At the UNESCO feast: Foodways across global heritage governance

Photo: Chiara Bortolotto

Session organized by Chiara Bortolotto (EHESS/IIAC) and Benedetta Ubertazzi (University di Milano Bicocca) at the third Congress of the Association for Critical heritage Studies, Montreal, Canada, 6-10 June 2016.

With sustainable development gaining momentum as a priority of UNESCO heritage policies, an increasing number of food-related nominations are being submitted for inscription on the lists of the Convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. The Mediterranean diet, traditional Mexican cuisine and the Japanese dietary culture of washoku are just some examples of this booming phenomenon.
Since food and foodways are powerful references for self-representation and identity making, the heritage vocabulary has long been associated with the promotion of local products and culinary preparations. Festivals and tourism contribute to establishing culinary districts and boosting local economies. As food consumption is intrinsically associated with market principles, economic considerations are interlinked with the food-related heritage project more than with other heritage domains. The particular stakes underpinning this field have lead to the establishment of international and interregional norms on intellectual property rights. The coordination of these instruments with international and regional norms protecting intangible cultural heritage is shaping new heritage regimes for agro-biological diversity and foodways.

In exploring the recent heritage legitimacy afforded to food-related cultural expressions by the UNESCO Convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage, and in analysing the challenges and controversies shaping this field at the international level, this session will contribute to debate over the main theme of the conference, namely “What does heritage change?”. The ultimate aim of this session, however, is to investigate how the international heritage apparatus changes existing categories, principles and objectives in national heritage policies and local heritage agendas.

The contributions will closely analyse how the interaction of different levels of regulations as well as of institutional and socio-cultural priorities shape global heritage policies with outcomes often unforeseen by international policy makers. What is at stake in foodways heritage promotion in these regions? What are the different priorities in terms of sustainable development, commercial interests and protection of intellectual property rights? And what is the role of minorities and indigenous people in the establishment of measures of protection of traditional knowledge and agro-food resources in these regions?

Based on a resolute interdisciplinary approach, this session brings together legal scholars and anthropologists to investigate the “creative frictions” emerging from the encounter between the international governmentality apparatus, existing juridical regulations and social uses of heritage. The combination of ethnographic and legal exploration of complex world governance aims at shedding light on the interactions of particular actor networks across multiple scales, thus allowing our analysis to go beyond the simplistic opposition between “global norm” and “local reactions”.

DAY 1

DAY 2