Food as Intangible Cultural Heritage

Document Type

Conference Proceeding



Conference Title

Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS), Informing Possibilities for the Future of Food and Agriculture


Penn State College, University Park, PA

Conference Dates

May 28-31, 2009

Date of Presentation



In Jan. 2009, a news report of the Tuscan town of Lucca banishing “ethnic” foods from its town center raised numerous responses among food enthusiasts and scholars. Suggested as a way to “safeguard culinary traditions and...authenticity...,” the ban seemed to reflect racism and xenophobia, and an attempt to canonize a particular definition of the town’s identity and heritage. The ban, however, can also be interpreted as an attempt to establish coherent city planning or thematic tourism utilizing a specific view of local history and culture. This roundtable explores the implications of such attempts to preserve and promote culinary traditions. Food is an integral part of cultural heritage, carrying beliefs, ethos, history and memory. It is both material, having physical presence in the foodstuff itself as well as in farming and cooking implements and architecture, clothing, artistic renderings, books, and so on connected to it; and intangible, consisting of knowledge, skills, performances, attitudes and beliefs. It can be argued then that food traditions from the past should be preserved and protected as part of Intangible Cultural Heritage, a phrase used by UNESCO. Participants will discuss the issues surrounding such preservation, possibly posing more questions than answers.