Festive foodscapes: iconizing food and the shaping of identity and place
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This dissertation explores the deliberate symbolization of food as iconic of place and community identity through consideration of food-themed place branding. When the association between a place and a food item is abstracted and promoted, and the food becomes emblematic of the place, the communal landscape becomes a foodscape. When a locality stages a festive performance of its food-themed identity, it becomes a festive foodscape. Drawing on ethnographic studies of the successful Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival and the failed Coppell (TX) PigFest, I demonstrate how image makers aim to generate a sense of place and a sense of community by commodifying place and identity through place-based food festivals. Cooking contests and other competitive festival events provide affirmation of the food-place association. Locale aggrandizement, a neolocalist impulse articulated through claims of “world” capitaldom and performed through festivals, is an attempt to secure place differentiation through place branding. Through case studies of cities that claim spinach and peach capitaldom, I demonstrate, however, that the rhetoric of distinction can instead foster place brand similitude. Incorporating the French concept terroir, which recognizes agricultural products as unique to their specific geographic places of origin, into place branding rhetoric would give expression to the food voice that constitutes foodscape. In becoming place-specific symbolic and identity capital, food often is abstracted from its cycle of production, as well as from its associations with particular ethnic foodways. As my discussion of garlic’s transition from a food on the fringe of American foodways to a food fad evinces, through the re-contextualization of place branding, a food can become suitable for fetishization, iconization, and festivalization. The transactional character of food – its multivalence and malleability as a symbol – makes it an attractive focus for image makers charged with community building and place differentiation. Consumption of place and consumption of identity are made palatable in a festive foodscape.