Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
When agricultural commodities and other goods circulate globally, particularly those originating in the global south and moving to destinations in the global north, one result can be a sharp disjuncture between the meanings and value these commodities hold for their producers and the values they represent for end-point consumers. In fact, the profitability of these global commodity chains may rely upon the deployment of value-adding discourses (such as primitivizing imagery or romanticized colonial origins) that displace or erase the perspectives of local producers and laborers. Such patterns of disjuncture and erasure are typically facilitated by the physical distance separating either end of the commodity chain. But what happens to these discourses of value when the global commodity in question stays still and it is the consumer who travels to acquire it? In this paper I explore how some international tourists encounter a globally-valued commodity form (Thai cuisine) in its place of origin (Thailand). Drawing on an ethnographic and discursive analysis of recreational cooking schools in the popular tourist destinations of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I examine how the globalized value of Thai food is articulated and sold to tourist audiences through diverse value-adding discourses and practices, variously emphasizing health, cultural authenticity, sustainable community development, and haute cuisine sensibilities, among other claims. The result is a complex discursive and performative terrain that Thai cooking schools and their clients must navigate in order to sustain commodity value amid potentially fraught cross-cultural encounters.