This Year: 2019 Food and Power

T he Oxford Symposium is a weekend conference on Food and Cookery held annually at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. This year’s dates are Friday 12th July to Sunday 14th July 2019 and the subject is Food & Power.

St. Catz, Oxford’s only Modernist college, was designed by Arne Jacobsen and is considered a modern masterpiece. The College lies just south of the city center, a 10­-15 minute walk from the Bodleian Library and the Ashmolean Museum. Further images and information are on the college website.


In 2019, Symposiasts can look forward to more than 40 papers addressing expressions of power in and through food. If what we prepare, cook and eat has the power to define our place in society, it also has the ability to communicates provenance, ethnicity, religion, ideology, and aspirations. Respect for culinary habit and farming traditions can be employed to encourage respectful tourism, reinforce national pride, and preserve regional diversity, thereby diluting the effect of industrialization of farming and the globalization of the food-supply. But perhaps most importantly, food – the cooking and serving of a meal – has the power to connect family and society, to tell a story of strangers or enemies coming together, to change mood, trigger memories, create emotions, touch the heart and, most powerfully of all, to express love.

We anticipate papers on topics as diverse as performative eating (or fasting), such as a medieval feast, a wedding banquet, a chi-chi restaurant meal, a traditional holiday meal, a religious observance, or a hunger strike; authoritative voices, whether cookbook authors, medical and dietary experts, food critics, mass media personalities, and social media influencers, starvation or hunger as a weapon of war or to control public dissent, and its opposite, “bread and circuses” used as a tool of political and social control; inequalities in food access, whether between social groups, regions, or nations, and the value of food aid, food banks, and subsidies; (in)justice and barriers in markets, including free trade and fair trade issues.

Paper-givers have been invited to address subjects such as corporate control of agriculture, food processing and pricing, and reactions; hierarchies in the kitchen, at the table, and on the table, whether a measurement of the importance of certain people or a perception of the values of certain foods; slavery, colonisation, and the role of enslaved and colonised peoples (and the colonisers) in shaping tables throughout the world; the exploitation of labor, whether migrant or through unfair or inadequately compensated work; food as a source of pride, identity, discrimination, or assimilation for diasporic and immigrant communities; the power of guilt and shame, whether relating to dietary choices, environmental concerns, or body image and eating disorders; the power of taboos, religious proscriptions, or fads in shaping culinary culture; gender issues, such as the traditionally male professional chef versus the female domestic cook; food used as reward or punishment, whether on an individual, domestic, institutional, national, or international scale.

While the Symposium’s Annual Proceedings are the tangible result of the weekend’s deliberations, paper-givers have a rare opportunity to discuss their work with fellow-Symposiasts and amend or expand their contribution before re-submitting it for publication to our Papers Editor, Professor Mark McWilliams.

The topic for 2020 is ‘Herbs and Spices’ (10-12 July 2020) and the topic for 2021 is ‘Food and Imagination’.

Speakers, Meals and Events


Our Friday dinner, The Power of Food in the Columbian Exchange organised by Symposiast Sandra Mian, comes courtesy of Restaurante El Mural de los Poblanos and the city of Puebla de Zaragoza in south-eastern Mexico. Puebla, Mexico’s fourth largest city, was established soon after the Spanish conquest in a fertile valley midway between the capital and the Caribbean port of Veracruz – effectively, on the crossroads of Asia, America and Europe. The result is an extraordinary gastronomic and cultural diversity recently awarded UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Expect delicious authenticity including Mexican wine, beer, Mezcal, mole poblano and the possibility of crickets.

Saturday lunch Saturday lunch we’re privileged and grateful to be able to announce, will be the celebration of the Healing Power of Cooking Together . The meal will be prepared with the assistance of four remarkable women – Munira Mahmud, Fatima Odonkor, Halima Al-Huthaifi and Lillian Olwa – whose community was affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in West London in 2017. In the aftermath of the disaster, a group of women gathered in a communal kitchen at the Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage nearby, where they were able to prepare fresh food for their families, friends and neighbours. As they cooked together and shared recipes, the community began to re-connect, heal and look to the future. This was the start of the Hubb Community Kitchen and led to the publication of Together: Our Community Cookbook, published by Ebury with a foreword by The Duchess of Sussex, with all proceeds going to support the Kitchen. “Hubb means love in Arabic,” explain the contributors in their introduction. “We named ourselves the Hubb Community Kitchen to celebrate the thing that we all feel every time we meet. Our kitchen has always been a place of good food, love, support and friendship. We cook the recipes we’ve grown up with, so there’s no stress. Swapping family recipes and moments of laughter gave us a sense of normality and home.”

Saturday dinner explores The Power and Versatility of Frugal Greek Cooking under the guidance of author, teacher, island-dweller and long-time Symposiast Aglaia Kremezi with the collaboration of Chef Michael Costa of Zaytinya in Washington DC. Expect superb island-cooking (Aglaia runs her own cookery school on Kea) and an edible lesson in the original Mediterranean diet.

Sunday’s lunch, With her Hands, is a celebration of the power of women in food. Masterminded by Trustee David Matchett of Borough Market – with due acknowledgement of all the female growers, cooks, and stall-holders who supply their delicious produce to London’s oldest and liveliest food-market – we can expect a menu that celebrates the skills of women as makers, producers and agriculturalists.


Joanna Blythman, Friday’s Keynote Speaker sponsored by The Jane Grigson Memorial Trust, is an investigative journalist, broadcaster and writer who has won numerous awards for her work on food-related issues in Britain and elsewhere. Her writing covers topics as diverse as supermarket domination, the environmental impact of salmon farming, the validity of healthy eating advice, farm animal cloning, and the causes of food price rises and obesity. Her most recent books are What To Eat (2012) and Swallow This (2015).

Marion Nestle, our Saturday Keynote Speaker, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the politics of food production and consumption and their impact on health. Her research examines scientific and socioeconomic influences on food choice, diet and health, and public policy. She is the Paulette Goddard Professor Emerita in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, which she chaired from 1988 to 2003. From 2008-2013, she wrote a monthly ‘Food Matters’ column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Through prize-winning books, she has become a national influencer of food policy, nutrition, and food education in the US and throughout the wider world. Named a ‘Trailblazer’ by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and rated no 2 in Forbes magazine’s list of 7 of ‘the world’s most powerful foodies’, her latest book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, was published in October 2018. Professor Nestle blogs at and tweets regularly @marionnestle. Note: the family name is pronounced “nestle” – as in affectionate contact between two warm-blooded creatures rather than as the Swiss food conglomerate to whom the eminent professor is unrelated.

Our Sunday Keynote Speaker is Carolyn Steel, author of The Hungry City (2008 – recipient of the Royal Society of Literature’s Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction). As architect, writer and teacher, her field of interest lies in the relationship between food and the development of cities. After studying architecture at Cambridge, a spell at the British School in Rome convinced her of the importance of food in shaping the urban environment since ancient times. Today, the dangers inherent in the provision of cheap food by companies solely concerned with profitability led her to examine alternative dwelling models and the concept of Sitopia (‘food place’). Her TedTalk (more than a million views) explores the idea that by living in cities we make ourselves dependent on unsustainable systems while distancing ourselves from our most important relationship, between us and nature.

On Sunday afternoon we welcome our final Keynote Speaker, Zita Cobb, entrepreneur and innkeeper on Fogo Island, a remote and beautiful island set in ice-bound seas off the coast of Newfoundland, home to one of Canada’s oldest-established fishing communities. Of recent times, the islanders have been faced with the difficulties common to all such communities – depletion of fish-stocks leading to loss of income leading to de-population – along with new problems associated with climate change. Which was the reason that our Speaker, returning to her island-home after a successful career in high-tec, established the Shorefast Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting economic development through the island’s twin assets – people and nature. Already in place, adding to the development of a tourist industry with an emphasis on hospitality based on local tradition, is an artist-in-residence program, Fogo Island Arts, and Geology at the Edge, a program created by Shorefast that takes guests on a hike with the island’s geologist-in-residence. While Fogo presents a particular geographical challenge, the hope is that the success of Shorefast as an enterprise – self-sustaining, with all profits returned to the island – will provide the blueprint for similarly-threatened islanders everywhere by growing a new food culture and self-empowering existing communities.



Join fellow Symposiasts on Friday, 12 July in the St. Catz JCR Theatre from 1.00 to 3.30 PM and help transcribe an English manuscript cookbook from the 1700s. Please bring a laptop so that Heather Wolfe, co-director of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s ‘Before’ Farm to Table initiative, can show us how to use the simple transcription-interface. The goal is to have fun and discover new recipes while transcribing as many pages as possible. Our transcriptions will become part of the Folger’s recipe-book corpus, which we aim to make available online in 2020. No previous experience required! For more details and express interest, contact


Wiki-Food Editathon 12th July St Catz, 13.00 – 15.45

Once again we are delighted to invite you to join us for a FREE Wikieditathon taking place in the afternoon at St Catz ahead of the OSFC, 12 July 13.00 – 15.45. The Wikieditathon, led by expert Wiki trainer Roberta Wedge will teach you how to wiki edit or to hone your wiki editing skills.

The Wikieditathons, which started in 2014, were initially set up to help redress the Wikipedia gender imbalance by improving coverage of food related topics, especially but not exclusively those related to women. The initial wikieditathon took place with the OSFC in partnership with the British Library and was instigated by Roberta, who, at the time, was working as Wikipedia’s Gender Equality Officer. The OSFC-BL wiki group is part of a broader effort led by Wikipedia to redress imbalances in its current content. Although it’s ‘free and anyone can contribute’, Wikipedia discovered that over 90% of those who actually do so are white men. Join us to tackle this gender imbalance in the food-arena (and improve food related content in general) as a dedicated part of Wikipedia’s effort to improve these statistics across a spectrum of fields.

Our group of Wiki-editors includes leading food scholars, students and interested amateurs, with members contributing from across the globe. You can read about our most recent Wikieditathon held at the British Library in May here to get a better idea of what is involved.

The wikieditathon will take place in the JCR in St. Catz. Participants of all backgrounds and experience-levels including complete Wiki novices are welcome. Places are limited.
Please email Polly on to book a place and for more information.