Consuming Brazil’s Europe: Food Tourism and the Negotiation of Ethnic Identities in Southern Brazil

Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:50 AM
Room A707 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Glen Goodman, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Just north of Porto Alegre, capital of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, lies the imposing serra gaúcha. Prior to the mid-19th century, the area’s mountainous terrain and temperate climate had rendered it largely irrelevant to the dominant patterns of land use in Brazil, leaving the serra unincorporated in local and national economies.  These geographic factors also led Imperial Brazilian elites to imagine the serra gaúcha as an ideal destination for agricultural migrants from Europe.  Streams of Germans and later Italians settled in the region and, over time, became Brazilians.

Beginning in the 1950s and intensifying during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) and since, political and economic elites again attempted to fill the national imaginary with notions of the serra gaúcha’s Europeanness.  Rather than coax agricultural migration, this time their aim was to attract a slice of Brazil’s growing domestic tourism market.  Cities like Gramado, Caxias do Sul, and Bento Gonçalves became known as destinations where tourists could experience “authentic” Italian and German culture, a “Brazilian Europe,” without ever leaving the country.  The sorts of Europeanness mobilized for touristic consumption—negotiations between local patterns of everyday life and broader notions of the “Old Continent”—were fundamentally Brazilian. 

This paper analyzes the sights, sounds, and particularly the tastes that emerged from these negotiations.  It pays special attention to the presence of food and wine in government-sponsored programs and official tourism materials aimed at promoting Rio Grande do Sul’s particularity within Brazil.  What role did the state—both military and democratic—play in crystalizing and commodifying regional and ethnic differences through food?  How did notions Europeanness play into Brazil’s complex racial spectrum? Finally, how did the emergence of German cuisine and Italian wine as desirable touristic goods influence local identities?