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The US National Parks were founded in the late 1800s with two somewhat contradictory aims: conservation of wilderness and enjoyment by the public. The parks were born of Romantic notions that glorified nature (in opposition to human-made industry) and emphasized the importance of individual experiences of solitude for spiritual renewal; at the same time, their founding was urged by private interests with profit motives in providing railroad travel, hotels and concessions to park visitors. At present, most concessions in the 62 parks are owned by industrial food service operations: multinational hospitality corporations like Xanterra, Delaware North, Ortega, Aramark, and Forever Resorts dominate the landscape. In this respect, the profit motives of the private interests have prevailed, and appear to be in direct tension with the anti-industrial, preservation-minded, self-making impulses of the Romantics. Yet concessioners, constrained by federal mandates regarding the affordability, nutritive value, and sustainability of the foods they offer, understand themselves to be operating for the good of the people, in truly democratic fashion. Drawing on archival materials from the National Park Service, this presentation considers historical experiences of restaurant dining and the development of an industrial concessions system in US National Parks in the context of this tension. 


All welcome - This event is free, but booking is required.