ENCOUNTERING EXOTIC CUISINE ON FOREIGN LANDS: NARRATIVES FROM AMERICAN TRAVELERS

2019-05-15T16:35:57Z (GMT) by Saerom Wang
With the rise of individuals’ interests in travelling for a meaningful experience, travelers today not only immerse themselves in consuming food for pleasure but also seek to gain meaningful outcomes. In particular, local food consumption experiences can facilitate travelers to enhance their sense of competence and perceived personal growth, referred to as eudaimonic wellbeing. As travelers experience the culture of the destination and enjoy the sense of exoticness through consumption of local food, they can recognize their capabilities and learn better about themselves through contrast with others. Yet, limited knowledge exists on the higher-level outcomes of such an experience and the process through which travelers encounter local food.

Therefore, the first study proposed to understand the procedures through which travelers experience local food, utilizing symbolic interactionism as a theoretical perspective. According to symbolic interactionists, role-playing is a paramount process that shapes individuals’ behaviors and experiences (Hewitt, 1976). Accordingly, this study outlined the role-playing process for each role-taking (taking the role of others to understand their role and associated expectations) and role-making (playing their own role and acting based on related expectations). In role-taking, four themes were identified including Utilization of Symbolic Cues, Imitating, Simulation of Other’s Position, and Comparison with Expected Characteristic of a Role. For role-making processes, three themes emerged including Performance of One’s Regular Role, Disassociation of Self from One’s Role, and Creation of a Desired Role. As such, various role-playing activities were identified as critical means through which travelers determine their behavior and appraisal of their local food consumption experience. Such a finding is valuable in extending the existing literature that mostly paid attention to cognition or emotion as the procedures through which people construct their experience (Hume, Mort, Liesch, & Winzar, 2006).

To understand the higher-level outcome of local food consumption experience that relates to eudaimonic wellbeing, the second study investigated changes in self-concept based on travelers’ encounters with local food. Individuals’ food choice behaviors or food practices have been identified as important bearers of their identity in the general food consumption literature (Valli & Traill, 2005). Yet, travelers’ food consumption activities have been mostly viewed merely as a pleasurable pursuit in the food and tourism studies (Kivela & Crotts, 2006). In line with the characteristic of one’s self-concept being subject to change (Festinger, 1954), the second study explored whether and how travelers modify their self-concept through their local food consumption experiences. The findings showed that self-concept change took place in terms of two themes of General Self-Concept and Eating Self-Concept. Within General Self-Concept, four aspects of self-concept appeared to have changed or emerged including Superiority, Satisfaction, Cultural Competency, and Appreciation. As for Eating Self-Concept, it was found that travelers’ self-concept changes involved Mindful Eating, International Food Expertise, and Eating Characteristics. Some of the factors that caused these self-concept modifications include the characteristic of local food experience being challenging, representative of local culture and identity, and exotic. Therefore, the findings are valuable in demonstrating local food consumption experience as a case in which people can change how they view themselves, what specifically change, and how they change based on their encounters with local food.

The third study aimed to investigate emotional bonding with the place, place attachment, as another outcome that is associated with eudaimonic wellbeing. Attention was paid to how travelers’ psychological comfort plays a role in their place attachment development. In addition, such an influence of psychological comfort on place attachment was explored by comparing Koreans and Americans to contrast possible cultural differences between the two groups regarding the degree to which comfort is valued in forming their place attachment level. Specifically, comfort was measured for three major elements of the local food consumption experience including atmospherics, interaction with service providers, and food. The findings showed that comfort with all three elements can influence travelers’ place attachment levels and that individuals from different cultures can vary in the degree to which comfort shapes their place attachment levels. Thus, this study expands our knowledge by proposing comfort with local food consumption experience as a critical trigger of emotional bonding development between travelers and the travel destination.

The synthesis of these key findings from the three studies explicates how travelers’ eudaimonic wellbeing can be enhanced from an overarching viewpoint. In line with the basic premise of self-determination theory which suggests that one’s eudaimonic wellbeing is promoted when three psychological needs (competence, autonomy, and relatedness) are satisfied (Deci & Ryan, 1985), propositions were outlined regarding how these psychological needs can be met through role-playing activity, self-concept change, and place attachment development based on consuming local food. As one’s general wellbeing comprises both hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing (Ryff & Keyes, 1995), the linkage proposed between local food consumption experience and eudaimonic wellbeing complements the current view that has been focused on hedonic aspects of travelers’ local dining experience.