ANR FoodHerit project (december 2013 – december 2017)
Funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) and supported by Institut de Recherches pour le Développement (UMR 208 Paloc),, the FoodHerit project is a research group composed by social scientists that have, since many years, placed food cultures at the core of their research interests.
FoodHerit: a Critical and Comparative Research
on Food Heritage and Gastropolitics
In different regional contexts, heritage politics are encouraging the revitalisation and the promotion of particular and ‘traditional’ food products with different aims, such as cultural recognition and market exploitation. The listing of particular food features as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, along with the promotion of ‘routes’ of gastronomic heritage are clear evidence of these trends. As a consequence, food cultures have moved to the centre of a triangulation between culture, identity and markets. FOODHERIT will critically question the particularity of food heritage, as it is pulled to and from between the many options of commodification and the enhancement of human activities that bring forth foodways in the first place. The aim is thus to interrogate the role of food heritagisation in the negotiation of past and present identities, in the integration of social groups into the global economy, and in the attribution of value to people and substances involved in this process. The researchers participating in FOODHERIT are committed to develop and employ an original methodological framework combining different approaches of social sciences to compare avenues of food heritage-making in many countries. The comparative perspective is crucial to allow for an understanding for why and how food and culinary heritage are increasingly promoted. FOODHERIT marks the emergence of a dynamic field of research and of an interdisciplinary methodology in which identity, belonging, social inclusion and development stand out as key concepts.
The project pursues three research questions to reach its objectives:
1. Questioning the link between food heritage and cultural identities:
Culinary nationalisms and culinary particularisms: The relationship between food cultures and socio-political identities is long recognized. France has provided the most striking example of a “culinary country”, one where cuisine and nation are seen to coincide. Recipes as structured culinary knowledge and particularly cookbooks have been identified as primary indicators of identity. Moreover, in many countries, their role in late 19th century nation-building processes have been demonstrated. However, geographic and political boundaries that sustain culinary singularity were not fixed and static but rather dynamic and malleable. In present times, when nations and communities try to establish their particularities in order to “exist” economically and politically, the particularization of food items has become an involved process of negotiation and contestation with the aim of obtaining an identifiable status (communal, regional, national, or universal). Current food heritage narratives engage then new and adaptable mechanisms of inclusion/exclusion built along the local-global spectrum. We support the hypothesis that food heritage-making strengthens explicitly or implicitly notions of territoriality (as “belonging to a place”), allowing the stakeholders, either by adhering to it or by questioning it, to benefit from political and legal frames in order to strategically position their singularity. Relevant questions that emerge are: What are the meanings of nation, region or community expressed through the construction of food heritage? What are the identity mechanisms that take place in these processes? What power relations between the nation state and the local are enabled or reproduced through the confrontation of imagined homogenous cuisines and the different food cultures that compose them?
2. Questioning the link between food heritage and local development strategies:
Markets, cultural tourism, public policies: The construction of food heritage relies on the relationship between mankind and nature. Policies related to food heritage sit in the context of issues that arise, firstly, from the need to preserve knowledge and practices and, secondly, from the adjustments that the heritage object has to undergo when facing global economic challenges. This part of the research attempts to identify the contradictions between these two parameters. As an example, while the UNESCO nomination of the “gastronomic meal of the French” privileged food sociability, local knowledge, hospitality and savoir-vivre, media coverage in France exalted chauvinistic and business-driven representations of French cuisine. Consequently, this research dimension concerns the deliberative aspects of food heritage and laying bare the strategies through which such deliberation is being implemented. Since cultural heritage is entwined with cultural and economic capital, decisions on what to remember, how to preserve and how to display it are shaped by ideology and power. This dimension will focus on how knowledge and practices that constitute food heritage are legitimized, validated and formalized.The understanding of the controversies surrounding heritage decision-making will be central: What controversies arise during the negotiation and codification of food heritage? What power relations are at play? How are objectives formulated in terms of cultural recognition and objectives formulated in terms of social and economic development articulated?
3. Articulating the requirements of cultural recognition and economic capitalization in food heritage through the notion of value:
Despite the redistributive ethics and the dialogic nature that have been granted to cultural heritage, the latter is often appropriated for commercial purposes. Indeed, strategic processes of cultural valorization confuse, on the one hand, the need for symbolic and political recognition and, on the other hand, the need for economic capitalization. Heritage is then associated (consciously or otherwise) with performance in the market economy. This may result in the marginalization of claims relevant to communities or stakeholders. For example, if the beginnings of food heritagization in Peru were closely linked to the growing visibility of Peruvian chefs in the international gastronomic field, the role played by “traditional” knowledge grounded in rural areas remains less clear: it is hidden or “whitened” in order for Peruvian cuisine to gain legitimacy and value among the upper and middle classes. We may therefore ask why there is a need for food heritage. The purpose of this research dimension is to determine in which contexts food heritage favors the preservation and enhancement of cultural processes (know-how, actual practices in the haptic sense), and in which it favors the proliferation of cultural goods and food commodities. What are the possibilities to reconcile both aspects, if any? Taking into account the specific moments and places from which heritage values are formulated – and relating them to the broader contexts in which they are inscribed – is essential to identify issues arising from different interests coexisting in any regime of value. Regimes of value are constituted by political social relations including power relations, imaginaries, specific knowledge and organizational norms, which are never symmetrical. For that reason, it has been argued that the value of material and cultural “objects” cannot be understood separately from its relation to the “value” of people that produce them. Thus, a differential of power in food heritage-making should come to be recognized. Questions to be addressed are: does food heritage have an ambivalent role? In its ambiguous relationship with “tradition”, can it entail an abandonment of local “traditional” knowledge while encouraging technical and scientific advances? Can we speak of an encounter between different rationalities (or different rationalizations) surrounding the identification and management of this kind of heritage? What is the understanding of value that is likely to be highlighted in food heritage processes?