Research and fieldworks





Mediterranean countries

French Guyana

Brazil, Mexico




– France

The construction of food as an heritage object: France, XV – XXI centuries (J. Csergo)

 Heritage as a present-centered cultural practice and instrument of cultural power will only gain from being historicized. Exploring past notions of heritage and uncovering the principles upon which such ideas were based can lead to question some of the fundamental premises of current heritage practices.

In France, the trajectory of the construction of the contemporary notion of “heritage” has only been traced within the “beaux-arts” and “monumental” frameworks. Food history, since the end of the Middle Age until now, has not yet focused on the construction of food as a cultural object or as a common, shared heritage. The absence of an historical treatment of the emergent concept of “food heritage” has mainly confined the discipline to market-oriented approaches: for example, aiming to give cultural legitimacy (or affording “tradition”) to agricultural products in order to obtain origin certifications such as “geographical indications”. The concept of food heritage has thus been grounded on a spatial dimension, and as an operational tool to support territorial and agricultural products marketing.

The aim of this research is, consequently, to provide elements for a definition and understanding of food heritage through the intervention of the history discipline and its methods. That is, by tracking the main lines of the construction of food as a heritage object and the role played by this process in the affirmation of national cultures. The results of this research carried by Julia Csergo and funded by the CRSH (Conseil de Recherche en Sciences Humaines du Canada) will be extreme relevant for the FOODHERIT reflection on what food heritage means.

“National food heritage in superstores: the brand Reflets de France” (J-P.Hassoun)

The analysis of “typical” food products are central in this project as they shed light on local-global dynamics of heritage, as well as on representational and identity dimensions which are at their core. This task focuses on the construction of narratives about the origin of allegedly local food products sold as commodities. Namely, all those under the brand name “Reflets de France”, which aims to showcase terroir products in superstores.

In doing so, this research will examine how retail distribution, which embodies a kind of universalism and uniformity in markets, makes compatible commodity production and the promotion of cultural identity. The requirements and arrangements for validating terroir certifications will be articulated, as well as the characteristics of producers who rely on the terroir concept. The symbolic and semantic work necessary for local or regional products to be “translated” into “products of France” will also be emphasized. For this purpose, a mapping of local producers working with this brand and a series of in-depth interviews with the creator and managers of the brand will be conducted.

“Global logics of ‘wine heritage’: productivity, labor casualization and tourism” (Chantal Crenn)

How wine, an eminent social and cultural produce, gathers in a same territory a diversity of actors pursuing different goals? How the winegrowing community of Saint-Emilion produces both “communalization” (in Max Weber’s terms) and exclusion through heritage-making processes? How do grand crus winemakers talk about their wine and how do they showcase them?  How do they talk about North African workers that they have been employing for 30 years? How do these workers perceive their job and their place within heritage-making frameworks? What impact may have globalization dynamics – such as the purchase of vineyards by Chinese entrepreneurs or the exploitation of foreign labor force – on the heritagization of Saint-Emilion wine?

This ethnology-based study will focus on Saint Emilionappellation d’origine protégée (mark indicating condition of origin) and, in particular, on winemakers of renowned grand crus. In-depth interviews, collection of life histories, and participant observations during customer visits to Saint-EmilionChâteuxwill constitute the main empirical methods for understanding wine heritage-making. These accounts will be completed with observations in cultural and artistic events organized by Châteaux owners in order to identify identity logics emerging from interactions between communities’ inhabitants, foreign and “local” tourists, winemakers, and vineyard workers. In addition, global processes leading torecent transformations on wine production system will be analyzed from a micro-sociological perspective. Among these, we should mention the increasing amount of foreign and precarious labor force, the growing importance of foreign investors in wine-producing properties, the increasing competitive wine market, the recognition of Saint-Emilion landscapes as UNESCO World Heritage, and the ghettoization of North African workers in small villages around Saint-Emilion.

“Relocating food heritages : stakes and tensions generated by truffle introduction in new territories” (M. Faurie)

Wether it be in Chili, Argentina, California, China, Morocco, Australia or New-Zeland, the striving adventure of truffle domestication is definitely carrying on. Thanks to agronomical progress made in the last decades, mastering truffle cultivation is now possible via the planting of mycorhized trees.

This industry which used to rely on the foraging of wild mushrooms is thus now possible in many differents territories where climatic and pedological conditions match European environments where truffles are traditionnally collected.

Global demand is superior to European supply : truffle cultivation stimulus plans, institutional subsidies to the industry and truffle having acquired a status of heritage in order to protect it and to give it value have not be enought to significantly stimulate French, Italian, Spanish production. Therefore, the European gastronomical flagship seems threatened.

In this context, truffle cultivation is massively developped in many countries where investors percieve it as a very promising source of income.

This evolution raises several questions : can truffle be considered as local patrimony in these new regions of cultivation ? Why would traditional truffle producing regions be reluctant ? Should this patrimonial status only be exclusive to them ? Which sorts of tensions and issues rise from these deterritorializations of food heritage? On the contrary, facing these overall economical, societal and bioclimatic transformations, could territorial anchorage and these heritage policies be the source of certains types of sanctuarization leading to socio-spatial inertia ?

– Mediterranean countries –

 “Food Heritage as Lifestyle: the Mediterranean Diet” (X. Medina)

 The Mediterranean is a sociocultural construct that gathers 22 countries of 3 continents on a geographically delimited space. Similarly, to talk about food in Mediterranean implies to refer to another sociocultural construct. In November 2010, UNESCO listed the Mediterranean Diet (MD) as Intangible Cultural Heritage of the humanity. The four countries having presented the application (Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco) argued that MD transcends the nutritional aspects of food practices, represents a historical network of exchanges, traditions, knowledge, practices and uses, and constitutes a historic-spatial configuration built to a great extent by shared patterns in the production, distribution and consumption of food. MD was not presented as a nutritional model or as a possibility to highlight a series of food items, such as the preeminent olive oil. It was much more than this. In the application framework, MD involved techniques, habits, imaginaries, values and eating spaces; it was a lifestyle. Accordingly, the elements put into value within this heritage process, as well as the identity, territorial, political and economic implications of MD heritagization should be analyzed.

The methodological approach that will be developed by Xavier Medina consists of three steps: a) an update of the topic’s state of the art; b) an ethnographic study of current and contrasting heritage and gastronomic “uses” of MD in different locations of the countries that submitted the UNESCO application; c) an assessment of heritage safeguarding strategies, along with an analysis of the institutional and individual actors that concur to define and implement them. To this end, a series of semi-directed and in-depth interviews with those actors will be conducted. This method should enable to appraise the relation between local and local dynamics, from specific locations to the Mediterranean at large.

“Global identities through the lens of food heritage: a comparative analysis between Mediterranean Diet and Peruvian Food” (X. Medina, supported by Raúl Matta)

Through comparison analysis of the application procedures of “Peruvian food” and “Mediterranean diet” to the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage, FOODHERIT will question how heritage stakeholders represent food cultures according to assumed identities, how they achieve and maintain identity coherence, and how they portray these representations. The use of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), an approach to the study of discourse that focuses on the ways in which social and political domination are reproduced in text and talk (Waterton, Smith and Campbell 2006), will be crucial to emphasize these stakeholders’ capabilities to incorporate, disaggregate, and convey signs of identity at the local and global levels. To this end, official documents, meeting reports and audio-visual material concerning food heritagization will be analyzed. Official representations collected from the document corpus will be then confronted to the representations of actors participating to a lesser extent in formulating the heritage discourse. To achieve this goal, it will be necessary to focus on the means by which food cultures and practices are addressed with regard to larger and non-expert audiences. This implies not only the gathering of data in traditional text formats (books, newspapers, magazines, etc.) but also the analysis of advertisement material about food products as well as product information displayed. Text-based and image data will be found in archives such as national libraries, local archives and on the Internet. These data will be enriched and complemented by qualitative semi-structured interviews with some of the key actors producing official food heritage representations: advertising and marketing professionals, government representatives, and researchers. CDA and the historical data review will start to be carried out during the first year of the project.



French Guyana

“Maroons’ food heritage: from historical roots to contemporary issues” (Marie Fleury)

Within the cultural mosaic of Guyana, the particularity of Maroons’ food system rests both on African cultural reminiscences (river rice cultivation) and on strong Amerindian influences (manioc cultivation). Their food consumption pattern is the result of these historical influences which now adds the growing presence of imported food. This research intends to analyze in depth the recent evolution of Noirs Maroons’ food pattern (with a special focus on the “vegetal biodiversity” present in preparation) , as well as the effects the latter could face following cultural heritage initiatives promoted by national instances within the framework of national parks.

Indeed, national parks use their conferred legitimacy for valorizing and preserving local cultures. Guyana Amazonian Park is promoting intangible heritage inventories, and among them, food inventories. Here it is intended to shed light on the criteria adopted to select food heritage from an ethno-botanist perspective. Which foods will be central to the definition of food heritage? Which impact could have this selection on Maroons’ diet? Who are the main Guyana Amazonian Park actors that shape food heritage? To what extent local actors participate in its definition? Which will be the influence of the heritagization of Maroons’ food practices and on their historical perception about food? Since the research will be conducted by a member of the Guyana Amazonian Park scientific committee, a critical perspective on heritage construction will be employed. The inquiry will be conducted through direct and participant observation of cultural heritage-related meetings, and open-ended questionnaires and interviews to Aluku Maroon people in the communities of Maripasoula and Papaïchon.

Brazil and Mexico

“Amerindian food heritage: recognition or invisibility?” (Esther Katz, Pascale de Robert)

Amerindian food systems have contributed to the constitution of different Latin American cuisines. But what is their present status? Are they valued, recognized, put into heritage or are they depreciated or ignored? How and why? We will try to answer these questions through several case studies in Mexico and Brazil.

In Mexico, the indigenous roots of the national cuisines have been glorified, but the cuisine of present-day Indians has long been despised; the Mixtec Indians, for instance, even perceived their own food as poor people’s food. Esther Katz will analyze recent processes of valorization and heritagization that have been emerging in that region, such as local food fairs organized by Indian communities.

In Brazil, Amerindian culinary systems are very varied, due to the size of the country and the diversity of its cultures and environments. However, they are widely ignored and their contribution to national cooking is hardly evoked.  On the coast of Bahia, why has Afro-Brazilian food been heritagized, while indigenous identities, now re-emerging as “Tupinamba”, have been erased for decades, and indigenous cooking has become invisible? On the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon River, the Amerindian agricultural and culinary knowledge was recently heritagized, but does it have any impact on the valorization of local cuisine? Esther Katz will study these two cases. In another part of the Amazon, the Kayapo Indians are now applying public policies to avoid bringing industrial food to school children and use their own agricultural production. In the meantime, regional restaurants use their image of “authentic Amazonian Indians with feathers” as commercial attraction, but do not cook Kayapo food. Pascale de Robert will study these processes of valorization and re-appropriation of the indigenous food system and use of the Indian image. In all cases, interethnic relationships, identity recomposition and relationships between the Indians and the State will be analyzed.

“Community cookbooks and the idea of Mexicanness” (S. Bak-Geller)

 Cookbooks made by one or more members of a community create and disseminate an image of cuisine (the latter understood as the set of knowledge, practices and rituals associated with the preparation, arrangement, presentation and consumption of food) likely to be representative of that group. Among these documents, we can mention, among others, those from vegetarian associations, immigrant communities, religious groups, representative bodies of ethnic minorities, labor unions, etc. Basing on community cookbooks published in Mexico, we will examine the processes of construction of the ideas of ​​“community” and “local memory”. Special attention will be given to the signatories and other actors involved in publishing practices, the material support accompanying the cookbooks, the narrative, and the ways those books circulate. Moreover, we will confront these local constructions of memory with the notions of “Mexicanness” and national memory, highlighted by a hegemonic culinary discourse promoted by the Mexican state. Some central questions this research will pose are: What are the language attributes that convey “community memory” and “national memory”? How each of these notions is constructed with respect to the other? Is there a reference to “Mexicanness” in community cookbooks? If so, how this reference differs from the hegemonic idea of nation stressed in other cookbooks?

The gastronomic routes of Mexico: confronting heritagization and development” (C-E de Suremain)

An increasing number of cultural and identity mobilizations promoted by ministries (Tourism, Culture), municipalities and communities are leading to food valorization all across Mexico. The outputs of these strategies are diverse, and may have different scopes: they go from local and periodic initiatives (food festivals, fairs) to other more significant when it comes to well established socio-economic activities. For example, products, dishes, techniques, eating practices and emblematic regional ingredients (mole, tequila, nixtamalization, etc.) are now at the core of “gastronomic routes”, which aim is to highlight local food heritage through its integration into the tourism market. It will be important, first, to analyze how these “routes” were implemented, and how local communities and other actors involved, from farmers to small tradespeople, participate and benefit. Then it will be a question of getting a better understanding of identity, territorial and economic issues associated with this sort of “food Mexicanness”.

In order to reach these research’s objectives, a multi-sited ethnographic study on three contrasting ‘gastronomic routes’ will be conducted in a period of two months: “Los ingredientes mestizos delMayab” (Yucatan and Quintana Roo), “El sabor de hoy” (Mexico City), and “Cocina al son del Mariachi” (Jalisco). In a first stage, the aim is to describe their specific geographical, social and cultural characteristics. Then, focus will be given to the design and the management of these routes. To this end, a series of semi-directed and in-depth interviews with the concerned actors (cooks and restaurant tenants, municipality representatives, consumers, local farmers, tourism agencies, NGOs, small tradespeople) are necessary, as well as with those that are or feel excluded from gastronomic routes. This approach should enable a fine comprehension of food heritage local dynamics and, by means of comparison, lead to the understanding of global dynamics.


“Tracking national food heritage: Peruvian cuisine” (R. Matta)

Since the middle of the last decade, heritage practitioners in Peru are working on the formulation of food and culinary Peruvian heritage. After the acknowledgement of a singular “national cuisine” at the local and regional levels (in 2007 and 2011 respectively, Peruvian gastronomy was listed as “National Heritage” and as “Heritage of the Americas”), all the efforts have been directed to obtain a global recognition. A political campaign linking culture with development issues was launched for the promotion of Peruvian food abroad and for its inscription as Intangible Heritage by UNESCO. In this regard, it will be important to explore the role of experts (e.g. diplomats, UNESCO officials, government representatives, renowned cook chefs and scholars) who transfer knowledge to other social actors. It will also be central to observe whether these actors have equal influence on decision-making about heritage, and whether institutional discourses of inclusion, in the end, are applied at the operational level.

To achieve this aim, a series of interviews with actors implicated in this process will be conducted, and combined with observations of events and spaces where food heritage becomes visible, is discussed or exposed (e.g. restaurants, food festivals, conferences, gastronomic schools). This methodology will permit the comparison of the information obtained in order to define the central topics that highlight the collective dimension of food heritage-making and its relation to the motivations and aims of social actors. In other words, an ethnographic approach will be privileged to track the way in which heritage processes have been carried out and are currently displayed. As a consequence, the interactions and controversies between actors will remain the focus of this research task, as they inform how food heritage knowledge is made and disseminated, and how it generates agreement as well as categorical distinctions, exclusions and inclusions.

“Confronting national food heritage to local practices of food heritagization: a comparative case study in Peru” (R. Matta)

The growing visibility of Peruvian cuisine abroad prompted a process of fabricating heritage fostered by political and economic leaders who saw its economic potential. Food burst into the political arena at the core of an ambitious discourse about development. The idea was that Peruvian culinary culture, if based on a balance between cultural preservation and adaptation to the international markets, could bring positive economic impacts to the country and, since it represents a vehicle of national identity, lead to social reconciliation.Constructing food heritage involves dealing with intrinsic tensions and contradictions about what it is to include and promote. It also puts to the test the heritage project’s assumptions. Peruvian cuisine is presented as a product of consensus, social inclusion and harmony. Such an interpretation makes invisible the social complexity of cuisine formation, especially if we take into account that the cuisines currently existing in Peru have a colonial background: they are the result of processes of substitution of ingredients within preparations which were looking to reproduce, in a new continent, European food, considered superior to native by far.Moreover, because of their uneven levels of mechanization and the existence of particular Andean and Amazonian worldviews, food cultures in Peru mobilize various symbolic registers. The link between those registers vis-à-vis a “national and inclusive” food heritage promoted by political stakeholders will be emphasized through a description of the ways in which rural communities express what they believe deserves to be transformed into heritage. In this sense, it is intended to continue research initiated in the Andean community of Vicos, where techniques for recovering potato varieties are used, and in the Amazonian community of Mishkyyaquillu de Shapumba, where local patterns of food consumption are valorized through an exercise of memory called mikuna – “meal” in the Quechua language. Participant observation in their meetings and in the harvest work, as well as interviews with the communities’ leaders and members of NGOs that support food security programs in these locations will be conducted.


 “Living heritage. Culinary practices in Québec and Ontario” (J. Csergo)

 This research focus on one of the aspects of food heritage: culinary heritage. The aim is to integrate to our perspective the results of Julia Csergo’s recent research both about “what makes” and “what is called” culinary heritage. In doing so, attention will be paid to circulation and transmission of culinary knowledge between the domestic and professional spheres, as well as to their collective effects on society.

The case studies are located in Québec and Ontario, two provinces with contrasting culinary traditions, French and Anglo-Saxon. The cities of Montreal and Toronto are of particular interest not only as they respectively reflect those traditions at their best, but also because they gather diverse culinary influences, especially from immigrants.Issues concerning culinary history, identity, cultural circulations, invention, creation and re-creation of food cultural features are central to appraise the uncertainty of “memory” and the nature of “heritage components” displayed within food practices. These issues should allow us to highlight the specific dynamics within the relation “heritagization-creation” in French and Anglo-Saxon traditions. In addition, the particularity of Canada as a bicultural-rooted country could enhance the understanding of the interplays of diverse food heritage-making logics.

Une réflexion sur « Research and fieldworks »

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *

Ce site utilise Akismet pour réduire les indésirables. En savoir plus sur comment les données de vos commentaires sont utilisées.

FoodHerit est un groupe de chercheurs expérimentés ayant placé les cultures alimentaires au cœur de leurs investigations.

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search