Pascali on Long, 'Culinary Tourism'

Lucy M. Long, ed.
Lara Pascali

Lucy M. Long, ed. Culinary Tourism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003. xiv + 320 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8131-2292-2.

Reviewed by Lara Pascali (School of Architecture, McGill University and Jane L. Cook, Independent Scholar) Published on H-Travel (August, 2004)

From Kosher Oreos to the Heatless Jalapeno: Eating Your Way at Home and Abroad

"Culinary Tourism is shock treatment," proclaims Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett as she forewarns readers about to be familiarized with the new and estranged from the familiar (p. xiii). The dust jacket proclaims this to be "the first book to consider food as both a destination and a means for tourism," so be advised that this is a compilation of short essays by twelve authors who deal unequally with an exceedingly multifaceted topic. Lucy M. Long's aim is to provide a conceptual framework for approaching culinary tourism, which she defines as "the intentional, exploratory participation in the foodways of an other--participation including the consumption, preparation, and presentation of a food item, cuisine, meal system, or eating style not one's own" (p. 21). Culinary tourism therefore encompasses a range of food activities: from eating out at ethnic restaurants and perusing cookbooks for new recipes to sampling new foods while traveling (or not). As Long contends, the in-depth study of culinary tourism remains relatively uncharted territory. The strength of the collection lies in its ability to expose the complexities behind the seemingly simple act of encountering what are perceived as edible or inedible, palatable or unpalatable, exotic or familiar foods (p. 33), while offering some useful concepts through which to understand and further examine this intriguing subject.

Long suggests in her introduction that "Culinary tourism is more than trying new and exotic foods" (p. 1). Indeed, the essays in this volume reveal the multifaceted nature of tourist food experiences from the stimulation of personal nostalgic memory (Barbara G. Shortridge on Swiss and Swedish food in two American communities) to the politicized promotion of cultural hegemony. Amy Bentley's powerful essay on Southwestern cuisine suggests that the appropriation of borderlands foods can be considered an act of national dominance while Jeffrey M. Pilcher looks at the imperialist connotations of Taco Bell food. Both Eve Jochnowitz and Miryam Rotkovitz look alternately at Polish Jewish restaurants for the importance of consumption, and kashrut in the creation of cultural memory. Underlying all of the essays in the collection is the notion that preparing, consuming, and serving food are never neutral acts, but rather experiences that emerge from the intersection of a network of motivations including identity construction, market-driven forces and negotiation with the other by the self.

Notions of "otherness" and "authenticity" are key ideas that permeate many of the essays in the collection. In her foreword, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett replaces the emphasis on the meaning of authenticity with an approach towards savoring it. She remarks, "Not authenticity, but the question of authenticity, is essential to culinary tourism, for this question organizes conversation, reflection, and comparison and arises as much from doubt as from confidence" (p. xii). Rightly emphasizing a "coalescence" of events and experiences, she speaks to the complexity of categorizing culinary tourism. Jennie Germann Molz's essay on Thai restaurants and Pilcher's essay on culinary tourism in Mexico, amongst others, suggest that notions of otherness and authenticity are fluid and subjective, constructed by marketing strategies as well as individual backgrounds and personal judgements. Indeed, the multi-vocality of meanings assigned to foods is a common thread that runs throughout the volume, which brings into question the structure of the book. The essays in Culinary Tourism are divided into three sections: culinary tourism in public and commercial contexts; culinary tourism in private and domestic contexts; and culinary tourism in constructed and emerging contexts. However, there is often considerable overlap between these sections; some articles do not appear to fit these artificial categories or even the book's title. For example, Jill Terry Rudy, writing on Mormon missionary encounters with foreign food, confusingly admits "unlike the culinary tourist, who intentionally seeks exotic eating opportunities, the missionary often is served unfamiliar foods as a by-product of contacting and teaching people" (p. 136). Generalities abound so that Jacqueline S. Thursby reveals "the secret of fine Basque cuisine is that the best available ingredients are chosen and prepared with tender care to present them to the eater at their best" (p. 189). In addition, throughout the text of the chapters and the book sections, the public context of food appears overly constructed so that the line between public and private is never clear. For example, the consumption of foods in private contexts depends on the acquisition of foods in a public, highly commercialized arena. Where are the boundaries?

Although the essays in Culinary Tourism are broad in topic, ranging from the significance of Oreo cookies to the ways in which missionaries deal with what are perceived as inedible foods, the book offers what feels like a predominantly white, contemporary, middle-class American perspective on the subject. When does food (or an immigrant) become truly American (when they too are un-exotically familiar)? These essays leave a quagmire for further exploration into the differing ways in which culinary tourism is experienced in other areas of the world, as well as by other ethnic groups and social classes within the United States. In her introduction, Long asks several important questions that remain unanswered: "how do our varied backgrounds and histories influence what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat? How do they influence our approach to trying new things, whether at home or abroad" (p. 13)? We ask how has the mythical great melting pot of the United States turned its own eaters into inquisitive travelers? And why bother to travel if, as Margaret Visser says, the mythical Mediterranean Diet, long penetrating an accepting American psyche, recently was exported to the Mediterranean itself for the first time?[1] So why not just visit your nearest friendly multicultural mega-city, or vacation and dine at Disney World, or merely stroll through the frozen section of your local grocery chain if myth overrules (or defines) reality? Can armchair travelers be satisfied by (un-)exotic TV dinners? Are we bombarded by Food Network's Food TV to the point that we need only pre-distributed, scratch-and-sniff cards to fully savor aromas for that wholesome experience--or is the only exotic food now the unpackaged, unmarketed, untelevised and thus unrecognizable? Clearly, talking about food and place is not enough; experiencing the "whole cultural package" becomes essential. This is why it is key to consider the environment of the destination from a sensorial-communications perspective, as Shortridge does when investigating Swiss-style architecture and the promotion of community festivals as well as foods served.

Has globalization of food availability reduced the necessity to travel? If we no longer have to travel to food sources in the globalized world, has postmodern "tourism" now become as difficult to define as "culture"? It is certainly unclear from the essays here what exactly is meant by "culinary tourism." Despite Long's precise definition of the term, the essays in the book suggest that culinary tourism is much more than the intentional exploration of the other through food. For example, Jill Terry Rudy's essay looks at the ways in which missionaries encounter exotic foods in social situations in which they feel compelled to eat the food, despite their aversion to it. Here the culinary-tourist experience is not an intentional, voluntary act, but rather is motivated by a desire to spread "alien" religious beliefs. This contradicts Long's assertions that "tourism involves new experiences for the sake of the experience itself. Through tourism, we satisfy our curiosity about otherness; we confront the impulse to climb the mountain because it is there" (p. 22). Author Rachelle Saltzman writing on the ethnic familiarity of Catskill destinations claims "going to the Catskills was the very antithesis of the touristic experience" (p. 226), because of the pursuit of an idealized everyday experience. This stands in contrast to Long's definitions of the pursuit of the new. Fascinatingly, however, these essays do suggest that tourism is not simply about gaining knowledge; it is also about power relations, acquiring status and the better understanding of self through encounters with the food of the other. While intentionality provides an important perspective through which to analyze the culinary-tourist experience, it may not provide an adequate definition for the variety and richness of encounters with the other through food, and the network of forces at play in the creation, marketing and sale of new foods.

Culinary Tourism opens up a window on one certain yet indefinable aspect of travel motivation. It is primarily ethnographic and its narrative approach adds to its readability, but its partitions and definitions are problematic. This smorgasbord of articles suggests more avenues to explore, more questions to answer. Despite these obstacles, the authors provide some compelling analyses into complex food-tourist-webs. Bentley's insights into Chicano machismo and grilling bravado are fascinating. Liz Wilson's discussion of bourgeois Bohemians from the boomer generation and their promotion of vegetarian pro-environment, pro-health food is meaningful to today's world. Long's edited text is a good step forward to comprehending the complexities associated with culinary tourism and should, at the very least, provoke much debate in this international field.


[1]. Margaret Visser, "A Moveable Feast" Walrus Magazine (July/August 2004).

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