American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Foods That Matter: Constructing Place and Community at Food Festivals in Northwest Ohio

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/English

First Advisor

Lucy M. Long

Second Advisor

Stephen Demuth (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Donald Callen (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Madeline Duntley (Committee Member)


Festivals featuring food as a central organizing device are a popular form of cultural expression in Northwest Ohio that consciously celebrate food, its production, and consumption as representative of community, local identity, heritage, and place. At these events, local foods are elevated to a "mascot" status and these food icons come to stand in for the host community and are used as a marker of community differentiation. This dissertation argues that food festivals in Northwest Ohio are nostalgic enactments of community identity that illustrate the host community's notions of place, of local food, and of heritage. Furthermore, it examines the multiple ways in which food is used as an organizing device that suggests these events simultaneously resist modernity and globalization.

Via ethnographies conducted with cultural producers, thick description of these events, and analysis of four food festivals, this dissertation examines the ways in which local communities engage with food to construct and maintain public identities and festive events. Using the Milan Melon Festival as a case study, Chapter One focuses on the concept of terroir to explore place-based Midwestern food traditions and the connections of these locally-produced foods to the landscape. Chapter Two considers how place is informed by notions of tradition and heritage presented at the Seneca County Maple Festival in Republic, Ohio. In this chapter, I argue that recognizing the linkages between present and past informs notions of place. By examining the connections between locally-produced food and the local population, Chapter Three explores the connection of bratwurst sausage and ethnic identity presented in the Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival. Chapter Four asks how the availability of mass-produced food shapes notions of place, heritage, and ethnicity. This chapter examines the ways in which the McComb Cookie Festival presents mass-produced foods as local, place-based food.

Ultimately, this project seeks to contribute to the fields of American Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Folklore, and Foodways providing evidence collected from original ethnographic research of four models of food festivals and four different notions of place at events largely overlooked by scholars.