For years I’ve wanted to go to England’s Oxford Food Symposium. Finally doing so gave me a chance to meet and hear from some of the great minds in food writing who don’t come to American conferences. A few observations:
I met some of my heroes and luminaries: Claudia Roden attended as the president of the symposium. Jill Norman, editor of English cookbook authors Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson was there, as was cookbook author Fuschia Dunlop.
A few American luminaries were also speakers or in the spotlight. Nutritionist Marion Nestle gave a keynote, and author Harold McGee gave out awards. Journalist and culinary historian Laura Shapiro spoke about gender and power and chaired a section on feminism.
Canadian cookbook author Naomi Duigud chaired sessions on culinary symbolism, and I met many other Canadians.
Add to this an enthusiastic crowd of food historians, professors, anthropologists, sociologists, independent scholars, and policy wonks. Not to mention journalists, cookbook authors, freelance writers, researchers, students and editors.
Speaking at the Food Symposium works differently than other conferences I’ve attended. If you want to present, you write a paper. Then a committee picks the papers they want presented at the conference.
The theme was “food and power.” It was pretty heady stuff. Authors presented around themes such as appropriation, gastrodiplomacy, propaganda and imprisonment. I went to talks on hunger, social justice, feminism, and incarceration. Some of it was fun, some dark, but all of it made me think and taught me something new.
A Wiki-editathon at the beginning of the Food Symposium focused mostly on food and women. Organizer Roberta Wedge said that Wikipedia has 6 million articles written by volunteers who are overwhelmingly men. The ratio of pages about chefs (mostly men) to cooks (mostly women) is 4 to 1. A group worked on adding more women food writers to the mix.
Between session, a bookstore on the premises made it easy to purchase British books that are harder to find–or more expensive–in the U.S. I bought too many.
I’ve never been to a conference where the attendees themselves presided over some of the meals. Artists created the most beautiful menus, each one to be kept as a memento.
On Friday night of the Food Symposium we enjoyed the foods of Puebla, Mexico. There were grasshoppers, chilies, and complimentary bottles of mescal. Members of the Hubb Community Kitchen in London, which formed after the Grenfell Tower fire, prepared lunch Saturday. Their fare included Yemeni bread with a spicy peanut dip, eggplant masala and rose petal-scented fruit salad with Indian shortbread. That evening featured a parade of Greek dishes such as snails, lamb and smoked mackerel. Lunch Sunday showcased cheeses and breads from London’s celebrated Borough Market.
The Next One
Lots of first-timers attended the Food Symposium this year, and younger people too. This pleased the organizers, who are getting older. So maybe it’s worth your time to join them next year. The topic is “herbs and spices” for the 2020 Oxford Food Symposium, which takes place July 10 – 12.
Katherine McIver says
It is a wonderful symposium. I have been going for several years. Your summary of the event is spot on! So glad you enjoyed it, wrote about it, and hope you will come next year. It was great to meet you again and talk with you at the reception Saturday night.
Hello Katherine! Thank you. I was surprised by the number of Americans and Canadians who came. We were a big bunch.
Jayne Homsher says
I would be running on Cloud 9 to even spend an hour at a conference like this event! Thank you for your review. The excitement was thrilling at the beginning to the very end of your review.
Wow! I don’t think I’ve gotten a comment like this before. Thank you Jayne. Maybe you’ll go too.
Susie Norris says
Serious stuff. I’d be curious to hear a synopsis of Marion Nestle’s keynote…she is a force of inspiration!
She’s always a great speaker. Her topic was Power in the Food System: Big Food vs. Everyone Else and she delivered. I’ve heard her speak many times. She showed how only 4 companies control the food supply in the US, how the U.S produces two times the calories needed each day because corporations have to make and grow profits.
So wrong, and so toxic for us all.
Thanks for the reporting!
Amanda (@lambsearshoney) says
What a fabulous experience. The Oxford Symposium has been on my list for some years – I’ll get there eventually.
I don’t know how long you’ll be in Paris, but it would be easy to get there. Probably not until next July, right?
Lise Metzger says
Gosh I wish I could have been there, both for the topic and to hear Marion Nestle speak. Thank you so much for sharing the experience with us.
My pleasure. Marion tours around when she’s just published a book, so you might have an opportunity to hear her in the future, Lisa.
Anna Mindess says
Sounds like a culturally rich, intellectually stimulating and just plain fascinating event. Love those classy menus. Thanks for the virtual reportage.
Thanks Anna. Also like eating at an excellent restaurant. You would love the whole combo.
Betty Ann Quirino says
Thanks for this recap, Dianne. How interesting and sounds like there was so much to learn, which is what I often look for in conferences. I’ve always had this symposium on my wish list. You’ve convinced me even more.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Betty Ann. The sessions can be quite narrow in focus, so you need to go in a year where you’re super interested in the topic, I think.
Sue Burish says
Really fascinating. Thanks for writing about it. Your observations are thought provoking–which is right in line with the purpose of the event.
I love that you are a reader, Sue. Thank you.
Micheline Mongrain-Dontigny says
Thank you Dianne, you gave us a very good idea of what to expect attending the conference. Now it will be in my events to attend as it was suggested many years ago by my friend Jo Marie Powers the founder of the canadian cookbook awards.
If I failed to say so, it is mostly a conference about food history, so you have to be into that. I suspect a lot of people have been meaning to go for years.
Judy Corser says
Hello Dianne…so happy to find your re-cap of the Symposium this year, I met you and talked to you after my presentation on potlatch food. I agree, I’ve only been to a few symposiums over the years but I really felt 2019 was best ever.
Hi Judy, I enjoyed your presentation. Thanks for saying hello. It was my first Symposium and I hope to come back.