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Tourism and Gastronomy

An Introduction
F. Xavier Medina, María del Pilar Leal and José A. Vázquez-Medina

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1The conceptualization of gastronomy has undergone a major change over the last three decades in the field of the social sciences. Some authors suggested that gastronomy must be considered as the study of the relationship between culture and food in contemporary world (Bessière, 1998; Scarpato, 2002; Poulain, 2011). These approaches set the basis to explore from a wider perspective on how social actors and communities implied in gastronomy articulate their social life around this activity. Thus, various influential discourses at the international level have shaped the conceptualization of gastronomy thereby affecting the types of activity that give it legitimacy. On the other hand, gastronomy and food in general, have always had a significant presence in tourism, given that it accounts for one third of tourist economic spending (Mitchell & Sharples, 2003; Quan & Wang, 2004; Mak, Lumbers & Eves, 2012, WTO, 2012).

2Likewise, contemporary social and economic global conditions have promoted the emergence of new ways of experiencing tourism and gastronomy. This phenomenon has restructured the sense of community, power relations and the commodification of culinary identities in the places where it is prominent. Thus, the relation between tourism and gastronomy gets more complex due to the constant dilemma that tourists face when approaching to the Culinary Other. Indeed, when performing tourism, subjects constantly negotiate multiple dimensions (often dichotomous) of the relationship with otherness through food as a reaction to global processes. Thereby, subjects ranges between homogenization and heterogeneization; between global consciousness versus local consciousness; between global culture and local culture (Mak et all, 2012).

3Nonetheless, when approaching gastronomy as a subject, tourism studies have generally left out the cultural and social aspects of this important economic and commercial issue. As the anthropology of food marches on, the relationship between tourism and gastronomy remains peripheral (yet).

4This fact may come as a surprise given the cultural and economic importance of gastronomy for tourism purposes in much of the world today. Gastronomic tourism appears to be a growing sector within the overall tourism market (Antonioli Corigliano, 2002). Food, therefore, is not only important because is a central element of the tourist’s experience, but also because it has established itself as an important source of the economy, but also of the identity of postmodern societies (Bessiere, 1998; Bessière, Poulain & Tibère, 2013; Hall and Sharples, 2003; Everett and Aitchison, 2008).

5Indeed, there is a growing interest in the social analysis of the relation between tourism and gastronomy. Nowadays, a big part of the scholar literature about gastronomy and tourism have been focused on its role as an economic driver and as a marketing element (Telfer and Wall, 2000; Kneafsey et al. 2001; Du Rand et al, 2003; Okumus et al 2007; Beer, 2008; Gyimóthy and Mykletun, 2009; Lin et al, 2011); as an element within the wine tourism (Charters and Ali- Knigth, 2002; Hall and Sharples, 2003; Hedke, 2003) or have been focused on the touristic experience linked to this activity (Hall and Sharples, 2003; Kivela and Crotts, 2009; Sims, 2010; Chang et al, 2010; Medina, Serrano and Tresserras, 2011; Sánchez-Cañizares and López-Gúzman, 2012). Another classification is suggested by Mak et al (2012: 07) who contend that the body of the literature about the relation between tourism and food can be gathered in four large categories: “food as a tourist attraction/ product; food consumption patterns, tourists´t dining experiences and tourists´ special interest in food events/activities in destinations”.

6However, the publications since the last decade (books like: Hjalaguer and Richards, 2002; Boniface, 2003; Long, 2003, Gandara and Schlüter, 2003, Tresserras and Medina, 2007, Gyimóthy and Mykletun, 2009, Mak et al., 2012, Black and Ulin, 2013) and a selection of papers (Bessière, 1998; Hall and Mitchell, 2001; Mitchell and Sharples, 2003; Cohen and Avieli, 2004; Quan and Wang, 2004; Bertella, 2011; Mak et al. 2012; Mkono et al, 2013) mark a new trend in the study of the tourism phenomenon. These reflect the growing need to transcend traditional disciplinary approaches to interdisciplinary studies.

7It’s time to promote social and cultural research on this topic. The aim of this issue of Anthropology of food Journal is to bring together from a critical approach current perspectives – mainly anthropological but also interdisciplinary – on tourism and gastronomy (including wine and other beverages), strongly linked to the local territories, creating a space for the analysis and discussion of gastronomy and tourism within the context of the social, cultural, political, geographic or socioeconomic perspectives on food, investigating and discussing topics ranging from the relationship between gastronomy and tourism to sensory experiences in the field. With this issue, using critical perspectives, we will also seek to delve into how the social actors involved react to and face the new global orders that configure the relationship between these two activities.

8There is a need for a broad and a contemporary comprehension about this phenomenon. But it is also important a reconceptualization given the dynamic cultural and economic transformation of gastronomy for tourism purposes in much of the world today, restructuring local (or not so local) identities, socioeconomic roles, power or gender relations, culinary identities in the places where it is prominent, sometimes in a positive way, but not always. There is a necessity for a deeper discussion and new approaches that from the anthropology contributes to a wider understanding of such active phenomenon.

9A critical research into the character, depth and breadth of this phenomenon is needed, and also on the opportunities that are emerging in the context of “glocalization”, where local plays an important role. This issue provides such a platform, and, in doing so, provides both theoretical and practical insights into the future of gastronomy and tourism as a contemporary social reality.

On this Issue

10In recent times, gastronomy (including wine as well as other beverages with strong cultural ties) has received a certain amount of attention in relation to tourism. However, there is little recent scholarship by anthropologists and other social scientists that deals with this topic. To help a better understanding of this phenomenon in the case of Brazil, Barbosa and Collaço present in their article a systematic review (2007-2016) of the Brazilian tourism studies regarding gastronomy in the area of Humanities, analyzing the scientific production of authors linked to Brazilian institutions, including also a content analysis of some articles and of the academic trajectories. The interesting results of the article show that there is a Brazilian subfield of tourism studies regarding gastronomy that is recent, growing and demands contributions from several areas of knowledge due to its interdisciplinary object.

11It is remarkable that, among those contributions, the authors detected a lack of contributions from anthropology, and exposed some serious problems of that, such as the superficial and/or instrumental use of concepts like culture, identity or ethnicity for marketing or theoretical ostentation purposes. And this fact is, probably, extendable to other countries and other anthropological traditions.

12An informed and reasoned use of these kind of concepts, strongly anthropological and which have a strong local and bottom-up component, would contribute to a better understanding of the links between tourism and gastronomy from other disciplines. As López Moreno and Aguilar observed in the island of Texel in The Netherlands, cultural patterns and the local history path are key to understand territorial transformation and the ability to create new social institutions; and, on the other hand, strong local identity and sense of community facilitate the necessary reorganization and transformation of local economic activities. In this sense, the authors conclude that local food can guide and enhance the tourist experience of visitors when is part of the cultural landscape.

13But this tourism development linked to gastronomy requires new ideas, new initiatives and, sometimes, new concepts. Neuman and Leer presents a cross-national comparison of how food is promoted on tourism websites offering information about Denmark and Sweden, following the initiation of “New Nordic Cuisine” (NNC) in 2004. This article exposes how these two countries have decided to promote their gastronomy by talking about concepts such as shared Nordic culinary identity (Denmark) or culinary excellence (Sweden). Far from the idea of a post-national food movement, the authors conclude that the Nordic cuisine is more an instrument to achieve different gastronationalist ends for these two countries.

14As Bessière and Annes points out also in their joint article, the eating experience that is part of tourism would appear to be the site of a range of expectations and representations, particularly in rural settings, which are giving rise to changing practices, and to new offers and modes of supply, often on the fringes of more institutionalized tourist development. They analyze the case of agri-tourism, defined as the set of tourist activities taking place on the farm. Taking the example of farmers’ markets, the paper aims to examine food as a vector for new forms of sociability between town and country.

15Food and foodways are at once threatened in a modern reality and desirable to tourists looking to connect with local food and its producers as part of an ‘authentic’ travel experience. But local socioeconomic development is another factor to have in mind, Kilburn exposes in her article how food tourism offers important opportunities for development for Southern Italian communities, struggling with high unemployment and the erosion of food traditions. Examples of food Southern Italian and heritage tourism highlight the potential benefits, but also the vulnerabilities of tourism-based revitalization initiatives.

16In a similar way, De Jesús and Thomé presents a qualitative case study focused on the analysis of the dynamics of tourism appropriation of the oenogastronomic heritage in the wine region of Querétaro, Mexico. The authors show the aesthetization and authentication strategies deployed by the local actors for the conversion of the oenogastronomic heritage into a tourist resource.

17In this same sense of aesthetization, Zancanaro explores in his article the aesthetic dimension of culinary art and its links with tourism. The present gastronomy allows the emergence of "classical" and "contemporary" types of aesthetic signatures, each related to a culinary paradigm. In this sense, the fact to consume aesthetic culinary works may be likely to participate in the tourist memory of a place, a region, a country… Once more, the desire of a real and authentic travel experience.

18Both (gourmet and traditional) can be attractive to the visitor. But to benefit from economic and social advantages linked to the tourism, the institutions and the local populations in a territory have to consider the cultural aspects and value them to organize the tourist offer. But it is also true that when a fabrication of the territory’s food happens on the tourist market, certain elements are highlighted, to the detriment of others. But local food is not always a touristic attraction for visitors. As Sigrist points out in her article on food heritage in Quito (Ecuador), tourists frequently mistrust the local food, and prefer the modern high gastronomy or the gourmet side to the detriment of the popular gastronomy.

19So tourism can contribute also (and it really does) to a social and image-related transformation of local food, foodways, preferences or images. Leal, Vázquez-Medina and Medina explore in their contribution to this dossier the local-global relationship established through gastronomic tourism and, more specifically, on the basis of the appropriation of traditional local dishes originating elsewhere by urban destinations welcoming significant numbers of tourists. In their article on the “pintxos” tapas in Barcelona, the authors show how the tourist experience is transformed and redirected to new imaginaries that lead to the gastronomic image of a destination being created on the basis of new dynamics in which the relationship between the local and the global, the traditional and the authentic, becomes blurred and hazy, and in which the appropriation of local dishes from other places contributes to transportation around the world of a different gastronomic image of the destination by tourists, who thereby contribute to its morphological, social and image-related transformation.

20In the last chapter, Otye Elom presents an article on the consumption of alcoholic products in Cameroon, where traditional drinks like palm-wine, palm-wine distillation or maize beer are sold mainly in rural areas. In cities, people says that is better to consume this products in rural zones, creating an incipient gastronomic tourism looking forward this traditional beverages.

21Although this issue tries to make a broad contribution by taking different examples from some parts of the world, we are still aware of the necessity to go deeper into research and case studies on the link between tourism and gastronomy from anthropological perspectives and approaches. More space are needed for the analysis and discussion of gastronomy and tourism within the context of the sociocultural, socioeconomic, political or geographic perspectives on food from critical perspectives. Fortunately, we are, however, at a point of no return for this kind of subjects and studies.

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Electronic reference

F. Xavier Medina, María del Pilar Leal and José A. Vázquez-Medina, « Tourism and Gastronomy  », Anthropology of food [Online], 13 | 2018, Online since 03 July 2018, connection on 17 January 2019. URL :

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About the authors

F. Xavier Medina

Director, UNESCO Chair on Food, Culture and Development, Faculty of Health Sciences, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), and GRIT-EAE/Ostelea, Barcelona

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María del Pilar Leal

Ostelea, School of Tourism and Hospitality, Universitat de Lleida, and GRIT-EAE/Ostelea. Barcelona.

José A. Vázquez-Medina

Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, México City.

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Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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