Well, it can’t really be described in one post, let alone one blog or even one dissertation, but Rachel Laudan, a food historian and anthropologist, examines what Culinary Heritage means to a culture and its history, as well as where it is headed.
Intangible cultural heritage is designed to induce economic development, particularly tourism.
She described how she was with UNESCO in Cuba in the 1980s when the economy was at a particularly low state. That, and the fact that income from tourism formed the largest part of GNP in a significant number of the world’s countries, made her and other officials at UNESCO rethink the idea that development depended on material resources such minerals or agricultural land. Economic development could also follow from promoting a country’s cultural heritage.
At first this meant identifying important buildings or groups of buildings or natural features (Havana, Guanajuato where I used to live, Yosemite etc.). These “patrimonios de la humanidad” don’t seem to me to have a huge amount of visibility in the United States but they certainly do in Mexico and many other countries. I’ve never seen any figures on whether they increase tourism but clearly they are widely believed to do so.
Next step. Tourists don’t want just monuments, natural or manmade, they want experiences. Hence UNESCO decided to set up this other category of immaterial cultural heritage. Gloria Lopez repeated several times that the culture in question was not to be limited to (or perhaps not even to include) European-style high culture, Goethe being one example she gave. It was to emphasize dance, folk art, and even cuisine. Here’s a list of already-approved immaterial heritages at the UNESCO site
I should mention that Rachel is actually citing a speech made by Gloria Lopez, however Rachel examines these topics on an almost daily basis on her blog, which I’m sure I will be citing myself often in the future.
I like the concept of examining food as another tourist experience. Just like many other tourist spots, food and culinary heritage can be ruined by too many outsiders trying to get “the real experience” or visit something exciting, but not too exciting, and Mexican food is a perfect example. one needs only to go to the nearest Mexican restaurant in America to find this out for themselves… Not to say that Taco-Burrito Hut is a bad thing, especially at 3 in the morning on a Friday or Saturday…