When I was a little girl, my mother loved entertaining guests for Sunday dinner. We set the table with a tablecloth, cloth napkins and the good china and silverware. My mother cooked dishes for those Sunday guests that we didn’t eat everyday. She was a good cook and made healthy, balanced meals most of the time, but there were some dishes that she made only for guests or on holidays.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University published a study entitled “A Geography of Taste: Iowa’s Potential for Developing Place-Based and Traditional Foods.” The study examined examples of foods that are specific to a region and marketed specifically as a product of that geographic origin.
Specific examples are European cheeses and wines that are specific to certain regions, such as Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or Rhine wines. In this country examples include certain kinds of wine grapes and the Vidalia onion which can only be grown in Georgia. The names of these products are protected to insure consumers that the food was grown or processed in the region where they were traditionally developed.
The use of geographical indicators are an effort to move at least some food production out of commodity markets and give farmers and local processors more control over the supply and price of what they grow.
The identification of certain foods as being grown or produced in a specific region is also tied to the growth of agritourism. The development of many states’ wine industries have increased the tourism to those areas where there are a number of wineries producing identifiable local and regional wines.
The idea of developing a regional or local cuisine is an interesting idea. If you ask someone who has traveled to Europe describe their trip, often they will mention the food somewhere in their recounting.
It does make sense to make sure that people visiting our communities in rural North Dakota go home raving about the good meals they had. Eating on vacation, after all, is an important part of the experience.
It seems to me, however, that if we look at developing a “local cuisine” simply to attract tourists, any businesses based on the effort will not survive long. It is like putting out the fine china only for guests.
Tourists only stay for a short time and most tourism is seasonal. That has some advantages, but limits the economic stability of a business based solely on catering to visitors. Tourism tends also to be fickle. The place to go this year is probably not on the list of “must see” places next year. Consider the North Shore of Lake Superior. At one time, it was the most sought after place in the Midwest to have a summer home or to vacation. Now the second home growth areas are in Montana and other places where the buffalo roam. Many tourist-based businesses on Lake Superior are struggling.
Developing a local food menu just for tourists seems disingenuous. Do people go to France and rave about the food because they feed tourists well? No, they rave about the food because the French eat well and share their cuisine with visitors. People are looking for experiences that are real.
Developing a local menu does have potential to enhance tourism in our state. The food should be made with fresh, high quality ingredients. It should be primarily locally grown and processed. It should be made with identifiable regional and local recipes.
Before we do this as a means to attract tourists, however, we need improve our own eating habits and food options. After all, isn’t the goal to get people to want to live here, not just visit?
We need to find ways to use the good china everyday.