UNESCO: Protecting Cultural Heritages Worldwide

Written by Sarah Faith

If you’ve ever been to France, then you know that a baguette from a boulangerie in Paris, Lyon, or Provence has an air of je ne sais quoi about it. More than four hundred years of practice – and a revolution – have gone into the making of the iconic French baguette. It is a staple food, a part of daily French life – morning, midday and in the evening. A veritable symbol of the country.

The traditional baguette is protected under a 1993 French law. To truly be considered a “traditional French baguette,” the bread must be made on the premises from which it is sold, it must be made with four ingredients only (wheat flour, water, yeast and salt), it cannot be frozen at any stage, and it cannot contain additives or preservatives. Making a traditional baguette requires more than the ability to follow a recipe. It requires practiced skill.

Photo courtesy of CNN

However, times are changing. Many French are no longer eating baguette three times a day as eating patterns change. Fewer bakeries are making baguettes in the traditional manner, often relying on frozen bread in an effort to cut costs.

Now, in an effort to protect the quality of and skill that goes into the making of the baguette, President Emmanuel Macron is supporting a bid by the National Confederation of French Bakers. Their goal is protection of the baguette as a “world treasure” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Established in 2008, the UNESCO Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage include oral traditions, social practices, performing arts, festive events, rituals, knowledge/practices concerning nature, and knowledge/skills to produce traditional crafts that are recognized by communities around the world as being representative of their cultural heritage. The items on the lists are passed down from generation to generation. They provide a sense of identity and community.

UNESCO has inscribed heritages from around the world, including Uilleann piping (Ireland), the Tahteeb stick game (Egypt), and the Yama, Hoko, and Yatai float festivals (Japan). These heritages help to nourish both cultural diversity and human creativity and, according to UNESCO, “can help to meet many contemporary challenges of sustainable development such as social cohesion, education, food security, health and sustainable management of natural resources.” In granting the list designation, UNESCO aims to ensure that intangible cultural heritages worldwide are better protected and awareness of them promoted.

As of this writing, there are 470 items corresponding to 117 countries on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage lists. And food plays a role, with a number of cultural foods, cuisines and practices represented. Curious to learn more, I dug a little deeper. Below you’ll find a snapshot of my food-related findings – one from each of the ten years that the lists have been in existence.

2008: Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead (Mexico)

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2009: Oku-noto no Aenokoto (Japan)

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2010: Gastronomic meal of the French

Photo courtesy of UNESCO 

2011: Ceremonial Keşkek tradition (Turkey)

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2012: Cherry festival in Sefrou (Morocco)

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2013: Kimjang, making and sharing kimchi in the Republic of Korea

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2014: Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2015: Arabic coffee, a symbol of generosity (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar)

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2016: Beer Culture in Belgium

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

2017: The Art of Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ (Italy)

Photo courtesy of UNESCO

As for whether the French baguette will be given the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation, we will have to wait and see. After the National Confederation of French Bakers submits its nomination, they must then wait for the annual meeting of the Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. During this meeting, the Committee will evaluate this and other nominations and decide whether or not to inscribe the French baguette to the lists for safeguarding.

For more information about the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage lists visit https://ich.unesco.org/.

Sarah Faith is a student in the Gastronomy program and marketing and communications professional specializing in food and agricultural at CONE in Boston.

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