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Culinary Cultures of Europe: Identity, Diversity and Dialogue

Edited by Darra Goldstein and Kathrin Merkle

Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 2005, 502 pp., ISBN 92-871-5744-8

Recently, all statistics show that tourism trends call for new forms of selective tourism, splintered into thematic segments such as cultural, sports, rural, religiuos, etc. tourism. Still, no type of tourism can be imagined without food. Although all senses enjoy the tourism destination, be them visual, tangible or auditive, the strongest one is certainly the taste. Food has always had a special place and role in complementing tourism supply but nowadays, it gained such an importance that it became the subject around which tourism is made. It has become the main supply and not the niche market; therefore a new form of tourism has been developing – culinary tourism. People travel for food, as to sense the taste of a certain destination. The study of culinary culture and its history provides an insight into broad social, political and economic changes in society.

Culinary Cultures of Europe: Identity, Diversity and Dialogue is a collection of essays that reflect many of the important transitions through which European societies have passed. At the same time, it is a celebration of an enormously rich part of our cultural heritage of everyday life and everyday culture. The volume describes the food of forty European nations in various ways; not every nation is approached from the same aspect, contributions range from folkloric to the theoretical. Some of them offer practical advice and recipes while the others focus on history and developments of their national cuisine.

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the European Cultural Convention, Council of Europe’s constant efforts in celebrating and safeguarding cultural diversity have successfully resulted in this book. Taken as a whole, it reflects the remarkable diversity of the European culinary experience.

The introductory part in an interesting way analyzes some of the constitutive components of food-centred identities such as ingredients, technique, location/place, trade/economy, time, media, and nation-state administrative controls. Identities are also underlined through food debates, where food is employed against globalization; ecology becomes an important ‘ingredient’ for sustainable development and biodiversity, a matter of discussions for food safety. A great interest has been noted in food and nutrition from governments and other agencies. One of the reasons for this is economic: agribusiness plays an important role in the gross national product. But there is more: in their material aspects, food habits and behaviours, culinary traditions and identities, are tightly connected with the material foundations of power and politics. The so-called body politics is described and analyzed in an extremely interesting theory. A range of issues is raised in this context such as tradition and authenticity, which can become political weapons for discrimination and intolerance.

The book also deals with food competence, which can be more or less developed, and more or less conscious. However, it proves very relevant when travellers encounter unfamiliar culinary elements, flavours and textures. Contact which is inevitable in tourism influenced also the food: new contributions from the outsiders are sometimes perceived as a development of one own's codes or as an alien element, which in time can be appreciated and become popular. Therefore, the fusion element, which has heavily influenced the restaurant scene all over the world can in itself be considered as an example of food systems that have absorbed and transformed extraneous elements to create something new. Tourists certainly play an important role in these phenomena. When they arrive in a certain destination, they do not have to adapt to the new environment if they do not want to. This explains the existence of tourist enclaves, where food from different countries is guaranteed. In this sense, two terms have been implied: neophilia and neophobia: the curiosity to try new food, and the fear of being poisoned. Two elements affect the attitude of all newcomers toward the local food: their knowledge and familiarity with it, and their cultural openness to engaging with otherness.

All this is intertwined in country profiles: some contributions and recipes provoke a pleasant surprise and palate taste in their unusual and extraordinary combinations, and some other again provoke surprise but in the fact that something that we considered a ‘national dish’ is placed under someone else’s country profile! The fusion element is often present and many countries encounter problems when trying to present their national dish. You may also be surprised when reading your own country profile by the fact that what is presented may not be the picture of your own country that you had in mind. In this way, some forgotten dishes came to the light and you may have learned something new about your own country.

The book is a valuable contribution to all those involved in theoretical research on the subject of food and cuisine but will also refresh the usual habits of dining by adding new ingredients and discoveries when inviting guests to your table next time. Bon apetit!

For more information or to obtain the book, please contact: Council of Europe, Publishing Division, Communication and Research Directorate, Palais de l'Europe, F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France; tel: + 33 3 88 41 25 81; fax : + 33 3 88 41 39 10; e-mail: publishing@coe.int; http://book.coe.int