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Scary seafood: an experience-based view on sustainable food production and consumption

Conference contribution
Authors Eva Maria Jernsand
Published in Tomorrow’s Food Travel (TFT) conference, Centre for Tourism, University of Gothenburg, 8-10 October
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Business Administration
Centre for Tourism
Department of Business Administration, Marketing Group
Language en
Keywords Adventure tourism, food tourism, foreign food, extraordinary tourism experience
Subject categories Business Administration


Objective/Background To save our planet, we need to change our food production and consumption patterns, not least regarding the food commodities that come from the sea. Due to human beings’ interference, fish stock die out and invasive species take over, which disrupts the entire marine ecosystem. Yet, fish and seafood are important sources of nutrition, which means we need to find solutions for the future, based on awareness and learning about, for instance, new or alternative production techniques, distribution channels, fish/seafood species and how to prepare them. However, environmental and health aspects do not always work as transformative arguments for changed behavior. There are species and parts of fish and seafood that we do not eat because of sensorial or cultural differences from what we are used to. There are also production procedures, e.g. farming of seafood in aquaponics, which people are reluctant to due to a sometimes wrong belief that farmed fish are fed with antibiotics or other harmful substances. So the question is how we can overcome the barriers towards new production technologies and consumption of foreign and unfamiliar fish and seafood. This study seeks to explore a collaborative process to enhance the production and consumption of sustainable food from the sea through the experience-based concept Scary seafood. This is done through an action-oriented research approach where the author is actively involved in a process with multiple disciplines, actors and stakeholders, with the aim of promoting the use of fish and seafood which the usual consumer do not eat today for various reasons. Theoretical Framework/Literature Review Food can stand in contrast to the familiar regarding its sensory aspects: taste, smell, texture, sound or visual impressions. It can also be culturally different from what we are used to, coming from other countries or regions of the world or being unfamiliar due to forgotten traditions over decades and centuries. These differences result in resistance among consumers to eat foreign or strange food. Relating this to tourism, some of our main motives for travel are to discover new experiences and variety and to develop ourselves personally (Pearce & Lee, 2005; Savener, 2013). Furthermore, travel experiences are cumulative: we get more adventurous and self-confident the more wealth and experience we acquire, and we want to further develop our skills and get answers to our questions (Pearce & Lee, 2005; Savener, 2013). Adventurous tourists seek novelty, excitement and even fear. An example of adventure in food experiences lies in the tension between a wish for the new and untried, and the disgust or horror of the unknown, avoiding unpleasant tastes and risk of contamination diseases (Fischler, 1988; Tuorila et al, 1994). Strange food can be fascinating and thrilling and even serve as trophies: a tick on the list of life-experience and evidence on that you have passed the culinary borders of the place you visit (Gyimóthy & Mykletun, 2009). These rites of passage take us to higher steps on the adventure ladder, on which we climb to more memorable and identity creating experiences that we can talk and even brag about with other people. Extraordinary food experiences related to scariness can thus serve as motivator to eat unfamiliar fish and seafood that are not endangered/shortlisted and to promote substitutes that are caught or farmed in ways that cause minimum damage to the marine environment. Through the concept of Scary seafood, there is an opportunity to change the sources for our nutritional needs and in the long run support biodiversity. Method More collaborative ways of approaching the issues of sustainable development are said to be the way to go when dealing with the complexity of sustainable development. Different academic disciplines and a wide set of practitioners must collaborate on specific problems in localized contexts (Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny et al., 1994; Nowotny, 2004). Models of triple helix and similar are used to describe the collaboration that must take place between stakeholders in academy, public and civil sectors. However, all stakeholders have their own background and approach to the problem, which can make it hard to reach common ground. This study takes on an action-oriented research approach, with participatory observations and interviews as methods, to explore how different actors respond to and collaborate around the experience-based concept Scary seafood. The context is the Swedish west coast and a collaborative project between two focus areas within the Maritime cluster of West Sweden: Marine food and Maritime tourism. Findings and Research implications/limitations Food nutritionists, environmentalists and a wide range of other practitioners and scholars argue that consumers must become much more aware of the consequences of what they eat, e.g. what happens in your body and how it affects the planet. This consciousness also includes the whole system of stakeholders and actors related to marine environments. For instance, the marine food producers can take action by using alternative and more sustainable fishing and aquaculture tools and methods. Further, authorities can take legal actions against specific activities (such as the handling of bicatches or food waste), compensate preferable business performance or use awareness-raising campaigns. Restaurants can serve other types of dishes, and food retailers can make them easily and attractively available. As consumers, we can choose to buy sustainably produced food and put pressure on authorities and businesses. However, in a tourism context, the hedonic and experiential benefits of food may overrule our concern for the environment (Budeanu, 2007), since we favor novelty and adventure during holidays. Food is increasingly becoming a reason to travel and an important part of the experience. Adventure and thrill can therefore be one of the entry-points to make consumers taste dishes that they are not familiar to or even scares them (Gyimóthy & Mykletun, 2009). From a destination perspective, food can assist destinations that seek to provide activities outside high-season. The study shows that since the quality of specific species are better during autumn, winter and spring, this may be a travel reason during low season. Another reason to focus on food is that other travel activities are often limited to weather conditions and seasonality, while food consumption takes place at any times (Kivela & Crotts, 2006). Labelling food as scary is a way to go, however this study shows that all stakeholders do not agree on the concept. Moreover, some of the small food producers do not see the benefits of collaborating with firms that they see as competitors.

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