Next symposium

8 – 10 July and through to July 31
at St Catz, Oxford, and Online

While it can be argued that all foodstuffs altered by human activity are works of the imagination, what concerns us this year is the conscious, creative process that transforms what we eat beyond the minimum required for sustenance. The instinct to transform appears universal: as the product of the mind, it marks the beginning of culture.  If cooking is what makes us human, imagination lit the flame. Read more 

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What to expect

Online again this year, with live events all weekend and beyond

With a year of research and development under our communal belt, this year’s Symposium will be as lively and interactive and welcoming as usual, and another great adventure. The weekend will be a full-time immersion in gatherings for keynote talks, papers, meals as well as educational and other inspiring activities. As in 2020, discussions and on-line meetings will then continue until the Grande Finale of the Symposium.

Bearing in mind that we reserve the right to change/substitute if circumstances demand, we’re happy to announce the following speakers and meals:

Keynote Speaker – Margaret Atwood

We’re over the moon (appropriately for this year’s subject) that Margaret Atwood has agreed to address us in our fortieth anniversary year on Fictional Foodies. As one of Canada’s best known and most prolific writers, she has written more than forty books in nearly all literary forms including short stories, nonfiction, children’s books and for the stage. Her work encompasses a variety of themes including gender and identity, religion and myth, the power of language, climate change and “power politics”. Her most recent book, The Testaments, has broken Canadian sales records and was named the co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.  She’s also co-Founder of Pelee Island Bird Observatory. Supplementary reading: The CanLit Foodbook and The Birdwatchers’ Banquet. 

Virtual Dinner – Skye Gyngell

We’ll be joining the brilliant Skye Gyngell of Spring, London’s greenest and chic-est, for the menu of the day – that is, whatever arrived fresh this morning from her growers on the Welsh borders and an organic farm in Hampshire.

Keynote Speaker – Eric C. Rath

Eric C. Rath, culinary historian and enthusiast for all foods Japanese, will illuminate The Imaginary Cuisine of Medieval Japan. As Professor of history at the University of Kansas, he teaches courses on food history and premodern Japan. A member of the editorial collective of Gastronomica, his books include Japan’s Cuisines: Food, Place and Identity (2016), Oishii: The History of Sushi (Reaktion Books, 2021), while in Food & Fantasy in Early Modern Japan (2010), Professor Rath writes eloquently on the hōchōnin, chefs to samurais and elites who “utilized inedible dishes like the snacks for the shikisankon [three rounds of ceremonial drinking preceding banquets] . . . to evoke symbolic meanings and create artistic displays at elite banquets. . . . [a]llowing readers to conceive of entire banquets as abstract meditations on food.” 

Virtual Lunch – Junya Yamasaki

We’ll be joining Chef Junya Yamasaki for an oceanic haiku that starts in Japan and ends up, via India, in the curry-houses of the UK and US. Start ahead: Junya’s Fish-bone Curry takes three days.

Virtual Dinner – Virgilio Martinez

Polish up the weighing-scales and sharpen your wits for a seashore to mountaintop experience at Central, Virgilio Martinez’s gastronomic laboratory in Lima, Peru. Cooking will never be the same again.

Keynote Speaker – Rob Hopkins

Environmental activist Rob Hopkins will address the big questions in What is to What IfUnleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want.  Campaigner, broadcaster, keen gardener, writer and (‘only in his spare-time’) artist-illustrator, Rob co-founded the Transition movement in Totnes, Devon (UK) in 2005.  The idea of a community-led response to the big challenges the world faces spread rapidly, and there are now participants in more than 30 countries involved in the Transition network.  As author of The Transition Handbook, The Transition Companion and The Power of Just Doing Stuff, he presents the podcast From What If to What Next where he invites listeners to send in their “what if” questions, and then explores how to make them a reality.  In 2020 he was a member of the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Sustainable Behaviour Change. 

Virtual Lunch – Gönül Paksoy with the Young Chefs

Will be imagined and prepared by this year’s and last year’s Young Chefs, inspired and guided by Turkish artist-designer (and vegetable-enthusiast) Gönül Paksoy.  

A symposium for everyone

We anticipate a high level of enthusiasm, so will be limiting places to allow all participants to make their virtual voices heard.  The Symposium has always been a coming-together rather than setting-apart: Admission will be, as usual, first-come first-served, no academic qualifications required.

Awards, grants & prizes

We have a number of assisted places, student rates, awards, grants and prizes that all applicants should endeavour to consult before registering their place.

St Catz is still our spiritual home

As soon as we can, we will return to St Catz, and you can read about the physical campus below. The next challenge will be combining the physical and virtual events so that our community can continue to thrive.


For further information on the Symposium, including activities, meals, dress, Symposium etiquette and more.

Paper submissions for 2021 are closed

Every year the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery invites anyone with an interest in food and its history to submit a paper for consideration. The Symposium has a longstanding tradition of quirky openness to all things, including seemingly non-academic topics. However, to maintain our high standards regarding content and to keep everything manageable, we ask all authors to conform strictly to our rules. We reserve the right to return or to refuse proposals as well as papers for technical reasons.

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