Zahidah Ab Latif, a graduate student in apparel, events, and hospitality management, will present research about authentic food at an upcoming international conference for graduate students in hospitality. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Iowa State to showcase research about authentic food at international hospitality conference

Iowa State Fair food — ranging from corn dogs to pork chop on a stick — will be showcased as an example of “authentic food” at an upcoming international conference co-hosted by Iowa State University.

The 23rd annual Graduate Education and Graduate Student Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism, to be held Jan. 3 to 5 in Fort Worth, Texas, will be co-hosted by Iowa State and Texas Tech University.

Iowa State is known worldwide for its excellence in research in hospitality management. The program has been ranked 15th among the world’s top 100 hospitality and tourism programs, according to the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research.

The upcoming conference will attract hundreds of graduate students and faculty members from around the world. This year’s participants include those from Canada, China, Colombia, England, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey.  

Defining ‘authentic food’

Research by graduate student Zahidah Ab Latif and advisers SoJung Lee and Eunha Jeong is among 24 Iowa State papers accepted for the conference and 274 accepted from graduate students around the world. Ab Latif will present two of Iowa State’s eight stand-up presentations, which are more in-depth and involved than poster presentations.

The study focused on defining “authentic food” — a hot topic in tourism because food portrays national or regional specialties and represents unique and authentic features of a destination. Authentic food can motivate tourists and increase satisfaction with their travels. However, such food has been interpreted and measured in various ways.

Ab Latif’s study is the first to develop a measurement scale for authentic food in the tourism setting. It aims to help destination event organizers recognize perceived authentic food in a state fair setting and plan strategic marketing tools to attract more visitors to a particular event.

“Based on the final findings, we found that authentic food is significantly and positively influencing the state fair experience and attachment to the state fair,” Ab Latif said. “In other words, state fair attendees who perceived food authenticity have a more positive state fair experience, thus leading them to have a stronger attachment to the state fair.”

Ab Latif chose to focus on 33 types of food at the Iowa State Fair. She interviewed 13 people — seven attendees, four organizers, and two vendors — who have previously experienced food at the Iowa State Fair. She followed that up with two online surveys about state fair food across the nation — first surveying 252 people, then 401 people.

The research revealed that 78 percent of people surveyed feel that state fair food is authentic. Participants of the study defined authenticity by four factors: unique, original, traditional, and local.

“They probably had pork chop at their state fairs, but the Iowa State Fair had the best pork chop on a stick because of the freshness of the ingredients grown in Iowa,” Ab Latif said.

Leadership roles

sjleeLee, an assistant professor in apparel, events, and hospitality management, was national chair of the committee reviewing research papers for this year’s conference. Associate professor Thomas Schrier served as the liaison between co-hosts Iowa State and Texas Tech, and organized a practice session for participants.

Eighteen Iowa State graduate students and 12 faculty members have 24 papers accepted for the conference. Their research topics range from green restaurant advertising, to food service workers’ knowledge of food allergies and food safety, to the helpfulness of Yelp, the mobile app that provides crowd-sourced reviews about local businesses.

“As a faculty member, I really want our students to have very strong research skills and ideas,” Lee said. “It has been great every year to have the number of presentations we’ve had at the conference. We’re at a good stage moving toward having more stand-up presentations than poster presentations. Especially for Ph.D. students, it’s a great opportunity to share their research ideas that could go toward their dissertation.”

Some of the research will be presented with posters, while others — like the papers about authentic food — will be showcased in 20-minute stand-up presentations. Discussion and feedback at the conference is intended to help the graduate students publish their work and advance their skills as scholars.

“The conference is a platform where I get feedback on my work from experts in my research area and related studies,” Ab Latif said. “It is very important for me so I can do more robustness checks in my paper before submitting to top journals.”  

Those from Iowa State presenting their work include graduate students Asit Bandyopadhayay, Dede Hamm, Eunkyoung Park, Fanli Zhou, Heelye Park, Nelson M. Placa, Nishapat Meesangkaew, Nripendra Singh, Nur Hidayah Che Ahmat, Valerie Salter, Xi Wang, Xiaolong Shao, Xingyi Zhang, Yang Xu, Yi Luo, Yiqi Wang, and Yuxiang Xu, along with Ab Latif.

The students are advised by Chin-Hsun “Ken” Tsai, Eric Olson, Jewoo Kim, Ching-Hui “Joan” Su, Lakshman Rajagopal, Liang Tang, Susan Arendt, Tianshu Zheng, and Wen Chang, along with Lee, Jeong, and Schrier, all Iowa State faculty members in apparel, events, and hospitality management.