In Thailand today local cooking-school classes are a popular attraction on many tourist itineraries. Moreover, these experiences almost always prompt rave reviews from international visitors: “It was so much fun!” But why are cooking school classes fun? And what does this pleasure tell us about the cultural logics of authenticity in Thai culinary tourism and, more generally, about the commodification of food and identity in the contemporary global economy? Drawing on ethnographic observation in two of Thailand's primary tourist destinations, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, this article explores how cooking schools' claims to cultural authenticity intertwine with participants' experiences of playful entertainment. The ways in which cooking schools mobilize these dynamics illuminate the complex production and consumption of hierarchies of value within the global experience economy. On the one hand, Thailand's insertion within transnational circuits of touristic mobility and cosmopolitan desire has made the creative strategies of recreational cooking schools possible as well as potentially lucrative. On the other hand, the encounters schools stage between Thai and tourist participants remain framed by appetites for exotic cultural difference that ultimately reflect and reproduce global hierarchies of power and privilege.
Authentic Dishes, Staged Identities: Thailand's Cooking Schools for Tourists
Mary Beth Mills is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Colby College, Waterville, Maine. She is the author of Thai Women in the Global Labor Force: Consuming Desires, Contested Selves (Rutgers University Press) and writes about labor, mobility, gender, and commodification, particularly in relation to Thailand and other Asian contexts.
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Mary Beth Mills; Authentic Dishes, Staged Identities: Thailand's Cooking Schools for Tourists. Gastronomica 1 May 2019; 19 (2): 43–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2019.19.2.43
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