New Petition for the UNESCO Nomination of Alpine Food Heritage

A new international petition supports the nomination of “Alpine food heritage” for UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Anyone around the world who has an interest in preserving the food heritage of the Alpine mountain range can sign this petition. To learn more about this effort, I contacted Cassiano Luminati, Director of Polo Poschiavo, a regional training and economic development institution leading the AlpFoodway project.

Soglio, a village in Bregaglia, an alpine region in the canton of Graubünden.

Defining Alpine Food Heritage

AlpFoodway describes itself as “a cross-disciplinary, transnational and participative approach to Alpine food cultural heritage.” This initiative includes Switzerland and seven other Alpine countries: Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Liechtenstein, Germany, France and Monaco. For the purpose of this project, Alpine food heritage generally refers to “the set of sustainable production and consumption practices, knowledge and skills, productive landscapes and locally produced traditional food in the Alpine regions.”

At this time, AlpFoodway has developed an online inventory of 57 Alpine foods, six of which you will find in Switzerland:

  • Chestnuts – Grown and harvested in the cantons of Ticino and Graubünden
  • Cressin – A round, domed brioche from the canton of Valais
  • Dried Pasta – Spaghetti and other types of dried pasta from Poschiavo in Graubünden
  • Farina Bona – A toasted corn flour from the canton of Ticino
  • Merveilles – A sweet fried dough from Western Switzerland
  • Saucisse Fratze – A pork and beef sausage made with cabbage in Valais
Crêpes made with Farina Bona, a toasted corn flour from Ticino

UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage Designation

UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – recognizes significant physical sites around the world, such as the Abbey of St. Gallen or Rhaetian Railway in Switzerland. In addition, it also recognizes intangible resources, like Basel’s annual Fasnacht celebration or the Fête des Vignerons, held in Vevey every 20-25 years. These resources encompass a type of living tradition, passed down through the generations. The purpose of UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is to “help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.”

An Update from Cassiano Luminati, AlpFoodway’s Project Leader

I first learned about AlpFoodway at the Forum Origine, Diversité et Territoires 2017, held in Bulle, Switzerland. This event focused on the topic of sustainable mountain food systems. The impressive roster of speakers included Carlo Petrini, president and founder of the international Slow Food movement. At this event, I met Cassiano Luminati, who spoke about the gastronomic heritage of the Alps and shared this video about his work with AlpFoodway.

With a new online petition to collect signatures in support of adding Alpine Food Heritage to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, I reached out to Cassiano Luminati to find out more about the status of this initiative. Here’s what he had to share…

Q: At what phase in the process is AlpFoodway currently in for the UNESCO nomination of Alpine Food Heritage?

Editor’s note: The process of earning a spot on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage includes three different phases: Phase 1 – Preparation and submission, Phase 2 – Evaluation, and Phase 3 – Examination.

CL: We are in the preparation phase. Through AlpFoodway’s project activities, we do the necessary research and inventorying, trying to create the framework conditions to support the candidature on different levels, while working on raising awareness in the Alpine communities. The support of this candidature by the Alpine communities is essential, since the request of nominations to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List has to be a bottom up process. As a result, the online petition is an important part of all this.

If everything works out well, by the end of our project in October 2019, we will have everything ready for a multinational submission. AlpFoodway, since it’s a project, is not doing the submission. The submission has to be done by the Alpine countries that support the candidature.  

Q: Who is eligible to sign the petition?

CL: Anyone from all over the world who has an interest in safeguarding Alpine Food Heritage is eligible to sign the petition. Reading the Charter, you can discover how everybody can engage in Alpine Food Heritage safeguarding.

For institutions and organizations, there will also be the possibility to support the candidature with an official letter. We are preparing a draft of it. It is then also possible to be featured with a logo under the project partners via the Supporters page of our website.

Q: What is the timeline for the #AlpFoodwayUNESCO petition?

CL: We presented and launched the petition during our midterm conference in Innsbruck, Austria, at the beginning of October 2018. In 2019, we will have many other events in different Alpine countries where we will promote it. The petition will be open at least until the end of the project in October 2019. Perhaps it will be extended, depending on the status of the process.

Q: How many signatures do you plan to collect?

CL: We plan to collect as many signatures as possible. There is no number prescribed by UNESCO. It would be nice to have a large number of supporters from all over the world, and of course a lot from the Alpine areas. The petition to support the nomination of the art of pizza-making had almost 2 million supporters. In the Alpine area there are 70 million people, so we hope that some of them will be interested in supporting their local food heritage.

Q: Can you describe some of the benefits of Alpine Food Heritage being recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage?

CL: Since this heritage is at risk to disappear, having it appear on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) List will certainly help the Alpine heritage communities to safeguard it better. The UNESCO recognition can also help in a better commercial valorization and to develop special marketing strategies specific to these kinds of traditions. Furthermore, such a listing is important to help prevent misappropriation of ICH-related productions by companies, for example. Finally, the intellectual propriety rights are also a field in which AlpFoodway would like to give tailored tools to the heritage communities. 

Q: Which organizations, public or private, in Switzerland are actively working as part of AlpFoodway and in support of this UNESCO nomination?

CL: Polo Poschiavo, located in Poschiavo, Switzerland, is the lead partner of the project. In total, the project has 14 partners in six Alpine countries. The other Swiss partner is CREPA (Centre régional d’études des populations alpines) in Valais.

AlpFoodway also has 40 observers who have an interest in the project and support it. Eight are from Switzerland:

  • Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training
  • ISEK – Institut für Sozialanthropologie und Empirische Kulturwissenschaft, Universität Zürich
  • Graubünden Tourism
  • Ministry of Culture of the Canton Graubünden
  • Associazione Patrimonio Culinario Svizzero (Culinary Heritage of Switzerland)
  • Alpina Vera
  • Fondation pour la Promotion du Goût
  • Valais/Wallis Promotion 
chestnut baskets
Old baskets and tools for harvesting chestnuts on display in Bellinzona.

Q: Currently, the inventory of Traditional Alpine Foods has six Swiss alpine food products. Are there any plans to include other foods from Switzerland on this list?

CL: In all, we have 57 entries related to Alpine Food Heritage. At the end of the project, the partners will have generated at least 150 entries. We are also working on the integration of the inventory created by Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse (Culinary Heritage of Switzerland), in addition to other already existing national inventories.

We are also hoping that through all the increased awareness and communication activities, Alpine communities will approach us and request to be included in the inventory with their food heritage.

Our inventory will not be closed after the end of the project. There will always be the possibility to create a new entry.

For more information and to sign the petition, go to AlpFoodway’s website.

You can follow AlpFoodway via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Updated: January 9, 2023

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