Topic 2019: Food and Power

W e invite paper-proposers for Food & Power to consider the many ways in which food can express power – both hard and soft. The theme is rich, and we encourage breadth, depth, and imagination in crafting proposals that investigate power dynamics in concrete ways. Hard power implies both the activities of governments, non-governmental organisations, corporations and corporatism, and transnational entities and the realities of wealth, subsistence, and poverty. Soft power implies more personal expressions, whether through choices in individual relationships, questions of gender and ethnicity, performances of class through etiquette or other indicia of status. Mass media and cultural attitudes fall somewhere in-between, dependent on both individuals and societal structures.


We look forward to proposals addressing joyous, as well as oppressive, expressions of power in and through food. Possible topics might include (although are not limited to):
  • 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;
  • 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.
Food has the unparalleled power to define our place in society; it communicates provenance, ethnicity, religion, ideology, and aspirations. Respect for culinary habit and farming traditions has the power 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 look forward to your ideas for Food & Power, whether in its good or bad, joyous or oppressive, sacred or profane manifestations.
The topic for 2020 is ‘Herbs, Spices, and Health’ (10-12 July 2020) and the topic for 2021 is ‘Food and Imagination’.