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Session 6 Communicating Cultures through the Senses: Speakers

Session 6

Communicating Cultures through the Senses

14 July 2020

Can cultural traditions and transformations be read and experienced through food?


Tracy Berno

“Lets do Thai”: Exploring Thai culture through multi-sensory food experiences

​Thai cuisine is one of the most recognised cuisines in the world. Through successive campaigns, the Thai government has been highly successful in positioning its national cuisine internationally to create a strong culinary brand identity. Indeed, the world has been invited to “discover Thainess” through enjoying Thai cuisine. But eating Thai food is only one of many ways of experiencing Thainess through cuisine. Drawing on recent research on gastronomy tourism in Thailand, this presentation will consider other ways in which Thai culture can be experienced through food. 

In this presentation, the synergistic relationship between gastronomy as an expression of the culinary arts and creativity, innovation and design will be explored from an integrated cluster approach in which territorial assets, including cultural, heritage and historical traditions (food, crafts, folklore, visual arts, drama, literary references, and historical sites), and natural resources (landscapes, flora, fauna, physical, and social spheres of production), come together in a place-based approach that capitalises on the distinct local characteristics that define a particular place and imbue its food with cultural meaning and terroir. Particular consideration will be given to the aesthetics of rice in Thai cuisine and culture as a means of understanding Thainess. It will be argued that to utilise food as a means for understanding Thai culture through its cuisine, one needs to also understand (not just eat) rice in all its cultural manifestations. 

Tracy Berno is an Associate Professor at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand. Her research interests include the relationship between agriculture, tourism and cuisine, sustainable food systems and food politics. She has researched and published on agriculture, culture, cuisine and tourism in the South Pacific and Asia, and has co-authored two international award-winning books in this area, including one (Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific) which won best cookbook in the world award in 2010.

Melanie Narcisco.jpg

Melanie Narciso

Eat Softly Now: An Anthropological Chewing of Pampango Rice Preference Transitions 

The turn of the century anthropological rethinking of the senses reinterpreted the human sensoria as dynamic and imposing of change or vulnerable to the social order. As such, scholars have started following changes in the sensory combinations of multiple cultures for nuanced stories they tell. To date, this lens is still underutilized in the area of nutrition and gastronomy, where observation of sensory transitions may identify and characterize privileged gustatory sensations precarious to human health. 

Thus, this paper explores the makings of a possible sensory transition in/through the Philippine rice landscape. Recently, Philippine rice grain quality authorities reported cooked rice preference of Filipinos has changed from chewy in the 1980s, to soft in the 1990s, to softer in the 2000s as routine sensory evaluation activities revealed decreasing preference scores for intermediate to high amylose rice. Also, the consumer market, while predominated by soft or intermediate amylose rice, is now selling more market varieties with low amylose. 

This paper investigates sensory transition in a rice farming community in the Philippines drawing from an ethnographic study of the rice/fermented landscape in Candaba, Pampanga. It measures textural preferences for rice/fermented rice across three generations of locals. Aligned with emergent contextualized and inter-sensorial anthropological retheorizations of senses, it employs a food elicitations technique to glean preferences from the explosion of sensations, memories, meanings and emotions elicited rice. It presents textures as social intermediaries especially within local meal security praxis. It also confronts with a synesthetic nature of preferences inviting further food-sense-memory centered cultural analysis. 


Melanie Narciso is a doctoral candidate of Anthropology at the University of Georgia Athens. She is a nutritionist by training with bachelors and masters degrees from the University of the Philippines and University of Wisconsin. Prior to doing her doctoral studies, she was assistant professor at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños. She is an advocate of food and nutrition security and heritage conservation, researching and promoting these through biocultural diversity, ethnonutrition, taste and memory. Her earlier research has focused on the grain and nutritional quality of rice, food preparation practices for infant and young child, traditional and indigenous food documentation and innovations.  Currently, she is in the Philippines working on her dissertation that examines the landscape of fermented food making and consumption in Candaba, Pampanga to describe the state of the art of traditional ferments and the impact of rice modernization on their cultural transmission. She is specifically exploring how societies remember their fermented traditions by studying how culinary and gastronomic memories are constituted/reconstituted in changing landscapes of rice biodiversity and quality.


This study is funded by the National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (BCS-1918273) and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture PhD Research Grant. 

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