Food Heritage in Spain. Can too many cooks spoil the broth?

Gastronomic heritage has emerged as an increasingly common soft diplomacy tool that countries leverage not only to highlight the uniqueness of their food traditions as a cultural expression, but also to increase their visibility for trade and tourism goals.

The identification of what counts as food/gastronomic heritage, as well as the policies to support and safeguard it, is the result of social and political negotiations among a large number of stakeholders with different and at times clashing priorities, values, and attitudes. Food heritage stakeholders include public institutions in several administrative areas and at several levels of government, as well as private entities in different economic fields, and a number of diverse cultural communities.

Agreeing on what should or should not be considered Spain’s food heritage -as well as on what to do with it- therefore engenders social and political tensions that are hard to navigate, in a scenario of unbalanced power and resources.

In this conversation with F. Xavier Medina (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) and Fabio Parasecoli (NYU Food Studies), we look at the current state of food heritage in Spain while we try to untangle the tensions that surround it and the most pressing issues that it faces.

Prof. F. Xavier Medina

F. Xavier Medina is Professor in Social Anthropology / Anthropology of Food and Nutrition at the Department of Food, Nutrition and Physical Activity, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain). He is the Director of the UNESCO Chair on Food, Culture and Development; and the current World President of the International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (ICAF). He is also principal investigator of FoodLab, Interdisciplinary research group on food, nutrition, society and health, and vice president of the Catalan Institute of Anthropology (ICA). He was a member of the editorial team for the candidature of the Mediterranean Diet as an Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO, 2010) and a current member of the Government of Catalonia's Catalan Food Council (CCA) and the Academic Council of the Catalan Institute of Cuisine and Gastronomic Culture (ICCCG).

His main research and teaching interests are: food and medical anthropology, food culture and heritage, tourism and socio-economic development linked to food and wine. As author or editor, he has published more than 30 books and more than 200 book chapters and scientific articles in journals, mainly on food issues. Some of his publications include:

Patrimonio gastronómico y turismo cultural en el Mediterráneo [Food Heritage and Cultural Tourism in the Mediterranean.] Ed., with J. Tresserras (2007); Identidades en el plato. El patrimonio alimentario entre América y Europa [Identities on the plate. Food heritage between America and Europe.] Ed., with M. Álvarez (2008); Food, Imaginaries and Cultural Borders. Ed. with R. Ávila e I. de Garine (2009); Alimentación, cocinas e intercambios culinarios. Confrontaciones culturales, identidades, resignificaciones [Food, cuisines and culinary exchanges. Cultural confrontations, identities, resignifications.] Ed. with R. Avila & M. Alvarez (2015); The Mediterranean Diet, from Health to Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future. Ed. with H. Macbeth (2021); Food, Gastronomy, Sustainability, and Social and Cultural Development. Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives. Ed. with D. Conde and L. Mariano (2023).

Prof. Fabio Parasecoli

Fabio Parasecoli is Professor of Food Studies at New York University, Steinhardt and a fellow at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. His research explores the cultural politics of food, particularly in media, design, and heritage. He studied East Asian cultures and political science in Rome, Naples and Beijing, and earned his doctorate in Agricultural Sciences at Hohenheim University, Germany. Recent books include Al Dente: A History of Food in Italy (2014), Feasting Our Eyes: Food, Film, and Cultural Citizenship in the US (2016, co-authored with Laura Lindenfeld), Knowing Where It Comes From: Labeling Traditional Foods to Compete in a Global Market (2017), Food (2019), Global Brooklyn: Designing Food Experiences in World Cities (2021, co-edited with Mateusz Halawa) and Gastronativism: Food, Identity, Politics (2022). His current book project is The Pierogi Problem: Reinventing Polish Food for Cosmopolitan Appetites (with Agata Bachórz and Mateusz Halawa, University of California Press, forthcoming 2024).

He recently conducted research in Spain on design and gastronomic heritage with the support of the Hispanex fund of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Spain.

Gloria Rodriguez-Garcia

Gloria Rodriguez-Garcia is a cultural manager and researcher specialized in food heritage. She holds a B. Eng., an M.S. in Cultural Management, and an M.A. in Food Studies from New York University, where she was a Fulbright scholar from 2014-2017. Her research focuses on the processes of identification, safeguard, and promotion of food heritage. She is the founder and executive director of Eat Spain Up!, a cultural initiative and action-based research project that explores the challenges of communicating Spain’s food culture abroad.

Co-sponsored by the King Juan Carlos Foundation, NYU King Juan Carlos Center and the NYU Department of Food Studies.

Research leading to this talk was made possible thanks to the Ministry of Culture and Sport of Spain and the Fulbright Commission in Spain.