At the IP in Romania (see two earlier blogs) students study various aspects related to traditional foods, from discussions over micro-organisms and hygiene rules to marketing and rural development. The category ‘traditional’ is a social construction, what is considered traditional changes with time and cultural context. Tradition is influenced by new techniques and innovations; which one is allowed and which one is not? But also by current food cultures and the customer base to which traditional foods appeal. Traditional foods often carry one or more labels to protect these products against imitation. This is necessary as customers are usually cultural outsiders, urban consumers, tourists or consumers in other countries. Without a cultural reference point, they can’t judge on their own whether the product is traditionally produced and thus as authentic as claimed.
Some products presented by the students did not have labels, such as sour cabbage, bacon or walnut cake. On the question of how to distinguish a good cake from a bad one or the best bacon, students answered that ‘you just can smell it’ or ‘you just know’ and ‘so many houses so many recipes’. Indeed, when grown up with bacon, the practice of smelling has taken place many many times. Cultural outsiders, however, will be lost in the (super)market. Traditional products for the outsider are in fact exotic products revealing something of the unknown ‘other’. A good example of this is the plum jam Magiun Topoloveni which is the only geographically protected product of Romania winner of taste contests at European level. But with plums in many backyards here, the jam is mainly exported.