Friday, 16 May 2014

REFLECTIVE FRIDAYS: EXPLORING THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF 'THE HUNGRY TOURIST'

BY: IRINA MIHALACHE

Every other Friday, I will post some of my reflections on exciting things happening & writings in the field (and by field, I mean the overly interdisciplinary field of museum studies).  My plan is to keep you updated on current discussions and debates in different journals, books, archives and blogs which I will be consulting over the summer.   Many times I might reflect on a concept, an idea or a question (and, because right now I am working on a project about food and museums at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I might even share with you some of my findings).   

Today, I start with a story about sisters, sustainable development and “the hungry tourist”.  I promise you that it will all make senses by the end and I bet you will have a thing or two to share with me.   When you have two sisters-academics, it is only natural that some sisterly interdisciplinarity will somehow be in the making.  While we both come from different disciplines/areas of study – my sister, Andreea Mihalache O’Keef is Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, we both find matters of intangible heritage and food incredibly fascinating but also difficult to tackle.  But nothing is too difficult for us, so together we decided to explore a concept which we crafted (we take pride in our creativity!) around issues of global tourism and consumption, “the hungry tourist”.  And, to give you an idea of “whom” we might be talking about, you can entertain yourself with the following video of no one else but the chef without a kitchen himself, “hungry tourist” extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain.  


What is you take on Bourdain’s style of exploring the world? What is he looking for in his travels and his consumption of local foods? How would you describe his masculinity?

 We plan to take the idea of the hungry tourist and make it into, first, a conference presentation and then into an article (this is what the summer is for).  In our future work, we will engage with the concept of hunger through the critical evaluation of “the hungry tourist,” which we define as a social and cultural construct that reflects contemporary practices of travelling to “other” countries seeking authentic, unmediated, and local experiences, often related to food and foodways.  As you can probably guess already, we believe that the hungry tourist shares ideological beliefs with other rather popular communities, such as the foodie, the hipster, and the bohemian-bourgeois (bobo). 

The hungry tourist allows us to take on a dainty task – to interrogate the traditional definitions of hunger, which usually refer to the powerlessness of underdeveloped communities faced with Western neo-imperialism, and to emphasize how hunger – which we also define as the desire to consume the local in the context of global tourism – applies to various political and cultural contexts, even in the West.  Intentionally or not, the hunger of the privileged creates opportunities to quell the hunger of “the other.”   We propose a cultural history of the hungry tourist, arguing that this new set of ideologies and practices tied to global tourism, intangible heritage, and sustainable development is rooted in a larger context of colonialism, post-colonialism, and contemporary claims for local agency and that it represents a channel of globalization with the potential for positive socio-economic externalities for local communities.  

And on this note, have you ever been a hungry tourist yourself? I know I have, despite all my academic and self-reflective attempts not to be.  If you have, how did you experience your relation to the idea of the local and to locals themselves? 

5 comments:

  1. While reading this post, I realized how familiar this concept of the "hungry tourist" is in the ethos of global tourism, but I have never seen it so clearly defined -- or deconstructed -- as you have done here. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this innovative work on the blog this summer and in the forthcoming article!

    Along with all the components of the "hungry tourist" that you've detailed above, I also associate a sense of status and pride (sometimes aggressively so) in the level of authenticity that the hungry tourist is able to experience while traveling. (I can't help but recall a certain Portlandia episode in which Kath and Dave loudly criticize a Spanish restaurant in Portland because its tapas aren't "authentic" enough.) In this way, the presence of the "hungry tourist" is felt not only in his or her global travels, but also in attitudes and lifestyles at home.

    As for the Anthony Bourdain trailer, already I switched on my "critical academic eye" when the title flashed on the screen. "Parts Unknown" -- to whom? Obviously, to the North American viewer/traveler, but I find it interesting that the shots of many of these "unknown" areas to which Bourdain is traveling reveal crowded train stations, markets, and other public spaces.

    And the necessity of the show to be fast-paced (I assume Bourdain will be in a different place every episode) and how it is reflected in the trailer -- city names flashing across the screen, Bourdain constantly in motion through countries and kitchens -- may also reflect certain characteristics of the "hungry tourist": often moving with not enough time to actually dive deep into a culture, but enough to gain the sense of cultural understanding by getting a quick "taste" of the culture (pun intended!) through authentic culinary experiences.

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  2. P.S. And I love that this is a family affair -- can we please see the Mihalache sisters lecture together on this topic someday at the iSchool?

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  3. Super excited about this new column, Irina! It's great to get an inside look into your research and summer activities! The 'hungry tourist' is so intriguing - I look forward to learning more.

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  4. I am very much looking forward to hearing more from you and your sister! Don't forget to sample yummy treats while you conduct your research. :)

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