11 Jan 2011

Food accepted as cultural heritage - food is surely culture

Recently, UNESCO inscribed two food-related traditions/cultures in their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. One might say that finally food has officially received status as a true part of our common cultural heritage.

Of course, food is culture and very few would not accept this as a fact. However, since numerous other cultural heritages are accepted as world heritage, it is important that food culture is not passed over. The UNESCO World heritage list is probably well known to most, but there is also another list called the Intangible Cultural Heritage list intended to safeguard immaterial cultural heritage. In this list, at least four entries relate closely to food and food culture.

The gastronomic meal of the French (inscribed 2010)
The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. [...] Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations. [...]
Corresponding UNESCO web page with more information, slideshow and video.

Traditional Mexican cuisine (inscribed 2010)
Traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating.

Corresponding UNESCO web page with more information, slideshow and video.

The Mediterranean diet (Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain, inscribed 2010)
The Mediterranean diet constitutes a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including the crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation and, particularly, consumption of food.
Corresponding UNESCO web page with more information, slideshow and video.

Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia (inscribed 2010)
The tradition of gingerbread making appeared in certain European monasteries during the Middle Ages and came to Croatia where it became a craft. [...] The craft has been passed on from one generation to another for centuries, initially to men, but now to both men and women. Gingerbread has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Croatian identity. Today, gingerbread makers are essential participants in local festivities, events and gatherings, providing the local people with a sense of identity and continuity.
Corresponding UNESCO web page with more information, slideshow and video.

Intangible World Heritage of Humanity
As defined by UNESCO intangible cultural heritages include oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. The first entries were added to the list in 2008.

Some selected examples from other fields are tango (Argentina, Uruguay), flamenco (Spain), carpet weaving (Azerbaijan, Iran and Iran) , Peking opera (China), Chinese calligraphy, the duduk and it's music (a woodwind instrument, Armenia) and much more. The whole list is found here.

And what impact might this have? Honestly I don't really know, and considering the list some countries have a much stronger representation compared to others; Croatia has 10 entries whereas Brazil has two. Belgium has seven entries whereas the US is not represented at all and Greece shares one single entry with three other countries. The states themselves are the ones to propose cultural heritage elements and the "informed consent of the community" is a prerequisite in order to be taken into account, so I guess this might have a bearing upon how many elements various countries are able to submit for evaluation.

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