About us

We exist to celebrate, explore and share food research by scholars, enthusiastic amateurs, writers, and chefs from around the world.

A symposium for everyone

The Oxford Food Symposium exists to celebrate, explore, and share leading food research from around the world in a collaborative, collegial, and inclusive environment. We are an evolving community of writers, academics, chefs, scientists, producers, and passionate amateurs whose members bring a diverse host of experiences and perspectives to the study of food and cookery. Our goal is to change the conversation around food, expand the table and improve the plate, through lively debate and the annual publication of our Symposium Proceedings.

At the forefront of worldwide discussion

Keynote speakers are invited each year to address our chosen topic and to guide our thinking in new directions. These have included Harold McGee, Sidney Mintz, Marion Nestle, James Rebanks, Paul Rozin, Simon Schama, and Laura Shapiro. However, our symposiasts remain the heart and soul of the gatherings and of its mission. Around 50 papers are chosen each year by committee and, after being presented, these are edited, published in the annual Proceedings, freely available online. With a 40-year back catalogue, they represent an important resource that is internationally valued by academics and students of food and cookery.

Have a seat at the table

The Symposium Weekend at St Catherine’s college in Oxford/UK is about much more than scholarly discussion: it is about making new friends and meeting old ones, having fun, enjoying wonderful food and drink, and opening up new horizons. Most symposiasts stay in college, and for many, the spectacular themed feasts held in the Great Hall are a real highlight, curated by celebrated cooks from around the world with the invaluable collaboration of St Catz head Chef Tim Kelsey, and stunning menus by designer Jake Tilson. Since 2020, the Weekend is followed by the two weeks long online Conference, with all the keynotes and paper presentations, live discussions with the speakers, presenters and chefs, social gatherings and much more – not the least the riotous fun of democratically choosing the topic of three years hence.

Where it all began

The Symposium goes back to 1979 when two noted Oxford scholars, food historian Alan Davidson and social historian Theodore Zeldin, were bold enough to research a then revolutionary topic for academe – food. The first two seminars considered the themes of cookery books and ‘Food and Cookery: the Impact of Sciences in the Kitchen’. Among the attendees were Elizabeth David, Jill Norman, Jane Grigson, Richard Olney, Paul Levy, the physicist Nicholas Kurti as well as Claudia Roden and Sri and Roger Owen. Their success persuaded Davidson and Zeldin to expand the seminars into full-scale symposia, the first of which was held at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, in 1981.

The oldest-established and most respected of its kind, the Oxford Food Symposium is a network of food writers, historians, chefs, scientists, archeologists, paleontologists, botanists, and anyone else with more than just an interest in food.

Staying agile: 40 years young

The Symposium moved to its current home at St Catz in 2006, where each year 250 people from some 25 nations gather to explore that year’s topic from as many angles as possible. In 2020, we took the momentous decision to run our first virtual symposium, increasing our numbers to 500 from almost 50 nations. Our online adventure revolutionised the debate, once again, and we decided that it would continue, even when we were able to return to St Catz in 2022.

Listen to the OFS

In addition to our filmed keynotes, we have a wealth of recorded material you can explore. In our podcast series Ox Tales, speakers at the Symposium are invited by host Anna Sigrithur to expand on their specialist theme. Guests so far have included the renowned food writer Bee Wilson, food activist Fozia Ismail, and fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz.

The Oral History Project was launched by Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire in 2017 in order to capture some of the stories, philosophies and memories of past symposiasts. Interviewees so far have included the distinguished food writer, inaugural symposiast, and former Chair Paul Levy, our current President Claudia Roden, The Sifter founder Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, and the Symposium’s co-founder, Theodore Zeldin.

Alan will be remembered for his charm, which was rarely used knowingly; his innocence, which engendered a constant public optimism; his stubborn itch for accuracy, perhaps encouraged by diplomatic training; and his handsome daily turnout in gay but never garish clothing (an affection for silks and American checks), complete with impressive shopping bag, or even three.

The OFS Kitchen Table

The virtual OFS Kitchen Table is where we host informal monthly conversations with invited speakers, our monthly OFS Wiki Club as well a group working on the Sifter, a revolutionary search engine for historic cookery books and other documents. First launched in October 2020 in response to the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reaction to our first online Symposium, the OFS Kitchen Table is your chance to get up close and personal with your heroes. With speakers including Marion Nestle, Harold McGee, Asma Khan, and Kamal Mouzawak, the OFS Kitchen Table has already established a devoted following – draw up a chair and join us!

In it together

As a registered charity with a remit to educate and inform, the Oxford Food Symposium relies almost entirely on volunteer labour by its Board of Trustees, a group of around eighteen food writers, academics, and practitioners, many of whom are themselves long-standing symposiasts. Our current Chair is food historian Cathy Kaufman, and our President is the celebrated author Claudia Roden.

Change the conversation
Expand the table
Improve the plate