Food is embedded in culture. Or rather, food helps to constitute a culture. Sticking to my own neck of the woods, you only have to think of Texas BBQ or Tex-Mex cooking to see the close link between food and culture. The term “foodways” captures this link. This was crystallized for me when I saw that the “pizzaiuolo” – the distinctively Neapolitan art of making pizza – in 2017 had been inscribed in the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. I decided to research the question of food as part of the intangible cultural heritage and this mini-research guide is the result.
The key primary source is the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which was adopted in 2003 by the General Conference of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, headquartered in Paris. A first research question that arises is how one cites the Convention. There is a good online text of the Convention at the UNESCO website (more about this later), but that is not the preferred citation, although the Bluebook does permit citation to the website of an intergovernmental organization. (See rule 21.4.5(c)). The Director-General of UNESCO is the depositary of the Convention, so you can’t use Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General at the United Nations Treaty Collection. On the theory that the Convention is published in the United Nations Treaty Series, I did a title search using keywords from the name of the Convention in the United Nations Treaty Series Online at the United Nations Treaty Collection. Sure enough, the Convention comes up and with a little more work, you can go to the English text in PDF at 2368 U.N.T.S. 35.
A second research question that comes up is identifying which states are parties to the Convention and how many parties there are. The UNESCO website maintains an up-to-date list of parties to the Convention. From this list we learn that there are a remarkable 178 parties to the Convention (as of May 2019). With this kind of participation in the Convention, it is especially regrettable that the U.S. is not a party. Part of the problem is the fraught relationship between the U.S. and UNESCO itself. The U.S. attitude to the Convention is ably summarized in an article in the journal ethnologies.
We have mentioned the UNESCO website, and in fact it is excellent. In the area of Culture there is a sector devoted to Intangible Cultural Heritage. Among a wealth of information, there are some highlights. One is the 2018 edition in pdf of Basic Texts on the Convention. The centerpiece of the Convention are the Lists. There are two of these: the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. There is a separate Register of Good Safeguarding Practices. On the UNESCO website the Lists can be browsed and searched. Experience shows that searching on terms like “food” or “food preparation” does not return comprehensive results, so it is better to browse the entries in the Lists, which can be done in reverse chronological order. Interesting recent entries for food include Dolma making and sharing tradition (Azerbaijan 2017), Beer culture in Belgium (2016), and Oshi Pavlav, a traditional meal and its social and cultural contexts in Tajikistan (2016).
Secondary sources on point are not plentiful. A recent issue (25:4, November 2018) of the International Journal of Cultural Property is devoted to food as an element of the intangible cultural heritage. The anthropological context is found in the journal Food & Foodways (Taylor & Francis 1985-). There is a Commentary on the 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by Janet Blake (Institute of Art and Law 2006). Also worthy of note is The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage (2017). This is an area of international legal research that literally will make your mouth water.