The construction of food and meal culture for political and commercial ends : EU-summits, rural businesses and World Exhibitions

Abstract: This thesis examines how cultural values of food and meal culture were expressed and used by professional agents. The overall aim was to analyse and synthesise the interpretation and creation by professionals in commercial food and meal production of what they defined as a local, regional or national food and meal culture. Four groups of professional agents were interviewed on their use of food and meal culture as cultural value and form when: organising meals for ministerial meetings during Sweden’s first tenure of the rotating European Union presidency (chairmanship) in 2001 (political civil servants, meal editors, chefs and sponsors), producing and marketing food and meals in rural areas (restaurateurs, food producers and event organisers), branding food products with a place-related origin (marketing consultants), and when food products and meals were deployed in the international political arena of world exhibitions, 1851–2005 (political civil servants). Data was gathered using qualitative methods: semi-structured interviews, various observation techniques and analysis of contemporary and historical government and commercial documents. The analytical methods used were based on how agents in a field interact to negotiate the values significant in the field, and on how the use of cultural form as symbol affects the presentation. Culinary arts and meal science methodology as followed using ethnological research techniques. The results showed that food and meal culture for commercial and political use was carefully shaped to achieve specific professional goals: to be bought or accepted by the customer or citizen. Meals for EU ministers were designed to match those visitors’ apprehensions of high-status Swedish food and of local food and meal culture. In marketing situations, food product brands were created and shaped to match consumer ideas of place-related origin and ‘genuineness’. At world exhibitions, food and meals were presented as entertainment based on stereotypes of pre-existing food and meal culture. Concepts of the ‘commercial’ and ‘political’ dimensions became cultural values affecting the cultural form, demonstrating that in these cases culture was manufactured to be acceptable to its consumers.

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