Using Augmented Reality to Enhance Food Tourism
I love food. Growing up in a family of bakers and cooks, my personal memories are inextricably tied to laughter in the kitchen, moments shared around meals, the delightful (and disastrous) creations we concocted together, and to the sense of community these moments inspired. I am not alone in this. In “Food with a Story to Tell,” Amy Fleming (2013) states there is “no doubt that flavor is inextricably linked with memory and emotion. They’re all processed by the same part of the brain.” Over meals we share stories with our families and friends as the experience takes on a life of its own. Food, then, according to Caroline Hobkinson, becomes a “manifestation of our longings [and]…how we remember holidays and big life events. It is almost the vocabulary of our life” (Fleming, 2013). A vocabulary to which new foods, travel, and experience can only add.
As someone who also loves to travel, I notice that food and flavor are becoming increasingly tied to place. While I generally eschew most forms of social media, my Instagram feed tends to focus on three subjects (my dogs, travel, and the food I make or eat) and the intersections among those (namely, the food I eat while traveling). While I could try to claim I have never visited a country just to try the local cuisine, it would be a lie as I intentionally scheduled a layover in Taipei last year to eat dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Again, it appears I am not alone. As reported by Samantha Shankman (2015) in “The Big Business of Food Tourism and Why It Matters,” “food tourism is any tourism experience in which one learns about, appreciates, and/or consumes food and drink that reflects the local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture.” So, in addition to being inextricably tied to memory and emotion, food further acts as a driver for travel, enriching our personal experiences and stories.
As noted by Richard Bangs (2011), “travel is, more than anything, about storytelling…about transformation, not transportation.” Bangs touches on a fundamental truth of travel – regardless of the experience, and sometimes because of it, we will forever be changed. Our memories are imbued with the sights, smells, sounds, feels, and tastes of worlds apart from our own, and, if we choose to seek them out, encounters with locals whose unique stories and lives (hopefully) add value to the experience. Further, we return home to share our stories, perhaps around a campfire or over a beer, creating an environment no marketing mechanism can match. As noted by Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads, the travel industry “cannot outsource the stories only we can tell” (2015). Through our stories, we “inspire people to see place differently” and draw them in, allowing them to relate to something previously unrelatable (Ettenberg, 2015).
While travelers of the past recorded their stories of adventures in journals and letters home to loved ones or through painstakingly preserved photographs, those who live and travel today are able to share their memories far and wide thanks to the affordances of technology, the internet, and social media outlets. In the modern world, every traveler “has the ability to digitally share their culinary experiences with friends and strangers around the world, fueling a veritable social media arms race to determine who has the most unique food and beverage experiences” (Shankman, 2015). Further, travelers take advantage of these same technologies to seek the advice and experience of locals before departure to ensure they “experience cities like a local” (Gonzalo, n.d.) Although I might argue that my intent is less arms race and more positive travel experience and sharing my life with distant family and friends, I stand guilty as charged on both counts.
Given the prevalence of tourism and storytelling across social media outlets, it is little wonder, then, that industry experts have begun to consider how Augmented Reality (AR), or the “incorporation of something virtual into something pre-existing,” might further both marketability within the industry and the individual traveler experience (Davis et al, 2007). Widely used travel apps, including Yelp’s Monocle, Google Translator, and Metro AR Pro (to name a few), allow users to interact with their environment using smart phone cameras to augment reality by highlighting nearby restaurants and sharing user reviews, translating content on signs with the press of a button, and providing superimposed directions to the nearest metro station (Chase, 2014). Although these apps represent simple solutions to frequent travel questions such as “Where should I eat?” and “How will I get there?”, according to the Digital Tourism Think Tank’s Augmented Reality Report, AR “is still widely under-utilized in the field of Tourism” (Buhalis & Yovcheva, 2013). Regardless, industry experts (including Buhalis) firmly believe that the future of travel lies in AR as travelers will be able to engage in planning and customizing travel experiences in wholly new ways (Coldwell, 2014; Think! Staff, 2017).
Although attempts “to accurately predict the future of travel [are attempts] to predict the future itself,” Travel + Leisure asked experts to do just this in “The Future of Travel” (Lindsay, n.d.). While many ideas were considered, including internet-connected contact lenses that allowed for seamless flight booking, “itineraries tailored to your physiological and genetic profile,” and real-time translation of languages, it was Michio Kaku’s following quote from Physics of the Future that grabbed my attention:
“You’ll never get lost, you’ll always know what you’re looking at, and you’ll always understand what everyone’s saying” (Lindsay, n.d.).
While storytelling is certainly nothing new to advertise Texas tourism (see Texas Monthly or The Day Tripper), the addition of augmented reality via Aurasma allows the end user to experience an enhanced story. The design begins with standard travel blog fare – each restaurant is tied to an image of one of their more well-known dishes and a personal memory shared by a “native” Texan. Reality is augmented through videos which share details about the experience, menu recommendations, and tips for a successful visit; further augmentation occurs via links to the restaurants’ Facebook pages, Yelp reviews, and directions using Google Maps. Were the content to be scaled and published for a travel blog audience, an introduction to the storyteller and project would be provided, while each of the locations would have an individual entry page. It has been condensed, however, for the purposes of this project to focus on a tour down southbound Interstate 35.
Note: To fully experience the following augmented story, you will need to download the Aurasma app and follow hmn086. Once you have downloaded the app, using it to view the images will allow you to see the augmented reality.
A Wandering Foodie’s Travels in Texas
Growing up Texan meant a childhood spent exploring open roads and untamed landscapes with little comprehension of the size of the world around us. It was weekends spent bumping down the road in a rust-tinged ‘75 Chevy Blazer, top off, wind in our hair, listening to Motown as the highway’s yellow lines flew by, driving past fields of freshly mowed hay, the sweet smell tickling our noses, seeking to camp in parts unknown, and falling asleep under a starry sky as the cicadas hummed us to sleep. A childhood spent sitting on the front porch, staring down pounding rain as bright flashes of lightning tore across the sky, standing our ground as booming claps of thunder shook our resolve to stay outside. Growing up Texan is almost impossible to explain to someone who did not. As an adult, who has moved away, few things will take me back to those moments as quickly as Pat Green’s Songs About Texas or the foods of my childhood home.
Much as Green understands and describes the je ne sais quoi that is the experience of Texas, my grandmother and mother understood the importance of food in bringing a family together. Working side by side, three generations strong, we prepared meals and served them on a dining room table, formally set, around which we shared our stories, engaged in topics of the day, and encouraged each other in moments of struggle and triumph. They fundamentally understood that, without the interaction of loved ones around the dinner table, food is, as Alton Brown so eloquently points out during his Incredible Edible tour, “just shit in the making.”Given my childhood, it should surprise no one that food and the experiences I had around it tie strongly to my sense of place and memory. Nor should it surprise anyone that I bought a soft-top Jeep Wrangler as soon as I could afford to and spent my free weekends exploring the highways closest to my home. I drove thousands of miles, road tripping with friends, exploring both new and familiar destinations, and trying a million and one different ways to prevent “Jeep hair” from happening (yes, it’s a thing and, no, nothing works).
One of our favorite paths to explore was Interstate 35, although, to this day, I’m not entirely sure why. As a major artery of international travel, I-35 feeds Texas commerce. As arteries sometimes go, however, it is subject to frequent blockage and the surgical need to reroute, reconnect, and rebuild. For as many hours as we spent driving I-35, we spent just as many crawling along at a snail’s pace, sweltering under the Texas sun. Although never in the moment, but in retrospect, perhaps, the traffic was part of the charm; we discovered many of our favorite restaurants on congested days when random side roads and exits seemed far more appealing than roasting on 100+ degree asphalt. We found others by word of mouth, billboard, or complete accident. Regardless of how we discovered our favorite places, they are each imbued with stories of wonderful times shared with friends as we explored the expansive world that was our home.
Although I’m sharing a few of my favorite places along I-35 (ordered north to south, of course) and the stories that make them special to me, I would encourage you to visit Texas, rent a convertible (or big diesel if you want to feel properly Texan), seek them out, and build your own amazing stories around each with your family or friends. (If you do this, though, don’t forget to pack the stretchy pants…you will have a delicious trip, but you’re going to gain some weight!)
Roanoke: Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
It’s probably time to confess I didn’t grow up in a native-Texan home. The child of Yankees, I was born in the Midwest before my Dad moved the family to Texas when I was just shy of 18 months old. While Texas is the only home I remember, to a Texan, it just doesn’t count. I’ll never forget the first time I met my college boyfriend’s parents; we were smitten and it was time to meet the family. I was nervous, but confident – parents loved me. So, you can imagine my shock when he said, “Dad, this is Heather,” and I replied, “Nice to meet you, Mr. X.” The man looked me up and down in dismay, didn’t make a peep at me, instead directing his indignant, “You’re dating a YANKEE?!?” to his son… I’m sure it will surprise no one that I needed some pronto consoling after that little meeting and boyfriend’s solution was Babe’s.
While it didn’t make it fully better, that delicious fried chicken, funky décor, Hokey Pokey dancing, and all the homestyle sides I could eat sure did help ease the sting. To this day, when I go home it’s among the first places I visit. (And, for those who are curious, Mr. X and I actually got along great in the long run…but he never let me live down the “Yankee-thing” as he liked to call it.)
Ask any Texan where to get kolaches and “the Czech Stop” will be the answer. Doesn’t matter what part of Texas they’re from, how long it’s been since they passed Exit 353, or how far you are from West, they know…it’s always the Czech Stop. I made this comment to a visiting friend one time who was so sure I was wrong, he brazenly bet a dozen kolaches without pause. Imagine his surprise when, mere seconds later, a complete stranger approached us saying, “I heard you say ‘best kolaches’ – you have to be talking about the Czech Stop in West…dude, they are the BEST. Period.” Needless to say, I won a dozen kolaches and he learned Texans don’t exaggerate when it comes to delicious, buttery Eastern European pastries!
Waco: Health Camp
Although I’ve been to Health Camp more times than I can count, whether on road trips back from floating the river or the time my Mom first went with me and thought she could order a salad (HA!), the story I’ll never forget was the day my dogs almost didn’t make it.
My grandmother, who had been in the hospital for weeks, was finally, in her words, “being sprung.” I couldn’t wait to see her and spent the morning baking a wonderfully fragrant apple crisp as a surprise. Once it cooled, I packed the biggest truck I had, putting the dogs in the back seat, our gear in the bed, and that beautiful, foil-covered crisp up front beside me. Not surprisingly, there was an accident on I-35. Well-versed in Texas traffic, I rolled the windows down to the cool fall day, turned up the music, and prepared to wait. And wait I did. Traffic crawled. Two hours later, and maybe 20 miles down the road, left leg aching from the perpetual weight of the clutch, I caught a whiff of something. A smell you only want to smell in the back corner of your yard or when you have baggies on hand. I spun around to see my Border Collie hiding in the corner, avoiding my look, “guilty” written all over her hunched shoulders and sagging head. “Son-of-a-bitch!!!” I exclaimed as I whipped onto the shoulder to get to the next exit.
I pulled over, tied the dogs to the bumper, and cleaned up the stinky (but luckily contained) mess. I walked them quickly for safe measure and put the Hound in first and turned to the Collie. I heard his collar tags jingle, not thinking much of it, until I turned around and realized he wasn’t in the back. Then I heard it…that “I’m chomping as fast as I can because I know you’ll stop me as soon as you can” noise. And I know. I opened my front door to find the Hound, buried up to his chubby little legs in my beautiful apple crisp, greedily eating whatever he could before I could wrench it away. I. Lost. It. I threw what was left of the crisp into the bed of the truck and took a walk…because, no matter how much I love my mutts, at that moment they were both on THAT list.
When I’d calmed down enough to drive, traffic was moving again. I was still mad, no denying it. And then I saw the sign for Health Camp; the least healthy, take your mind off how mad you are mecca of deliciously, greasy burgers. I’m sure you won’t fault me when I say I took the exit, left the dogs (windows down with water, of course) in the truck, grabbed the greasiest burger I could find, and relocated my inner calm while slurping a lovely chocolate malt.
Hutto: The Texan Cafe & Pie Shop
If you’ve never been to Austin, it’s a thoroughly weird and liberal mecca in the center of red Texas. Hell, the town’s slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” – and I don’t say that in jest…it’s on everything! Given this, I’m sure you can imagine my conservative family’s concern when I announced I’d been accepted to the University of Texas for grad school; further, I’m sure you can imagine their equal concern when I announced I was moving home a semester before graduation to help with my grandmother, work 3 hours (roundtrip) from home, and commute to Austin one day a week for my last class. For those of you who like math, that’s 5,149.5 miles of I-35 in a semester. One semester. Yes, I’m crazy.
Anywho, after one long and particularly grueling, accident-halted drive, I arrived in Austin with outrageous Jeep hair, a butt that felt flatter than Kansas, and grumpy written all over me. My project partner took one look at me and announced I needed a “pie friendtervention.” Having never been to a pie friendtervention before, I had no clue what awaited me. Turns out – they’re amazing! She called a few of our Austin friends, we all met at the Texan Café (my first time), and we ordered five different types of pie. FIVE! (And it took significant time to pick those five – they had 19 pies that day and you need a good balance of chocolate, fruit, cream, etc.!). We each grabbed a fork and, when it was our turn, shared a complaint about grad school, everyone took a bite, and we all passed to the left. It was the best, and I mean BEST, way to air and relieve the stress we were all buckling under.
Driftwood: The Salt Lick BBQ
When you’re a country girl living in the city, sometimes you just need to get away. During grad school, Driftwood was my escape. About an hour outside of Austin, nothing was better than grabbing a few friends, throwing the top off the Jeep, winding through the bluebonnet-covered roads of the Hill Country, listening to Texas Country, and forgetting you had a care in the world. No matter how many times I made the drive, it was always the smell that told me I was close. Beneath the sweetly-scented air of warm sunshine, freshly cut hay, and wildflowers, my nose would tease out the smell of wood smoke. Faint at first, and then growing stronger, my stomach always started to rumble before I saw the low wooden buildings. We’d pull into the white rocked drive, tires kicking up dust, and pile out, always eager for a table under the big oaks lining the property…unless it was June, July, or August…then you begged for a coveted table in the cool interior. Little wonder, given my love of the BBQ here, that I’d frequently drive guests in Dallas the 3.5 hours to Driftwood for dinner. They never believed me when I said we were road-tripping for dinner…but they always understood (even if they were still incredulously shaking their heads at the lengths to which I would go for good BBQ). What can I say? Texans love their BBQ!
Gruene: The Gristmill River Restaurant
It’s a universal fact that in college, you’re going to cause trouble. Most parents just cross their fingers and hope the trouble doesn’t land their kids in jail. While my friends were (mostly) well-behaved and (somewhat) studious, every April, all bets were off as a group of 50+ of us packed our trucks with tents, dogs, gear, and swimsuits (oh, who am I kidding, there were kegs too) to drive to Gruene, TX and float the Comal or Guadalupe Rivers for a weekend of fun, drunken shenanigans with 400 of our closest, new friends on the river. We always finished Friday classes before heading out, which meant a trafficky drive down I-35 and late-night tent pitching at our favorite camping spot. The requisite “pre-gaming” occurred to the sound of the rushing river, crackling fire, singing cicadas, and the inevitably grossed-out city girl who “couldn’t possibly…go…in the bushes!”
Saturday mornings usually got off to a slow start as we packed our float bags and snacks and grabbed a quick breakfast before floating the river. The float, if done right, takes about 8 hours, so it’s a long, hot, relaxing day. Rather than individual tubes, we opted for large rafts that would hold about 6 with kegs floating in tubes tied behind. Floating the river is an experience in and of itself: random ropes hang by the water begging for a swing; slithery companions fall into boats drifting too close to the bank; more than one will fall prey to “battle” wounds courtesy of rapids, tree branches, or simple, drunken stupidity; you’ll always make new friends; at least one (always military) group will sing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” to an unsuspecting, but pretty, girl; and, as kegs get low, beer piracy inevitably causes arguments between boats. You can’t beat it.
The first year I went on the trip, the day went by smoothly…until the end. Not a big drinker, I was stone-cold sober as we neared the last rapids. I prepared as best you can, however, didn’t anticipate a last-minute bump, followed by a jolt, that threw me over the edge. I was, it appeared, going to join the already broken foot as a 2002 “battle” wound of the river. By the time they pulled me out, I’d lost my glasses, been forced to do a hasty fix of the bikini, and the mottled red marks on my side were accented by rapidly fanning streaks of blue. Feeling sorry for me, my friends decided to forgo the traditional hotdogs and asked the locals for a dinner recommendation (did I mention I was generally the main dinner cook?). They recommended the Gristmill and the rest, as they say, is history. From that year on, it became our go-to for post-float food…and we could usually be found in Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas, post-river finery in place, dancing across scarred wooden floors to the sounds of Pat Green and Texas Country, after.
San Antonio: Mi Tierra Café y Panadería
Mi Tierra is a bit like the Czech Stop; ask most Texans for a recommendation in San Antonio and it’s going to be their answer. Perhaps it’s the strong, frosty margaritas, the counters full of bakery items, or the plentiful menu of delicious Mexican food that earns this recommendation, but I think it’s more the experience. Once you’ve been, you’ll never forget Mi Tierra. Set in the small, somewhat dilapidated, yet quaint, Mexican Market, Mi Tierra is bold, colorful, and inviting. Wide-open windows and doors, fill the tiny cobbled paths of the markets with sounds and smells that draw you in.
Unless you go at an off-time, there’s usually a line. The waiting area, heated during the winter and cooled during the summer, is outside and friends are easily made; Texans, after all, don’t believe in strangers. When your name is called and you walk past the hostess, cheerful color assaults your eyes as you wind through the maze of dining rooms, some dazzlingly silver, others colorful like Christmas, to your table. Depending on the size of your party, your table may be set for two or 20, yet you will always maintain the sense of intimacy felt in a cozy home. Many great stories are shared at these tables, words drifting and mingling with the lively tunes of the roving Mariachi band.
A Final Note…
These restaurants and stories represent only a fraction of the adventure that one can find driving the seemingly never-ending roads that cross the 268,820 square miles of my home. For those of you who visit, once is never enough. Texas is a state that takes a visit to love, but a lifetime to explore. Need further convincing? Don’t leave before you listen to the Josh Abbott Band and Pat Green’s My Texas.
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