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11.30  Revitalizing Feasts: Gastronomic Heritage as a Global Agent of Change

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This comparative paper will examine how discourses and practices concerning gastronomic heritage serve as agents of sustainable change and transformation in towns from three different continents. Food has long been considered a primary marker of cultural heritage, and in many places around the world it helps foster cultural revitalization movements: bottom-up, community-based undertakings that stand in stark contrast to traditional economic development paradigms. A revitalization movement is a “deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture” that draws upon selective understandings of the past to posit a way forward for the future. 

We have found remarkable comparisons between Vietnam (Hoi An), Italy (Pietrelcina), and the United States (Tucson, Arizona) in which food and food-based festivals are deployed within broader preservation initiatives to emotionally, socially, and even physically move diverse groups of stakeholders within societies suffering from socio-economic stresses into favourable and productive engagements with each other. We will argue that food contributes to moving, affective, and transformative heritage practices in three ways. First, as an element of heritage, food moves through time, as it is reinvented, reconceptualized, and, in certain situations like Pietrelcina and Tucson, re-cultivated after years of falling out of favour. Second, food moves locals emotionally, tugging at their memories, conveying value-based moral claims concerning their society, and bringing them together in festivals, pilgrimages, and community gardening projects.

And third, the same foodstuffs move through space in its communities of origin and circulate abroad, creating equally moving tourist imaginaries and associations that serve to put these places on the map.

All of these movements, we will argue, help to create significant socio-cultural and economic changes that can be considered more sustainable and engaged revitalization programs. Grounded in anthropological theory and long-term engagement in preservation initiatives, we will thus present a model of how heritage (and its associated heritage tourism) can positively impact and change local communities in intangible ways that go beyond mere economic benefits to sustainably reorient and re-centre the identity and values of communities struggling with ways to remain relevant and viable amid the upheavals of globalization and modernization. As such, the paper will ultimately reveal the complex ways that a society can deploy food-based heritage claims for resolving (and sometimes creating new) socio-cultural tensions through organic processes of consensus-building.

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