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Author: Renée Valeri
Editor: Solomon H. Katz
Date: 2003
Encyclopedia of Food and Culture
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 3
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 415


TRAVEL. During the course of history, the impact of travel on the relationship between food and man has been manifold. Encounters with new foods have often caused reactions of dissociation or of rejection—not only of the foods themselves, but also of the people eating them. The widespread idea that the food consumed by a group of people is closely connected with their level of civilization has been a way to express and underscore differences between neighboring populations. Food being an inoffensive category, it readily lends itself to becoming a means of distinguishing between "us and them," both geographically, in relation, for instance, to regions or countries, and socially, setting "us" apart from people within the same region we consider to be at a lower level in the social hierarchy.

Food habits are closely linked to a person's conception of identity. The acceptance of different foodstuffs, or their avoidance—taste or distaste—is a mixture of cultural conditioning and personal idiosyncrasies. It is natural, therefore, that the food consumed by one's own group is considered to be the "proper food," whereas the food of the others encountered during one's travels is accepted with some reluctance. Foods associated with a higher status are more easily adopted, as are those associated with lifestyles one wishes to share.

Obviously the reason for traveling will have some bearing on the attitude toward the food encountered. Page 416  |  Top of Article
American railroad fare is not much better today than in the nineteenth century. Travelers on the Chesapeake & Ohio line were obliged to buy their bad coffee, railroad cakes, hardtack, and Sally Lunns from vendors who congregated at stations along the way. FROM JOHN BACHELDER'S POPULAR RESORTS (BOSTON, 1875). ROUGHWOOD COLLECTION. American railroad fare is not much better today than in the nineteenth century. Travelers on the Chesapeake & Ohio line were obliged to buy their bad coffee, railroad cakes, hardtack, and Sally Lunns from vendors who congregated at stations along the way. FROM JOHN BACHELDER'S POPULAR RESORTS (BOSTON, 1875). ROUGHWOOD COLLECTION. People who have been forcibly displaced (through war, disasters, slavery [but see below], economic hardships, or religious persecution) are more likely to maintain earlier food habits, where possible—partly through lack of means, partly from nostalgia for a lifestyle that has been lost. If, on the other hand, travel is undertaken on a voluntary basis, especially for pleasure (most notably tourism), people are more likely to try new foods.

Historically, little is known about travelers' food. It may be said that in general those who could took their food (and even people in charge of preparing it) with them, which meant that they tried to emulate their usual food habits. Others would make do with the local fare at wayside inns or the tables of hospitable notables. After the emergence of restaurants at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Europe, an internationalized bourgeois cuisine became available to travelers. Regional cooking did not start to come into focus for the general public until the period between the two World Wars, alongside the emergence of automobile tourism. And only recently has local and regional food become a focus of scientific as well as of touristic discourse. To better understand the role of food in travel one needs to distinguish different categories of travelers. Professional travelers of the past, such as sailors and military men, would in the main take their own food with them; however, at the same time, they were often adventurers and would typically experience extremely foreign foods, though they would only rarely bring these back with them.

In many instances on the other hand, food became the very reason for travel: explorers set out from Europe to reach the homelands of desirable foods, particularly spices. In a second phase, explorers were followed by tradesmen, civilian officials, and others establishing colonies on other continents. From these activities came sugar, tea, coffee, and many fruits, vegetables, and grains (for example, pineapples, potatoes, and rice), now everyday commodities in the Western world. Their history is intertwined with that of major empires. In some cases, myths have been constructed around them (for instance, the one claiming that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China—belied by the fact that there was a flourishing commerce of pasta in the Mediterranean before the time of his travels). The rise and fall of food trends is clearly reflected in more general world history, as exemplified by the passion for spices in the Middle Ages and Renaissance leading to journeys of exploration, or the court culture of Italy and France, which, through traveling notables, influenced the food habits in many European countries from the sixteenth century onward.

For immigrants, the acquisition of new food habits is dependent on the time spent in the new environment (usually it is a matter of generations). As for any traveler, the reaction to the different food habits experienced will be related to the scope and duration of the travel. A special case is that of the American Pilgrims adopting the food of Native Americans, with the event evolving into a national commemorative meal: the Thanksgiving dinner. On the other hand, the slaves brought to America from Africa, who had no possibility of either maintaining their own food habits or having a free choice among those they met in the new country, have developed a very different symbolic food: soul food.

However, food habits may also be affected in the opposite direction. Colonies of foreign nationals have introduced new items in the diet of the new environment. Thus, for example, in the Middle Ages, gingerbread spread throughout Europe with German immigrants, and more recently Chinese food has become a familiar food in Western countries. Following the rise of charter tourism in the 1950s, pizza and pasta started to become a familiar food in many countries outside Italy, having in some places even replaced potatoes as an everyday staple food.

During the second half of the twentieth century, food began to play a significant role in tourism. In the meeting with the unfamiliar that takes place during travel, food plays a central role, since everybody has to eat every day, and so the deviation from what is habitual and accepted cannot be avoided or disregarded. Travel thus brings about an awareness of differences between the self (the learned and shared culture at home) and others (notably, their culture and habits), as it forces the individual to venture into the realm of sensory experiences that belong to the others. In parallel with the increased movement Page 417  |  Top of Article of people we see in recent times, the establishment of international restaurants and sale of foreign foodstuffs means one no longer needs to travel to experience foreign foods. This highlights some of the paradoxes of the international world today, where tourists may oscillate between the attraction of what represents "other" and adventure, and the unchallenging ease of familiarity and security. Tourists typically want to escape boredom, but to do so while staying within their comfort zone.

Renée Valeri

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3403400579