Ibérico: Cured Meats and Discourses of Rurality in Late 20th-Century Marketing of the Global Gastronomic “Brand Spain”

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:30 PM
Wilson Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Alejandro J. Gomez-del-Moral, University of Southern Mississippi at Gulf Coast
During the late twentieth century, Spanish cuisine experienced a surge in international prestige. In the mid-1960s, as Spain underwent an economic boom that opened the nation socially and culturally to the West, the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (1939-1975) vigorously promoted the virtues of Spain’s cuisine abroad. These efforts fit within a broader effort by the regime to sell foreigners on images of a sunny, “folkloric” Spain whose beaches, rugged countryside, and quaint people were more palatable than the Franco regime’s political repression. Francoism’s collapse in the late 1970s transformed Spanish politics and society; official promotion of the gastronomic “Brand Spain” was not similarly interrupted. To the contrary: since the 1970s, Spanish culinary celebrities such as José Andrés have only raised Spanish cuisine’s international profile, as have cookbooks by figures like Andrés and Marimar Torres of the famed Torres winemaking family; television programs that have introduced audiences to Spain’s delicacies; as well as retailers like Virginia-based LaTienda.com, a major U.S. purveyor of Spanish foods. And crucially, this flood of publicity has often invoked, and contributed to, popular discourses that stress Spanish food’s cultural authenticity and close, farm-to-table links between product and countryside – in short, a fetishization of rurality.

This paper evaluates these rural discourses and how diverse agents in the world of gastronomy have deployed them. Specifically, it will focus on one family of products central to Spain’s global brand: embutidos (cured meats like chorizo), and Spanish jamón (ham). And it will center on representations of rural and regional Spain – the Extremaduran countryside that produces Spain’s fine ibérico hams as well as regions known for distinctive products like Catalonia’s fuet sausage – as these have been disseminated by food media, by retailers like La Tienda, and of course, by the Spanish state and these products’ makers themselves.

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