Peculiar gastronomy: Why do we eat scary food?

Scary food: Commodifying culinary heritage as meal adventures in tourism
Szilvia Gyimóthy1 and
Reidar Johan Mykletun2
1Department of Service Management, Lund University/Campus Helsingborg, Box 882, 25108 Helsingborg, Sweden,
2Department of Service Management, Lund University/Campus Helsingborg, Box 882, 25108 Helsingborg, Sweden


This article portrays the changing status and use of a traditional Norwegian meal, Smalahove, in designing tourist experiences. Against all odds, this peculiar relic of Nordic gastronomy (salted, smoked and cooked sheep’s head) has become a part of the destination brand of Voss, a small West Norwegian township, renowned for its topographic qualities related to extreme sports. In order to understand the recent success of Smalahove, we studied various culinary experience concepts offered to visitors. Based on data from a mixed-method case study approach, we found that entrepreneurs in the Voss region had developed a new commodification approach to a culinary heritage. Smalahove is marketed not only as a nostalgic and authentic rural dish, but also as a challenging culinary trophy appealing to thrill-seeking consumers. The implications of the Sheep’s head case are twofold. First, it represents new commercial potentials for marketing `extreme’ culinary specialties. Second, it is an example of innovative rural destination branding, by which local dishes are not mere idyllic expressions of an agricultural past, but an opportunity to open up potential new avenues for the co-branding of rural destinations and regional food products.

Science daily Article

Excerpts from the Science daily article.

Conquering fear
Together with associate professor Szilvia Gyimóthy from the University of Aalborg, Reidar Mykletun has done research on the concept of scary food, and how entrepreneurial persons have called attention to traditional food and made it popular. Studies have resulted in two research articles on the topic.
“To eat scary food has been part of adventure tourism,” Mykletun says. He believes this interest in extreme food experience has become trendy.
To eat sheep’s head is a demanding experience for many people.
“It is like overcoming fear. One is proud when one has mastered it,” Mykletun says.
“We experience a conflict between trying new tastes on the one hand and avoiding bad tastes on the other,” he explains.

Many obstacles
The reason why some dishes are scarier than others, is often that we come uncomfortably close to the experience of eating something that has been alive. The appearance of the sheep’s head is frightening: To eat a face can be disgusting.
Moreover, we are accustomed to what is right and wrong food to eat. For many, a head falls into in the latter category and thus something we feel is revolting.
The smell of smoked mutton can also be an obstacle for us. The powerful aroma of a cooked sheep’s head has a subconscious effect on us and this is often a warning of something dangerous or unpleasant. And then we may not want to eat it.


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