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From the landscape to the table

The role of social institutions in the transformation of the tourist experience in the Island of Texel, The Netherlands
Du paysage à la table : le rôle de la nourriture locale dans la transformation de l'expérience touristique dans l'île de Texel, aux Pays-Bas
Del paisaje a la mesa : la función de las instituciones sociales en la transformación de la experiencia turística en la Isla de Texel, Países Bajos
Ignacio López Moreno and Encarnación Aguilar Criado


This article seeks to enhance the debate on collective action to improve the quality of gastronomic offer for tourists and to promote sustainable territorial development. We followed a case study strategy, with the island of Texel in The Netherlands as the observational unit. The methodology observed the ethnographic approach and implemented qualitative research techniques. Our study has four main conclusions : (a) cultural patterns and the local history path are key to understand territorial transformation and the ability to create new social institutions; (b) strong local identity and sense of community facilitate the necessary reorganization and transformation of local economic activities ; (c) quality labels are useful social institution to govern Common Pool Resources (CPRs) and to embed local food in the tourist offer in a sustainable way; (d) local food can guide and enhance the tourist experience of visitors when it is part of the cultural landscape.

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  • 1 The label name can be translated as “Real Lamb from Texel”. The reason for this name, as we explain (...)

1Nowadays, gastronomy is a key part of any tourist experience. In some cases, it may be the reason for the journey. Tourists look for meaningful experience when they travel, and one way to do it is by eating the place. To fulfil this wish is a difficult challenge for the host, and it can be harder if they want to use their local resource in a sustainable way. This article describes the case of Echt Texels Lamsvlees1 (ETL), an initiative that managed to organise and govern the local lamb production in Texel (The Netherlands), and at the same time, to include it in the local gastronomic offer for tourist.

2Our hypothesis was that gastronomy and tourism can enhance local sustainable territorial development with an adequate institutional framework that guides collective and individual actions. In other words, tourism and local gastronomy can benefit local communities under the right set of rules. We define objectives to prove our hypothesis: (1) to describe the territorial transformation of Texel from a marginal area of the Netherlands to a main tourist destination, (2) to study the creation of ETL and its contribution to the territorial development.

3Our research proved our hypothesis and generated four main conclusions: (a) cultural patterns and the local history path are key to understand territorial transformation and the ability to create new social institutions; (b) strong local identity and sense of community facilitate the necessary reorganization and transformation of local economic activities (c) quality labels are useful social institution to govern Common Pool Resources (CPRs) and to embed local food in the tourist offer in a sustainable way; (d) local food can guide and enhance the tourist experience of visitors when it is part of the cultural landscape.

4The article has four parts. First, the theoretical framework and methodology of our research. Second, the historical and cultural patterns of Texel. Then, we describe the creation and system behind ETL. The article closes with an invitation to use institutional perspective in the study of quality labels, and the need to link local food and tourism in a sustainable way to promote territorial development.

Theoretical framework and methodology

5This article focuses on collective actions that design social institutions to link local gastronomy and tourism using endogenous common resources in a sustainable way. Specifically, we focus on how local actors design and unfold social institutions to shape their economic behaviour to (1) govern a CPR, and (2) to create a horizontal network to unfold synergy and territorial coherence.

6Nabli and Nugent (1989: 1335) explain that social institutions share the following three characteristics: (1) they constrain and prescribe behaviour; (2) they can govern (using coercion if necessary) the relations among individuals and groups; (3) they are predictable and have some degree of stability. It is important to emphasize - as Ménard does (1990) -that any social institution includes an element of power; furthermore, these sets of rules “are not prior to action, nor are they elaborated outside the action, but emerge within the process of actor co-ordination” (Wilkinson 1997: 318).

7In this article, we demonstrate how these social institutions can govern successfully a CPR. CPRs are systems of natural or produced resources so big that would be too expensive to prevent any potential beneficiary from getting access (Ostrom 2011: 77). If a CPR is governed in a successful way, any appropriators can benefit from it without putting in jeopardy the system. However, it is not an easy job ; it is necessary to have a participatory process to define the new rules or code of practices, believable agreements and the possibility of mutual monitoring among participant actors (Ibid: 313). According to some scholars (Polman et al. 2010), the label or logo that makes any product recognizable is not individually owned; it is a CPR, a valuable common pool resource. However, the label goes further than the CPR, as Ploeg and his colleagues demonstrated (2012: 165), in the case of distinctive products, “the final products are jointly defined and promoted, the producers try to effectively establish power in the final goods market, and their actions have a significant impact on the well-being of others living outside the range of the CPR”.

8The third element of this case is the creation of horizontal networks with other sectors of the territory, i.e., tourism and gastronomy. The creation of vertical and horizontal networks is important to enhance local economies (Murdoch 2000). Vertical networks link rural space to the agro-food sector; horizontal networks link rural space to more general and non-agricultural economic activities, such as tourism (Ibid: 407). The nature and quality of these networks condition the creation of positive outcomes for the region and the actors involved. Brunori and Rossi (2000) explain that local actors can create synergy and territorial coherence if they develop both types of networks in any given territory. Synergy can be defined as “linkages between two or more entities, whose joint effort produce effects that are qualitatively and quantitatively greater than those produced by the efforts of the same entities acting independently” (Wiskerke and Ploeg 2004: 321).

9Our study follows an interdisciplinary approach that mixes social anthropology and rural sociology. We follow a case study strategy with a “critical empathic dialogic” approach to ethnographic practice (Hammersley, cited in Ray, 1999: 14-15). We use this approach for two reasons: (1) it is consonant with the interpretative paradigm in social science; (2) it enriches this paradigm by adding to it a critical element, thus balancing its relativistic point of view.

10The first part of the research was the selection of the observational unit. We reviewed literature and contacted different initiatives until we found one old enough to give a diachronic and synchronic perspective of the system. Once we found the initiative of ETL, we analysed any policy and legal framework that may affect the system and explain their collective and individual actions.

11The second part of the research was the fieldwork. It lasted nine months, six of them in the island of Texel and three in the headquarters of the Wadden Group Foundation (WGF). The first task of the fieldwork was the identification and mapping of local actors. To achieve this, we employed the snow-ball technique. The mapping process focused on a predefined area, the island, and sought to find previous or existing similar products or initiatives in the territory to better contextualise it.

12By means of physical mapping and categorising, we raised certain new questions concerning the participation of local actors in the creation and unfold of the label ETL. This helped to focus the participant observation on the key interfaces. The resulting data was also helpful in the organisation and prioritisation of semi-structured interviews and group discussions. The interviews focused on their opinions and experiences concerning the label, on the process and history of the label and the territory, and on any change that they had to implement because of the label.

13We defined three distinct groups: (1) WGF members, (2) actors in the initiative, and (3) external supporting agencies. We interviewed 10 WGF members, 20 actors of the initiative, and 8 supporting agencies. Participant observation of their daily lives and encounters at the interface was another important part of this stage. We were present at formal meetings (like assemblies) and public events (like farm markets or fairs). However, the most important part of this technique was participating in daily life routines, at the farms or at the villages. Group discussion took place through formal and informal invitations; these discussions raised issues that were difficult to bring about during interviews, and they helped me to triangulate data.

14These information and data were complemented with raw quantitative data from the WGF, the slaughterhouse, restaurants, farmers, butchers, and the municipality. All the quantitative information was crossed and triangulated with the qualitative information to generate a more comprehensive data base for the later analysis and interpretation.

The Island of Texel and the Texelars, socio-historical path and cultural patterns

15Texel is part of the Wadden Island, a line of islands that separates the Wadden Sea and the North Sea. The Wadden Sea is the main territorial reference for these islands, and it belongs to three different countries, i.e., The Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. The Dutch part of the Wadden Sea has five islands; from west to east: Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, and Schiermonnikoog.

Figure 1: Location of Texel and island map

Figure 1: Location of Texel and island map

Map designed by Ignacio López Moreno. Source:

16The island of Texel is the largest of these five islands with an extension of 161 km², and 13.576 inhabitants (Figure 1). A ferry line connects the island to the main land in the municipality of Den Helder in Noord-Holland. There is another harbour on the northeast of the island for fishermen and eco-touristic activities. The island is small, but the local community has created a wide range of landscapes in the last centuries, from dunes and beaches in the west coast, to forests and meadows in the centre and the east (Figure 2). This variety of landscapes is the foundation of the island’s economy, which is highly diversified and embedded in nature.

Figure 2: Cultural and ecological landscapes in Texel

Figure 2: Cultural and ecological landscapes in Texel
Credit photo: Ignacio López Moreno, 2012

17The northern part of the island consists of many small polders which main activities are agriculture, tourism and cattle-rising. The sheep farms are mostly located in the central and southern parts of the island. It is necessary to underline that almost every farm in this island is a multifunctional farm (Renting et al. 2009) which usually engages with tourism, green-services and social services.

18Texel’s highly diversified natural and cultural landscapes are the main support and outcome of its highly-diversified economy. These landscapes are not “natural”: they are the outcome of a long process of co-evolution between the inhabitants and their environment.

19The island of Texel was granted city rights in 1415. In those years, there were two different islands, Texel and Eierland. Eierland was an independent island that belonged to Vlieland until the 13th century. The name of the island means “egg land”, and the origin of the name was the colony of seagulls that lived there. During the 16th century, a sand bank grew between Texel and Eierland, which became the infrastructure for the dam built between 1629 and 1630. In this way, Eierland became part of Texel. However, two centuries later this process went even further. In 1835, Nicolas de Cock built a dyke to create a new polder, Eierlandse Polder.

20This story fits perfectly with the history of the Netherlands, a country literally built by its people by taking pieces of land from the sea century after century. Thus, it has been a pattern during the island’s entire history - the conscious construction of land and landscape to improve and diversify the local economy. Another example is the creation of the west forest (known as “Dennen”) between 1898 and 1921 with the support of the National Forest Service. There were two main reasons for the design and plantation of this forest: the strong winds that come from the North Sea and the lack of wood for farms and buildings. This decision transformed a wasteland into a new landscape that, first, offered timber and protection from the wind, and later, became a tourist attraction and energy source.

21This island also played an important role in the golden age of The Netherlands, since the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (United East India Company) use to load up water from the island an unload goods that later were transported to Amsterdam in smaller boats. The fact of seeing massive wealth passing by the island and leaving almost nothing for the local community left a sense of being marginalised by the mainland government. This tendency slowly increased, and local populations became used to do most of their activities by themselves. Nowadays, this has become part of their cultural patterns, and they tend to find ways to re-organise and re-design their practices and territories by themselves. In summary, Texelars are a strong and independent community with a strong sense of autonomy that tend to co-evolve with their territory to find answers to problems and challenges.

  • 2 An updating of these rules took place during my fieldwork. They employed an independent company to (...)

22Tourism arrived on the island in the late 1950s. The main visitors were Germans, which due to the events of World War II were seen by Texelars with strong distrust. However, the islanders opened slowly their island to the new visitors that were looking for a quiet place to rest during their summer holidays. Texelars decided to unfold their own regulations to avoid any possible encroachment of their island and the increase of inequalities among them when the number of tourists increased. For example, they allow any family to open a bed and breakfast business in their house provided that they also live there, and no one born outside the island may buy a house unless they have an economic activity in the community2. However, the local gastronomic offer for tourists was produced and designed with goods imported from the mainland. The next part of the article explains how it changed.

Echt Texel Lamvless, a label to link food, tourism, and farms

23The island of Texel is a well-known tourist destination in the Netherlands, as we said earlier. In this small island there are eight museums, 60 restaurants, 30 km of beach, a 5,600ha natural reserve, a 170-km cycle lane with 57 reference points, a 35-km lamb cycle lane, one mountain bike route, 225 km of walking tracks, one parachute jump centre, and more lamb and sheep than human inhabitants. Texel has 13.576 people, 13,500 sheep, and 11,000 lambs. 90% of these sheep are Texel breed. This scenario together with a strong local identity and an unsurpassable image is ideal for food tourism. However, the real contribution to the island of this economic activity was not properly rooted until the creation of the local label ETL. This part of the article describes the three phases that the ETL project went through from 2003 to 2008, and the path that the initiative followed later.

Texel lamb, a key element of the gastronomic and tourist offer of Texel

24Texel sheep have been in the island almost since the 16th century. Today, the line of the breed is a result of the crossbreed between Pijstaarten (a breed with good wool but only moderate muscular mass) and Leciester and Lincoln during the second half of the 19th century. These two new breeds improved the quality of both meat and wool. The name of the original breed, Pijstaarten, gradually disappeared, and it was finally changed to Texel in the early 20th century. During that century, the farmers focused on the improvement of the meat and bone ratio, and the sheep’s structure and size slowly increased (figure 3).

Figure 3: Co-evolution of the Texel Sheep

Figure 3: Co-evolution of the Texel Sheep

Coevolution representation by Ignacio López Moreno, Source: Texelse Schapenfokkers

25Nowadays, Texel sheep is medium-sized and lambs once a year. The ratio of lamb is 1.8 per birth. It has a high carcass performance and optimum meat marbling; the fat deposition is excellent. Their body is thick and beam-shaped. The head and legs do not have any wool on them, but are covered with white hair. The quality of the wool is also good, although it does not represent the farmer’s main profit. The ram weighs approximately 95 kg and stands at 70 cm at the withers, whilst the ewe weighs approximately 75 kg and stands at 68 cm at the withers.

26This long process of genetic improvement and adaptation was mainly market-oriented; the local population did not use to consume lamb. However, it cannot be simplified to a “natural” process. The discussions and opinions about farming in Texel are nothing but simple. The sheep and the island itself are the outcome of many economic, social, cultural, and ecological activities that people have done, do, and will do in the island. The local initiatives around this sheep must be considered as an interface (Long, 2001), where the different interests, ideas, objectives, and perspective of each actor struggle. The creation of Stichting Texels Schaap (Texel Sheep Foundation) in 1970s is a good example of this fact. During that decade, the municipality and some farmers attempted to label the breed for market distinction. Aad van Heerwarde, a local slaughterer and butcher, tried to market his production under this initiative:

“This brand is in use since 1970. The municipalities and the farmers started a project to promote Texel lamb, but Goënga (a local butcher and warehouse owner from the island) counteracted and started with lamb meat himself. He never got his brand, though, because the municipalities and farmers favoured the Texel brand. But then there was so much counteraction from Goënga ... The point was that some famers and Goënga didn’t like it. That’s where the mutual battle began, and it’s still going on. Back then, they tried to “destroy” me, and now they need me.”(Slaughterer and butcher, 63 years old.)

27This conversation highlights two interesting elements: on the one hand, the roots of the project; on the other, the existence of internal tensions. Farmers and local institutions had tried to alter the way in which the lamb chain is organised in the island many times before. The project designed in the 1970s was neither the first one nor the last one. Indeed, the local farmers’ association was attempting a new project at the beginning of the 2000s.

“The situation was that the agricultural association had been complaining for ten years that no one was doing anything about lamb. I was on the board of this association […] but other people were responsible for lamb. After ten years, they decided that it was useless, because the butcher (Goënga) didn’t want to work with the slaughterhouse (Aad van Heerwarde), nor with the restaurants… and so on. Then, I made an amendment in the board that said that I would do it; but I don’t want any complaints from the mayor, or the local government […] I said, “I want to have the guarantee that I’m free to do what I want to do. I take full responsibility, but I don’t want complaints”. Then, the Waddengroup took control of the situation.” (Waddengroup member, 56 years old.)

28Aad pointed out two of the new system’s key elements. He said, “I don’t belong to the Waddengroup […] I’m independent”, and, “they were not slaughtered here, because we didn’t eat lamb on this island”. These statements underline two key elements of local path, the actors’ sense of freedom and the former lack of internal consumption of lamb. At the same time, the existence of many previous initiatives meant that the farmers and local institutions were aware of the Texel lamb’s potential; however, they lacked the skills and contacts needed to materialise the idea. But the Waddengroup’s staff did have the knowledge, social skills, contacts, and experience to fill the gaps.

29One of the main social skills necessary to unfold this kind of initiatives is charisma. The person responsible of bringing the actors to the project needs to be able to convince any potential partner. Social skills are fundamental for solving the type of internal tensions revealed during the conversation with Aad. Texel is a small island. There are 227 agricultural enterprises and 175 farms with different kinds of livestock cattle, mostly sheep; yet, there is a bottleneck in the processing part of the chain. A long time ago, there were four slaughterhouses in Texel, but new EU regulations in the 1970s and 80s reduced the number to just one: Slachtbedrijf Texel, Aad’s slaughterhouse. The confrontation during the 1970s between Aad and Goënga hindered any project’s eventual success.

30In relation to the actors’ sense of independence, it must be noted that there are more than 90 actors in the ETL supply chain, and that everyone is free to connect or not with the chain at any time; buying and selling is voluntary. The ETL is an alternative food network that can be combined with conventional food networks (Renting, et al. 2003; Sonnino and Marsden, 2006). In this way, any actor that joins ETL increases the number of markets that he/she has access to, and does not have to lose his/her prior connections.

31The second element refers to the increase in local lamb meat consumption. The project was not export-oriented: the objective was to embed the initiative in the island, and local population was one of the most important niche-markets. The ETL project strengthened the link between local identity and lamb and re-signified it as the most substantial part of local cuisine. The Waddengroup organised local events for the promotion of the lamb, and combined them with the use of the local media (such as the local newspaper Dit Week). This was a difficult task, for two reasons: 1) sheep-holding is considered a low-class profession in the Netherlands; 2) most of the local inhabitants had unpleasant memories about lamb meat. “I don’t like lamb. I remember when I was young, if a lamb died for any reason (and they used to die more often than I would’ve liked), we had to eat it. I prefer other foods.” (Store owner and liquor producer, 67 years old.)

32In summary, Texel sheep is the outcome of a long process of market-oriented co-evolution. This process’ last phase transformed this animal into one of the best lean-meat sheep in the world. There were several attempts in the island’s recent history to promote and differentiate it. However, they were unsuccessful until the 2000s, when the Waddengroup joined efforts with local organisations and actors to materialise a better, territorially embedded, supply chain. The next part of the article describes this phase.

Echt Texels Lamsvlees, the label that closed the deal

  • 3 This actor is key for the achievement of compromise among the appropriators (Ostrom, 2011: 317), si (...)

33The idea of creating added value by linking a specific product to the island was not new. However, Marc van Rijsselberghe faced at least the following two difficulties: 1) to convince sceptic Waddengroup members about the need and viability of the project; 2) to convince actors within the supply chain to overcome existing tensions between them3.

“Then, we (the Executive Board) discussed that it was 60% New Zealand lamb and 40% Texel lamb. I explained to Henk that if we wanted to do something about it, we had to promote consciousness that it was Texel lamb and that it was related to the landscape. We invented the system; we invited the farmers and decided on the regulations together with them. […] It was a painful process, because it took three or four months to get them to sit together and discuss the regulations. Then, we went to Goënga, and finally we had to find someone that could find the right lamb (Piet Douma) and someone to slaughter them (Aad van Heerwarde).” (Waddengroup member, 56 years old.)

  • 4 LEADER+ is a European Union initiative designed to improve the quality of life of the population of (...)

34The Waddengroup and the rest of the partners had to think differently to succeed where many had failed before. On the one side, they needed financial support; on the other, they needed to invent a new system that could include everyone in the project. The financial support came from the LEADER+4 Initiative. The LAG Kop van Noord-Holland en Texel and the Waddengroup had a strong and long relationship, having worked together for several years. After several meetings, the Waddengroup teamed up with WLTO Texel, regional famers organisation, and Stichting Stimulering Texels Produkt, a local foundation specialized in the promotion of Texel food and services. These three organisations, and the LAG, co-financed a project named Promotie Texels Lamsvlees.

35The first phase of the project comprehended the following three main activities: 1) market research; 2) the design of the future Code of Practices; 3) promotion trials. The research was done by the company Texelse Milieuvriendelijke natuurproducten B.V. (Texel environmentally friendly nature products), with the support of VVV Texel, among others. The research confirmed the project’s economic viability, and pointed out that promotion should focus on these seven target-groups: 1) catering companies in Texel; 2) butchers in Texel; 3) guests staying in Texel; 4) Texel residents; 5) potential visitors to Texel; 6) the culinary press; 7) potential customers outside Texel.

36The Waddengroup had several meetings with potential supply chain members. However, the first step was to contact some of the most important local farmers that were identified as opinion leaders. It took several weeks of individual meetings before they could gather a group of ten in the same room to discuss a preliminary version of the Code of Practices.

37This part was very important; as Marc said, “you may know a lot of things, but not everything”. The Waddengroup did not bring a predefined set of rules to the table, but rather asked what was necessary to make Texel lamb the best possible lamb. This pattern was replicated throughout the whole supply chain to design the final version of the Codes of Practices. Five years later, the Streekeigen Producten Nederland approved the code’s final version, which came into force on October 15, 2008. Once again, their practice match with Ostrom’s proposal, specifically the third principle to have a social institution to govern a CPR, which is to include the appropriators in the process (2011: 314).

38Thus, what we can see here is a wise and interesting unfolding of a new institutional framework designed with the participation of every actor in the supply chain. Once institutionalised, it became a tool for the island’s sustainable territorial development and to introduce certified high quality local lambs into the restaurants and shops of the island. The first phase of the project closed with 12 farmers and 3 processors in the supply chain, which was enough to move on to the next phase.

39The second phase of the project brought even more organisations together. Three new organisations decided to work with the LAG and co-finance the initiative: Duurzaam Texel, VVV Texel, and Cold Food b.v. This phase included a socioeconomic assessment to evaluate the potential economic contribution to the island. In this assessment, the Waddengroup created a prognosis of the initiative’s development (Table 1). They defined a starting point of 1,500 Texel lambs, which would then increase to 1,800, and finally to 2,160 lambs in a year. The report included the comparison between the cost of ETL and New Zealand lamb for the restaurants. It established that the cost of ETL per kilogram would be 15€, while the cost of the New Zealand lamb was 6€. However, the introduction of ETL meant that 95% of the added value remains in the island. At the end of the second year, the added value of this chain was calculated at 36,720 kilograms of meat times 15€, which would equal 550,800€. If 95% of the added value remained in the island, it meant that the initiative’s total contribution to the local economy would be 523,260€ per year.

Table 1: Prognosis for the development of the project


Year 1

Year 2

Number of lambs’ annual sales within the initiative




Carcasses weight on an annual basis (average 18 kg)




Net weight of the lamb to sell (average 17 kg.)




40During this phase, strong steps were taken to achieve success. The following two are the most important: 1) the creation of the cycle route which focused on the sheep; 2) the design of the logo. The Waddengroup, in cooperation with VVV Texel designed a cycle route along which several certified partners of the initiative were located (restaurants, butchers, farmers, etc.). The logo was first distributed among the partners to allow them to express their opinions, and it was then included into the plate that all partners would display in their businesses (Figure 4). The plate shows three logos over the landscape of Texel and includes the sentence Wij serveren echt Texels lamvslees (we serve real Texel lamb). The inclusion of Wadden Goud and Echt Texels Produkt in the plate adds the existing reputation of these two brands to the new one. This plate is usually combined with flags of the different organisations, which also helps consumers to identify them. From an analytical point of view, the combination of local and regional quality labels on the plate is the symbolic manifestation of an aggregate level of reputation (Loureiro and McCluskey, 2000). This practice adds value to each of the included labels, and manifests the existence of synergy and territorial coherence (López et al, 2015).

Figure 4: ETL plate

Figure 4: ETL plate

Credit photo: Ignacio López Moreno, 2012

  • 5 Waden Goud (Gold from the Wadden) is a Regional Food Label created by the Waddengroup in 2000. The (...)

41The third phase started in January 2005 and lasted three years. It focused on expanding the distribution, solving the problems within the chain and promoting the initiative locally and regionally. Two trading companies joined the initiative and were certified as Wadden Goud5: Goënga and the farm Hoogvliet. At the end of this phase, the number of farmers increased to 22; that of the restaurants to 32.

42In 2017, there are 26 farmers, three processors, five trading companies, 40 Texel restaurants, six mainland restaurants, and 12 butcher shops from outside Texel. The chain processes 3,000 lambs per year; using the figures as a reference, it can be estimated that the ETL initiative contributes every year 726,750€ to the island’s economy. Nevertheless, this number only represents the initiative’s direct economic contribution; the Code of Practices and the supply chain generate many indirect economic and non-economic benefits for the island. For instance, the simple act of letting the sheep roam the fields freely helps to maintain the special cultural landscape that the tourists appreciate and drive them to ask for lamb for dinner:

Sheep are very important for the local culture. […] They are used mostly for their meat. It is very cruel to say this, but in the spring you will see all these lovely tiny little lambs, and a couple of weeks later you will find them on your plate. […] It is becoming a big business: if you have a stable with some sheep and lambs, and you ask 3€ per visitor for visiting them, you can make good money. […] People want to see and pet the lambs, and locals tell them stories about them: their names, how they feed them, what happens when three lambs are born together (one is born dead). Then you have a little drink, and you have paid a little bit, and suddenly two hours have flown past. (VVV Texel Head of Marketing and Communications, 32 years old.)

43As explained above, the sight of sheep grazing the fields is used as free publicity. Additionally, it highlights the important fact that the ETL is a closed and embedded chain.

A: It’s not so important, but it does help [to see the sheep]. Texel is an island of sheep, and people know that. But people don’t really taste the difference. Texel lamb is not specifically from the island. It’s a very popular breed because it’s very fleshy. Heerhugowaard (a big market on the mainland) also has Texel lamb—but their lambs haven’t walked on this island. The circumstances here on the island are different, and this results in a different product. […] We created a chain from Wadden Goud for farmers who bring their animals to the slaughterhouse on the island, and from Goënga to us. That makes it special: the chain is closed. (Restaurant owner in Texel, 46 years old.)

44Even if prior to this project the sheep were cultural icons, they were not fully activated as resources. Once again, we can see here a process of embedded commoditisation of a product within the local ecology, economy, and culture. For some authors (van der Ploeg et al. 2000), rural development is the creation of “new” activities reorganising existing endogenous resources in a profitable and more sustainable way. And this is precisely one of this initiative’s key characteristics. An existing resource was articulated with the new demands of a post-industrial society, a characteristic of the so called new rurality (Lozano y Aguilar, 2012).

45Aesthetics is an important part of this success. From the moment tourists board the ferry, until they return to the mainland, they see references to sheep everywhere. The role of this ferry is very interesting (Figure 5). Boarding it feels like a transition ritual. Tourists leave their worries and duties in the harbour, and then the ferry takes them through a quiet and beautiful sea, where a salty and refreshing wind blows; they know that they are sailing to a special place. The whole ferry is full of images and representations of sheep and other island icons. Once the ferry arrives to its destination, the visitors are ready to experience Texel: they are completely conscious that Texel equals sheep.

Figure 5: The ferry and the sheep

Figure 5: The ferry and the sheep

Credit photos: Ignacio López Moreno, 2011-2012.

The lamb is in the landscape, therefore it goes onto my plate

46Quality Food Labels such as ETL are CPRs that define new rules for the game between the different actors involved in the production, the processing and the consumption of the labelled products. Thus, the process of setting these new rules was an exercise of re-thinking and re-designing the reality where the product is embedded. The previous system - as well as the current conventional one - focused on the exportation of live sheep to global markets, which also exported most of the added value.

Well, in the past more lambs went to the mainland. Now more lambs stay here. That's for Texel generally. Before, many lambs used to go to the market in Leiden or Purmerend. I think 80%. This is different now because more lambs are sold on this island because of Wadden Goud. Nowadays, 60% goes to the mainland and 40% stays here; for the whole island, not for this project. Within the project 40% goes to the mainland while 60% stays here. (Farmer, 47 years old.)

47The next figure is rooted in the distinction between system of resources and units of resources proposed by Ostrom (2011: 77). It helps to understand the sustainability and high level of governance of the CPR. The system follows a clear line and comprises five groups of actors: farmers, a trader, a slaughterer, a butcher, and consumers or places of consumption. The first and the last links can increase in number, but the trader, slaughterer, and butcher are each limited to one.

Figure 6: The ETL supply chain

Figure 6: The ETL supply chain

Representation created by Ignacio López Moreno

48The straight red lines are the straight movements of products performed by the actors of the chain, while the dotted red line is followed by contracted actors from outside the chain. The black lines are the contracts that sustain the system and are held between two parties or categories of actors, never more. These contracts divide the Code of Practices into individual duties; the Waddengroup is responsible for the auditing of all the actors in the chain. The final link of the chain, the consumers, has an unsigned contract represented by the initiative logo.

49This label assures the quality of the product that they are going to consume and can be acquired within the initiative’s venues (butcher shops) or can be consumed within the initiative venue (in restaurants) or outside. Goënga, Aad, the butchers and several shops sell to individual consumers on their own, but Goënga went further and opened his own online shop.

50The system works respecting the key stone, the sheep cycle. Thus, the system begins to work two weeks before Easter and stops at the end of the year, its workings being based on demand. Restaurants and shops send their requests to Goënga who in turn calculates the number of lambs that will be needed that week. Goënga then sends that number to Piet Douma (the trader) who already knows where to find the requested number of lambs with the proper quality. Once the trader has decided where to buy them, he phones the farmers to inform them of the day he will come to collect the lambs; this is one of the most sensitive moments of the system since he must select only the right lambs (Figure 7).

Figure 7: The pre-loading selection and transportation of the lamb

Figure 7: The pre-loading selection and transportation of the lamb

Credit photos: Ignacio López Moreno, 2012

51Due to the sensitivity of this part of the chain, the Waddengroup had to find a “specialist” such as Piet Douma, who used to be a butcher before he became a trader as well as having previous experience as a livestock trader and has lived on the island for over 25 years. It means that he not only “sees” what´s under the wool but he knows the production cycle of the different farmers. Every time he buys a lamb he must inspect it by checking the animal’s structure as well as pressing his back to feel its muscles. To do so, he observes how the lamb walks and runs. Then, he encloses them in a small provisional fence and one by one he checks the muscles by adding pressure to their back. The last part of the selection is to check the hoofs and teeth to evaluate how much they moved and ate. He takes the number requested by Goënga as a maximum, but not as an obligation. If not enough lambs pass the test, he goes on to another farm.

52Once Piet has the lambs that Goënga requested, he drives them by truck to a barn near the slaughterhouse where they will spend the night. On the next morning around five, he picks them up and drives them 2 km down the road to the slaughterhouse. Once in the slaughterhouse, Aad sacrifices and cuts the lamb according to Goënga´s instructions. The lamb is weighed and placed in a cold chamber to preserve it until Goënga needs them; then Goënga collects and prepares the lambs that are required each day.

53The final destination of the lamb is to be cooked in the restaurants or bought from the butcher’s shops. The restaurants of the island are the main way of consumption. There are 40 restaurants where consumers can enjoy ETL, which covers a wide range of prices for different consumers’ budgets. This ensures that the lamb can be part of the gastronomic experience of any tourist. Besides the butcher’s shops and other physical shops however, Goënga created an online shop four years ago. Nowadays, consumers from around the world can choose the part and quantity of ETL that they wish to receive in their homes. In this way, people that enjoyed the lamb on the island during their holidays, can buy and cook it at home wherever and whenever they want. Thus Goënga covers the market for nostalgia.

Texel is satisfied. All the people know us here after 30 years of existence. But through the Internet everyone can find you. Everyday 5 or 6 boxes of products go to the mainland. […] 2 years ago, it (internet sales) was zero, and now it’s 10% to 15%. (Manager of Goënga, 50 years old.)

54In summary, with this system, more than 3,000 lambs are transformed into added value every year in Texel. The system is under review right now, since the demand is increasing, and the potential number of lambs is 11,000 per year. There are disagreements about the path to follow, but what seems clear is that the initiative has engaged with the local population and the essence of the island. In this sense, it seems clear that institutional frameworks can successfully combine local gastronomy and tourist experiences. Local communities can follow this path and design new systems that link food, tourism, and places in a sustainable and locally embedded way (Lozano and Aguilar, 2012).


55This article focuses on the analysis of a local initiative to activate local lamb as part of the gastronomic offer for the local population and tourists. The research hypothesis was that gastronomy and tourism can enhance local sustainable territorial development if adequate institutional framework is introduced. We define two objectives to prove our hypothesis: (1) to describe the territorial transformation of Texel from a marginal area of the Netherlands into a main tourist destination, (2) to study the creation of ETL and its contribution to the territorial development.

56Our research proved our hypothesis true and generated four main conclusions: (a) cultural patterns and local history are key to understand territorial transformation and the ability to create new social institutions; (b) strong local identity and sense of community facilitate the necessary reorganization and transformation of local economic activities (c) quality labels are useful social institution to govern Common Pool Resources (CPRs) and to embed local food in the tourist offer in a sustainable way; (d) local food can guide and enhance the tourist experience of visitors when it is part of the cultural landscape.

57This case highlights the complexity and uniqueness of this kind of initiatives, and the potential of CPRs as institutional frameworks to promote sustainable territorial development rooted in distinctive local products. The engagement of local gastronomy and tourism is not a “natural” process; they require complex and conscious collective actions. However, more research is still needed to understand the wide variety of experiences that are taking place throughout Europe. In this sense, it is necessary to enhance efforts in the construction of regional systemic studies that help us to find cultural patterns and socio-economic and historical paths in the regions of Europe. This will help local actors and governments to understand the strategies and lines that may be adequate for them.

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1 The label name can be translated as “Real Lamb from Texel”. The reason for this name, as we explain later, was the amount of lamb brought from abroad and sold by restaurants and butchers as “ local “.

2 An updating of these rules took place during my fieldwork. They employed an independent company to implement a survey among the local population about the future of the island. The use of land in Texel is a strong topic for discussion among Texelars, since farming, housing, nature and tourism need to be in balance to assure sustainable development and a good quality of life. In Texel, the local government make decisions every day, but these decisions cannot put in jeopardy these long-term agreements. This is a perfect example of how collective and constitutional elections (Ostrom 2011: 323) are deeply rooted in the cultural patterns and practices of Texel. According to Bates (cited by Ostrom Ibid: 97), the existence of trust and a strong sense of community are the necessary ingredients to be able to provide the group with new social institutions to solve new problems.

3 This actor is key for the achievement of compromise among the appropriators (Ostrom, 2011: 317), since he brings a strong local leadership to the project, which become an important asset to the initiative. In other words, more people join because they trust him.

4 LEADER+ is a European Union initiative designed to improve the quality of life of the population of the countryside and to attract young people into the rural economy, by implementing a set of actions which will meet both the national and community priorities (

5 Waden Goud (Gold from the Wadden) is a Regional Food Label created by the Waddengroup in 2000. The label works as an umbrella for many local goods and services, which are also connected among them through the label and local supermarkets.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1: Location of Texel and island map
Credits Map designed by Ignacio López Moreno. Source:
File image/png, 891k
Title Figure 2: Cultural and ecological landscapes in Texel
File image/png, 2.2M
Title Figure 3: Co-evolution of the Texel Sheep
Credits Coevolution representation by Ignacio López Moreno, Source: Texelse Schapenfokkers
File image/png, 573k
Title Figure 4: ETL plate
Credits Credit photo: Ignacio López Moreno, 2012
File image/jpeg, 23k
Title Figure 5: The ferry and the sheep
Credits Credit photos: Ignacio López Moreno, 2011-2012.
File image/png, 2.5M
Title Figure 6: The ETL supply chain
Credits Representation created by Ignacio López Moreno
File image/png, 153k
Title Figure 7: The pre-loading selection and transportation of the lamb
Credits Credit photos: Ignacio López Moreno, 2012
File image/png, 2.5M
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Electronic reference

Ignacio López Moreno and Encarnación Aguilar Criado, « From the landscape to the table », Anthropology of food [Online], 13 | 2018, Online since 03 July 2018, connection on 22 July 2018. URL :

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About the authors

Ignacio López Moreno

anthropologist, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Unidad Lerma-Dpt. Procesos Sociales,

Encarnación Aguilar Criado

anthropologist, Universidad de Sevilla-Dpt. Antropología Social,

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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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