Nationality of Food: Cultural Politics on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Food Museums

Eunju Hwang, Jin Suk Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research explores how cultural items such as food belong to particular nations when they are shared by many countries and why nations claim a certain type of culture as theirs. Just as many European nations in the nineteenth century, East Asian countries claim and appropriate cultural items as their own and this phenomenon of cultural appropriation often causes national disputes as the origins of the cultures are not known due to their entangled history, geographical proximity and even climate similarity. This research examines narratives of belonging found in the active promotion of food culture exemplified through entities such as the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and food museums. To answer how countries claim culture as theirs, Hobsbawm and Ranger’s invention of tradition and Foucault’s system of exclusion will be applied to the current trend of cultural appropriation.
The study also explores why countries appropriate food culture. Often it is a necessary step for modernizing nations to invent cultural traditions because it provides viable solutions to internal problems which are created in the process of modernization. National culture provides a sense of national identity and unity, confirms the legitimacy of the government, and even annihilates a sense of historical responsibility; reasons which are often required in East Asian nations due to rampant colonization, political crimes under dictatorships or otherwise non-democratic nations, and the reality of being a relatively newly developed or developing nation state. Therefore, emerging countries which newly gained economic power often benefit from food disputes.
While probing how and why nations appropriate culture, it is demonstrated how the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and food museums attempt to cease controversial debate on the origin. The authenticity of these institutions convinces people to misbelieve that recently invented culture is old or an authentic tradition, therefore, to believe that food belongs to a certain nation state.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-41
Number of pages21
Issue number202
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2023


The Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2018- INC -2230002)


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