Food and Landscape: Recording for Posterity

Symposiast Len Fisher introduces his talk ‘Global Warming and the Changing Global Food Landscape: The Need to Preserve Diversity’ at the 2017 Symposium

“Why should I do anything for posterity? What has posterity ever done for me?”

Well, one thing that future speakers might like to do for posterity is to record their talks and post them here on the symposium website for the interest of others who could not attend the symposium or the talk. It is something that I personally have been a bit nervous about doing, but this year I bit the bullet, handing my iPhone to a helpful audience member, whose name I unfortunately missed, and asking her to record the talk. She did a wonderful job, keeping the recording steady simply by rest the phone on a seat arm. I have put the video up on YouTube, and at Elisabeth Luard’s suggestion I am posting the link here:

The talk itself was also concerned with posterity, and addressed the problem of how we can best preserve and protect the global food landscape in the face of the effects of global warming. As other speakers at the symposium pointed out, diversity and the encouragement of traditional farming methods offer many advantages. The message of my own talk was simple: Diversity is also the key to promoting resilience in our food systems in the face of global warming.

It is a message that is backed by findings from the FAO, the World Economic Forum, and numerous other responsible bodies. It is also backed by scientific observation: the food and agricultural systems that recover most quickly from the effects of extreme weather events are those that exhibit the most diversity. In the talk, I outlined the scientific reasons why this should be the case.

Now all we need to do is to get politicians and other decision-makers to listen.

IMAGE: World Economic Forum, with permission.

Favourite Food Museums

Len Fisher

Symposiasts and followers of our Facebook page responded enthusiastically when I asked about their favourite food museums. There is, in fact, a searchable online listing of some 1400 such museums compiled by Shirley Cherkasky and friends at

But for the fun of it, here is a rather more selective listing of the ones that our symposiasts and Facebook followers came up with. Feel free to suggest others through your comments! My personal favourites are The Endangered Cake Museum and The Burnt Food Museum.

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Young Chef’s Award: A Winner’s Experience!

From Keelin Tobin, recipient of the 2014 Friends of the Oxford Symposium Young Chef’s Grant:
“The Oxford Symposium – ’tis a weekend not to be missed! It was a great honour for me to have been awarded the 2014 Young Chef Award. This award offers an assisted place at the weekend, in addition to the chance to work behind-the-scenes alongside established visiting chefs.

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Tasting and the Brain

Len Fisher

A recent paper in Nature (LINK to article) tells us for the first time how taste sensations on the tongue are transmitted to the brain. It turns out that, just as there are dedicated receptor cells on the tongue and palate for each of the five basic tastes, so there are specific ganglions (analogous to the different wires in a telephone exchange) tuned to each of these tastes, and responsible for conveying the message about their presence from the receptors to the brain. One practical upshot (on the assumption that human brains react similarly to the mouse brains that were studied) is that our response to taste mixes should largely reflect the sum of the responses to the individual tastants.

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Food Blogs

Len Fisher

The culinary magazine SAVEUR (“for people who experience the world food first”) each year hosts the “Best Food Blog” awards, with blogs nominated by readers from the many, many thousands that now inhabit the blogosphere. Many of our symposiasts write blogs, and one theme for Oxford 2015 could surely be the blogging experience.

What do blogs communicate, and how? How does a blogger attract an audience? What sort of topics do they cover? What sort of feedback do bloggers get that might help them to communicate more effectively? Have any of our bloggers been nominated for, or received, awards such as the Saveur award?

The 2014 winners and runners-up are listed at The overall winner was the self-referential “i am a food blog”. Simple but effective, as all communication about food must ultimately be.

Food and Communication Quotes

Len Fisher

Trawling through the large collection of quotes that I might one day use in my writing, I found some off-the-wall examples and examples from unusual sources that are related (more or less) to Food and Communication, and which set me thinking about less conventional approaches to our theme.

For starters:

“Dear God

Can you marry food?


Eric Marshall and Stuart Hample “Children’s Letters to God”.

And then there is Stephen Fry’s thought-provoking metaphor:

“As in food, so in the wider culture. Anything astringent, sharp, complex, ambiguous or difficult is ignored in favour of the colourful, the sweet, the hollow and the simple.

Stephen Fry “The Fry Chronicles”.

Or Pooh’s apparently rather simpler approach;

““When you wake up in the morning, Pooh” said piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

“It’s the same thing,” he said.”

Benjamin Hoff “The Tao of Pooh”.

How we describe our food is an obvious theme, although Terry Pratchett’s literal approach may not recommend itself to all:

“[the restaurant sticks] to conventional food like flightless bird embryos, minced organs in intestine skins, slices of hog flesh and burnt ground grass seeds dipped in animal fats: or, as it is known in their patois, eggs, soss and bacon and a fried slice.”

Terry Pratchett “Mort”.

Talking ABOUT food will undoubtedly be a popular theme:

“One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.”

Laurie Colwin “Home Cooking”.

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.”

Kurt Vonnegut “Jailbird”.

“If you are ever at a loss to support a flagging conversation, introduce the subject of eating.”

Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1859).

Or maybe we could just talk TO our food:

“I talked to a calzone for fifteen minutes last night before I realized it was just an introverted pizza. I wish all my acquaintances were so tasty.”

Jarod Kintz “This Book Has No Title”.

“I moan with pleasure.
“Did you just have a foodgasm?” he asks, wiping ricotta from his lips.
“Where have you been all my life?” I ask the beautiful panini.”

Stephanie Perkins “Anna and the French Kiss”.

Finally, surely there is something to be said for the advantages of NON-communication:

“Oh, the pleasure of eating my dinner alone.”

Charles Lamb.

Maybe Philip Larkin could have the last word on the non-communication, or at least inner communication, theme:

“Seriously, I think it is a grave fault in life that so much time is wasted in social matters, because it not only takes up time when you might be doing individual private things [like eating in solitude!], but it prevents you storing up the psychic energy that can then be released to create art or whatever it is. It’s terrible the way we scotch silence & solitude at every turn, quite suicidal. … It isn’t as if anything was gained by this social frivolity; It isn’t: it’s just a waste.”

Philip Larkin “Letters to Monica”.

Perhaps a totally silent meal might be an interesting idea to try at Oxford 2015!




Tacit Knowledge

 Len Fisher
One prominent theme for a meeting on Food and Communication must surely be the notion of tacit knowledge – that is, know-how that is only, and sometimes can only, be passed on through direct experience. A recent example from the world of science was described in the journal “Nature” (Vol. 514, pp. 139 – 140 (2014)). It concerned measurements of the quality of sapphire, now used to make laser mirrors. Russian scientists were professing very high precision that Western scientists were unable to match, and accusations of false claims abounded.

The reason was simpler. The sapphire crystals in question were suspended from thin threads, which the Russian scientists said were coated with a “fatty film”. No fat that the Western scientists tried worked. Then it came out that the film was produced by one of the Russian group running the thread across the bridge of his nose before attaching the sapphire. When Western scientists tried the same trick, they were finally able to replicate the Russians’ ultra-precise measurements.

Tricks abound in cooking. One that has a rather similar basis is always to save some used frying oil, and add a little to fresh oil before using it. This helps to prevent fish and meat from sticking to the bottom of a non-Teflon coated frying pan, because the breakdown products from the previously heated oil attach themselves to the metal to form a thin, anti-adhesive, film. There must be many similar tricks around, often unmentioned in recipe books. It will be good to learn about some of them at Oxford 2015.

Update Oct 20, 2014: Peter Hertzmannn tells a nice story about tacit knowledge when it comes to confiting duck parts: “When I learned to confit duck parts in the Dordogne, I was required to turn the meat in the fat with my bare hands, i.e., to assure that the fat would not get too hot. That temperature was about 65 °C.

The first part is the tacit knowledge; the last part is Peter’s scientific interpretation which, as so often in science, comes a posteriori rather than a priori. Peter goes on to say: “I think the tacit knowledge aspect works for good and bad. A lot of what is taught is based on misunderstanding, and that it must be true because “that’s how I was taught.” It was a problem when I worked with surgeons and now I see it with chefs and worse with cookbook authors [see Oliver Sachs’ “Uncle Tungsten” for a wonderful example from the chemical industry}.

By way of example, if you look at old recipes for what today we call braising, only a little or no liquid was added to the pot. Now I see entire books devoted to braising where the last step before cooking is to cover the item to be cooked with liquid. To me this is simmering, not braising.”

I agree, and hope that the whole subject of tacit knowledge gets a good airing at Oxford 2015.

The Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery’s 34th annual gathering

This is what we ate for lunch and dinner at
The Oxford Symposium on Food Cookery this year.

Menu-cards by Trustee Jake Tilson.

All meals thanks to Head Chef Tim Kelsey and the team at St. Catz.

1.Allegra's menu 1

1. allegra's menu 2

Allegra McEvedy’s scene-setting Market Dinner on Friday evening

Allegra and her team served a fabulous eat-with-the-fingers feast of porky things – well, she’s to be found flipping the hot pans at Blackfoot in Exmouth Market when not writing her column in The Guardian. Here’s her finger-licking menu:

Nibbles for drinks were chorizo, lomo and croquetas de bacalao
Peas, broad beans and radishes
Manaquish flatbreads
Sheep’s cheese with herbs and spices
Pig sarnie
Porchetta rolls with salsa verde
Crispy pig’s ears and crackling
Cime di rape & tallegio pizza
Strawberry, mint and hibiscus jelly cups

Allegra used produce generously donated by New Covent Garden Market (raw veg), Riffel, Ultracomida & Ubago (bacalao), Dingley Dell Pork, Iberiflavours (lomo and chorizo) and our wines were provided by Foods and Wines from Spain.


2. russian lunch 1

2. russian lunch 2

Saturday’s Russian Street Food Lunch with
Karina Baldry and Katrina Kollegaeva of Russian Revels

Karina and Katrina’s inspirational Russian lunch using local ingredients was prepared in honour of Saturday’s Plenary Speaker, Anya von Bremzen, author of “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking”.

Cold beetroot okroshka soup (with Organic Bio-tiful kefir)
Potato and caraway bread (from Karaway Bakery)
Gherkins in pastrami blankets
Anya’s beef kotleti
Hawberry ketchup (from Foraged Fine Foods)
Summery Olivier Salad (with mayo from Birchgrove Eggs)
Curd cheese with apricots and sunflower seed butter
Rose petal preserve (from Foraged Fine Foods)

We drank Kvass (Russian Soda). Their website is

3. Nordic menu 1

Trine Hahnemann’s Nordic Summer Banquet

Trine – cooking with her sister Silla Bjerrum – sets the scene for our Saturday evening dinner: “Imagine you are sitting in my kitchen on a summer evening in Denmark; this is what I would be cooking for us:” 

Lightly cured salmon with lovage, radish, cucumber, horseradish and cress
Rye focaccia
Black barley from Skaertoft Molle, spring cabbage, cauliflower
Lamb with fennel, fennel seed, white wine and elderflower cordial
Baked celeriac
Cheese from Knuthenlund in Lolland and fruit compote
Crisp bread from Peter’s Yard
Cold Buttermilk soup with strawberries and kammerjunker biscuit
Danish chocolate from Mikkel Holm

Trine used produce generously donated by Skaertoft (Rye flour and black barley), Peters Yard (crisp bread), New Covent Market (fruit and veg).  First course wine was 2013 Riesling Mayer am Pfarrplatz, Vienna. Second course wine was 2012 Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg Alte Reben Wieninger. Cheese course wine was 2011 Merlot Cobenzl, Vienna. Dessert wine was 2013 Traminer Kirchberg Christ, Vienna.


4. leftover lunch 1

Pepe’s Social Stew of Leftovers in homage to Food Artist Alicia Rios

Sunday’s Leftover Lunch was prepared and presented by food performance artist Joseph Pepe Patricio aided and abetted by Head Chef Tim Kelsey and the staff at St. Catz. Materials for the feast arrived in procession on trolleys preceeded by trumpet (voluntary) – and the cooking was finished at High Table, You had to be there to know how delicious it was and no, I don’t know how he did it (but I’ll ask!). All was eaten with the fingers (challenging but educational).  This is how Pepe explains the process of redesigning what went before: 

A collective rumination of nourishments past and future; an edible tribute to Food Artist Alicia Rios.  

First course: a window of opportunity opens as the marketplace closes.
Second course: The view widens as the chefs work magic with last-minute bargains.

Dessert: The Symposium reborn!

Trine Hahnemann


Trine Hahnemann – chef, teacher, author of 9 cookbooks (3 published in English) – is the founding-mother of caterers Hahnemann’s Køkken, a practical cook’s response to the need for high quality, well-balanced meals cooked by trained and talented chefs in staff restaurants and in-house canteens including those of the Danish government.

She remains very much a home cook and sees good food prepared with respect and care not only as source of enjoyment and method of communicating with others but as an instrument of social betterment. As author of The Nordic Diet and The Scandinavian Cookbook, her menu for our Saturday dinner, “A Nordic Summer Banquet”, is based on traditional Danish home-cooking: expect nettle-cured salmon, black barley and fabulous rye-bread.

Her writing has appeared in The Observer Food Monthly, Good Housekeeping, Food and Travel, Red Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller and she’s a regular contributor to the on-line magazine Zesterdaily.