Traditional foods at IP in Romania (4)

As argued in previous blogs on the IP in Romania, the category ‘traditional’ is socially constructed by social relations based on current perceptions of ‘tradition’. Foods celebrated and successfully marketed now as traditional, a positive category which offsets itself against placeless, mass-produced, standardised foods, can have a troubled social history. Some of these foods came into being as a result of social inequality, social injustice or exploitation. This part of the history usually disappears in current marketing efforts which show romanticized images of the countryside and small-scale farming. Continue reading

Traditional foods at IP in Romania (3)

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. Continue reading

Traditional foods at IP in Romania (2)

At the Intensive Program for two weeks in Cluj-Napoca, students from France, Italy, Romania, Slovenia, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands study the relationship between traditional foods and micro organisms. Next week, they will receive lectures in micro-biology and they will go on a study trip to the mountains to learn about Slow Food in Romania. This week, they study traditional foods from a social science point of view, with lectures from sociologists and economists. Some of these lectures deal with how to market traditional foods, which are credence foods. Adding the category ‘traditional’ adds value/credence to the food, similar to the category ‘organic’ or ‘healthy’. An apple is not just an apple anymore but an órganic apple, which brings a world of associations and symbolic connections to the product. Once a credence food, it is vulnerable to cheating practices, how to distinguish the ‘real’ traditional food from its wannabee imitations? (see short BBC item on camenbert) Continue reading

Traditional foods at IP in Romania

Two weeks of Intensive Program are currently in progress in Cluj-Napoca, in the North West of Romania. Coming from 7 different countries, 42 students are learning about Traditional foods in relation to micro organisms. The course is international and interdisciplinary, this week they first had lectures in Sensory Analysis from colleagues of France, Belgium and Denmark and yesterday they started with the social science part in which I gave the first lecture on Food Culture & Authenticity.

We started the week on Monday with student presentations of Traditional Foods from their countries which we closed with a tasting session on the many products they brought. I used many of their examples in my lecture yesterday. For example, not one of the products presented was related to the ‘breakthrough’ of new preservation techniques (such as freezing) which developed simultanously with industrialisation. Of course, but without realising I found out, everybody had chosen products that had ‘old’ preservation techniques such as salting, smoking and fermenting.

A product such as sour cabbage was presented as typical for Romania but disputed by other students, for sauerkraut – zuurkool  is a typical winterfood in many Eastern and Northern European countries. Cabbage, Pork, Cheese, Fruits such as plums, Walnuts were among the main ingredients of many traditional foods presented. Traditional because these products are rooted in rural self-subsistance household preservation. Pork, for example, is the pride of Romania. One of the traditional foods presented by a Romanian student group was the Ignat on the 20th of December. On this day, families in rural areas gather together and sacrifice the pig they have kept for this reason. It is a big ritual with particular techniques involved and roles to play for different members of the household. More than once, I heard the ‘joke’ that pork is the vegetable for Romanians.