If you’ve gone to the World Chicken Festival in London, Kentucky, bought a bottle of Vermont maple syrup, or ordered lobster while vacationing in Maine, you are a Culinary Tourist.
The notion of traveling into another culture through your taste buds has been getting more and more attention, combining the popular pursuits of food and vacation. Now, The University of Kentucky Press has published a book of essays edited by the woman who coined the phrase Culinary Tourism.
Folklorist and food specialist Lucy Long explores the idea of experiencing other cultures through food in Culinary Tourism: Eating and Otherness. Long teaches folklore, food studies, and ethnomusicology in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Looking back at her life, it seems logical she would become expert in something called Culinary Tourism.
The North Carolina native says, “Growing up, I was very aware of being partly Appalachian and partly mainstream American. My mother and her mother are both wonderful cooks in the Southern tradition. I remember sitting at my grandmother’s table eating chicken-fried steak with gravy and green beans cooked with lard, and almost crying because the food was so good.”
Long also experienced Asian cuisine early in life. While in the fifth grade, her father, an agricultural economist for the U.S. State Department, moved the family to Korea. The diversity of eating experiences gave her a curious palate and a willingness to try just about any kind of food.
“I’ve eaten many things that would be weird to Americans.”
How about squid pizza in Spain, and sea urchin and jellyfish in Thailand? She’s also eaten haggis, a traditional Scottish dish of oatmeal mixed with blood and liver, stuffed in a sheep’s stomach, boiled, and then baked.
In graduate school, Long pursued a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology, the study of non-Western, non-classical music as a cultural phenomenon, and received her Ph.D. in Folklore. She soon recognized that what she was studying in relation to folk music could apply to food. In 1994, she coordinated a panel for the American Folklore Society on food scholarship. While many scholars referred to “gastronomical tourism” or “food tourism,” in 1996 Long coined the term Culinary Tourism.
Because dining out is one of the most popular tourist activities, Culinary Tourism has become big business.
In Europe, the Regional Culinary Heritage Network, an association of restaurants, farm shops, and food producers, assists vacationers in finding authentic culinary food routes through Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Spain. The International Kitchen, a Chicago-based firm that arranges Italian and French food odysseys, cooks up tours where travelers not only taste the food, but press the olives, stomp the grapes, and bake the bread.
In the United States, local communities use Culinary Tourism as a marketing strategy. Regional tourism commissions are creating cookbooks and festivals devoted to everything from alligator and asparagus to walnuts and Vidalia onions to generate tourism dollars.
In Kentucky, regional wine and bourbon producers have teamed up to provide day tours of local wineries and distilleries. The Bourbon Trail includes stops in Frankfort, Bardstown, Lawrenceburg, and Loretto at distilleries such as Buffalo Trace and Maker’s Mark.
According to the Kentucky Department of Tourism, more than 20 festivals throughout the state offer a certain kind of food as the center of their festival. There are four pumpkin festivals, four apple festivals, and three corn festivals. During the last weekend in April, Irvine’s Mushroom Festival celebrates the morel mushroom. In September, London commemorates internationally famous Colonel Sanders’ restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, with the World Chicken Festival.
“Celebrating a particular food is always a great excuse for a party. People have to eat at a festival, plus they get to experience another historical era or another culture,” says Long.
While American eating customs have changed over 300 years, Long says many Appalachian traditions based on local geography have remained.
“That way of eating lasted longer in Appalachia where there has always been an aesthetic of self-sufficiency with raising a kitchen garden and canning their own food,” says Long, who considers herself “a connoisseur of grits and hominy.” In Appalachia, food tends to be repetitious, depending on one staple such as corn that generates corn meal or whiskey, as well as dishes like corn on the cob, corn relish, creamed corn, and corn pone.
Long’s office catches people’s fascination with shelves crammed with cans and boxes of unique food. As she travels to different areas of the world combining vacations with research, Long picks up regional foods. She has everything from a can of sun-dried possum (a tourist joke she picked up at a Southern airport) to a can of sliced octopus, a typical regional food of northwest Spain.
WRITING THE BOOK ON CULINARY TOURISM
“Food is a powerful medium, and a natural way to explore another culture,” says Lucy Long, editor of Culinary Tourism: Eating and Otherness. A culinary tourist can explore many exotic cultures without ever leaving the neighborhood.
“You always have way more than you could possibly eat at the Southern table, for example. It is a gesture of hospitality in case extra people stop by,” she says.
Foodways scholarship, which refers to traditions concerning foods and its preparation, presentation, and consumption, is at the center of this collection of essays. The book is written in a thorough, footnoted, scholarly style—don’t buy this book expecting recipes or travel photos. But you don’t have to be an anthropologist to enjoy the book. Twelve different writers discuss how restaurants and festivals market food to tourists, politics of the food industry, authentic southwest cooking, and food choices of various groups such as baby boomers and Mormon missionaries.
Culinary Tourism is available in hardback for $35 from The University Press of Kentucky at www.kentuckypress.com.