Tuesday, October 14, 2008

International Gastromony & Tourism

Put a dozen or so international foodies in a room, give them a couple hours to discuss their culinary traditions, and you have a fascinating afternoon. During the UNESCO International Conference on Creative Tourism, I participated in a symposium on gastronomy and how it influences travel.

Within the circle of experts, the lively discussion hit on diverse topics. After briefly introducing ourselves, we discussed our favorite food cities and why their food appealed so strongly. As with many such interactions, the primaries lead quickly into the discussion of culinary issues.

One of the first to speak was Julia Chiu from Toronto, who concentrated on the social aspect new regulations had on Japan, especially the inferior material found recently in imports from China. She also touched on the Japanese custom of producing special foods which Asian custom believes a benefit to the elderly.

Benedetto Zacchiroli, from the Bologna Mayor’s office, entertained us with tales of his experiences with Italian food in the U.S. Now we know real pasta Bolognese is not made with spaghetti but tagliatelli, the meat is never beef but pork, and the sauce is called ragu. The American version, he commented, is but one example of the globalization of traditional dishes.

A representative from Santiago de Compostela provided insights in Galician cuisine, generally misunderstood outside her country. The foods of Spain’s northwestern peninsula are not, as often portrayed, Mediterranean, but Atlantic. The Galician’s catch over 80 different types of saltwater fish, both along their coast and world-wide as well as a tremendous quantity of mussels and other shellfish. Vigo, the largest city in Galicia, is Spain’s most important fishing port and the third largest in Europe.

George Poussin, who oversees UNESCO Creative Cities program, spoke of the cult dimension of gastronomy and the “intangible heritage” of traditional cooking. Emphasizing the difference being creativity, he said we need not only protect the past but open new culinary criteria.

In addition, he mentioned how difficult it was, especially in developing, countries, to initiate the Creative Cities plan. Currently, there are only 12: Aswan, Egypt; Berlin: Bologna: Buenos Aires: Edinburgh;: Glasgow; Lyon; Melbourne; Montreal; Seville; Popayan, Columbia; and Santa Fe, the only U.S. representative.

Perhaps Jo Harvey Allen of Santa Fe voiced the most interesting topic. She has been instrumental in a program electronically joining farmer’s markets around the world. Dubbed “SEE,” it involves ten mammoth LCD screens to be mounted in select growers’ markets, starting with Santa Fe’s well-known Railyard Market. “Markets are the heartbeat of a whole city,” she said, “and we plan to connect time-zone adjusted video installations. If you’re in Barcelona’s Boqueria, you can see the action in Santa Fe.” The program has been funded and a committee is considering appropriate locations.

Summing up our feelings as we dispersed to the ballroom to hear Geoffrey Godbey speak, Duncan Sill of the Santa Fe County Planning & Development Division, said, “As travelers, gastronomy is a good way to engage in the human condition.” Amen to that!


  1. How fabulous to have a conference like this practically at your doorstep.

  2. The tourist experience has for a long time been one-sidedly understood as either the peak experience, or the consumer experience. The idea behind molecular gastronomy is to test cooking theory and myth in the laboratory environment to see how things actually work.