6-8 July 2018 at St Catherine’s College, Oxford

Report by Voltaire Cang

A devoted Symposiast, now a good friend, once told me that his joining the Oxford Food Symposium was a gift he gave himself each year. Indeed, the Symposium is a gift, one consisting of time well-spent in the company of students and academics, writers, chefs, food producers, media and business professionals, scientists, and general food enthusiasts – which is just about everybody. It is also a gift that keeps on giving during and beyond the Symposium’s three days, through thought-provoking lectures and research presentations, well-planned and utterly delicious mealtimes and receptions, sidebar (and “barside”) events and informal discussions, book sales and signings, and, most importantly, new and renewed friendships.

This year’s Symposium started before it formally began, with an excursion to the Oxford Botanic Garden by Symposiasts who arrived before registration and braved the midday heat with the Garden’s Director, Dr Simon Hiscock. (A good number of early comers preferred to stay indoors and join a marathon Wikipedia editing session.) Dr Hiscock was to be the afternoon’s plenary speaker, in which he reminded us how all life on Earth depended on plants and, thus, on seeds, that he called “boxes with baby plants inside.” His lecture was followed by Dr Elinor Breman of the Millennium Seed Bank in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, one of the largest centers for seed conservation in the world.

Many appeared unwilling for the day to end: discussion groups mingled around the bar, in obeisance to the trustees’ exhortation at the afternoon’s welcome session to “talk to everybody, since the Symposium is for everybody, an all-inclusive gathering of people with common interests.”

Dr. Breman complemented the first lecture with her message about the critical importance of seeds for feeding the world’s exploding population as she also introduced her organization’s work in storing seeds that in some cases could be dried and frozen for centuries. After the plenary came the afternoon reception with sparkling wines from Schloß Vaux in the renowned Rheingau region that segued into dinner, an herbaceous, Eastern European “Wild East Feast” by Olia Hercules whose menu included the gift of a full fish head in each diner’s soup starter. Hungarian wines from Robert Gilvesy and Zoltan Heimann (who were both personally present to introduce us to them) and a gorgeous sweet Tokaji from Balassa accompagnied them beautifully.

After dinner, a good number headed to “The Jewels of Life,” a seed and plant jewelry exhibit-cum-atelier with artists Gönül Paksoy and Lalehan Uysal, where visitors were invited to create personal fashion accessories using the seeds on display. Many appeared unwilling for the day to end: discussion groups mingled around the bar, in obeisance to the trustees’ exhortation at the afternoon’s welcome session to “talk to everybody, since the Symposium is for everybody, an all-inclusive gathering of people with common interests.”

Logo, poster and menus designed by Jake Tilson

Plenary sessions


Åsmund Asdal

Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Noah’s Ark for Seeds in the Arctic

Assaf Distelfeld

The Wild Side of Wheat

Stephen Jones

Finding Paths Forward

Simon Hiscock

Seeds of Civilization

Elinor Breman

Conservation in Action

OFS Rising Scholar

Molly MacVeagh

OFS Young Chefs

Elena Müller, Maria Nehmes, Ian P. Cairns, Karan Upmanyu


Oxford Botanic Garden tour: Plants that Changed the World

Led by Dr Simon Hiscock, Director, Oxford Botanic Garden and escorted by Jeremy MacClancy.

Wiki edit-a-thon

Roberta Wedge

Meals & Receptions

After dinner events

The Jewels of Life:

A Seed Atelier with designer Gönül Paksoy and photographer Lalehan Uysal.

Seeds: Commons or Corporate Property?

A film

The Sifter

Informal chats with Barbara Ketcham Wheaton about The Sifter.

Parallel Sessions & Papers

Isaura Andaluz
— Reclaiming Diversity of Taste.
David Asher
— On the Culture of Cheese.
Volker Bach
— Eating Life Force: The Meaning of Seeds in the German Alternative Food Movement.
Adrian Bregazzi
— Seeds in the Story of the Paradise of Pleasure and the Myth of the So-Called Mediterranean Diet.
Hans Olav Bråtå
— The Naked Barley ‘Thorebygg’ in Traditional Farmhouse Ale Brewing in Norway.
Anthony Buccini
— Neapolitan Pastiera: The Religious Significance of Wheatberries and Socio-Culinary Complexity in Southern Italy.
Voltaire Cang
— The Sesame Seed and ‘Japaneseness’.
Mary Margaret Chappell
— From Peasant Food to Posh Ingredient: A History of Buckwheat in Brittany.
Renata Christen
— Field Selection in Plant Breeding: Different Ways of Knowing Seed. Castro, Bel – How Coffee Killed A Town: Investigating the Rise And Fall Of Coffee In Lipa, Batangas.
Mukta Das
— Seeding the Future: Curry, Sausages and Tea in Hong Kong and Macau.
Len Fisher
— Preparing Seeds for Palatability: Chicken Guts and Chefs’ Tools.
Anny Gaul
— Fenugreek in Modern North Africa: Seed of a Forgotten History.
B.Z. Goldberg, Ronit Vered
— A Land of Wheat: In Search of the Lost Grain of Israel/Palestine.
Peter Hertzmann
— The Long and Simple History of the Dibble and Its Cousins.
Elizabeth Hoover, Sean Sherman
— ‘The answers to our ancestors’ prayers:’ Seeding a Movement for Health and Culture.
Eilis Kierans
— Pomodori Puri: Fruits of Empowerment in Deledda’s The Church of Solitude.
Joshna Maharaj
— Planting the Seeds of Good Food Citizenry.
Andrea Maraschi
— The Seed of Hope: Acorns from Famine Food to Delicacy in European History.
Sandra Mian
— European Immigrants‘ Vegetable Gardens: Food and Memory in Early 20th Century Brazilian Coffee Plantationsy’
Katharina Mojescik
— Illegal seeds: Nowadays Taste Doesn´t Matter.
Raluca Parfentie
— Growing and Eating God: Tracking the Mental Image of Wheat in Traditional Romanian Communities.
Gillian Riley
— Seeds in Art.
Andrew Ross
— Toil, Misery, Sieves, and Geometry: A Brief (Personal) History of Flour Milling Over the Last 105,000 Years.
Jeffrey Rubel
— In a Sense, Imperfect: Seedlessness and the American Quest for Convenience in Fruit.
Kathryn Sampeck
— Chocolate and Vanilla: Seeds of Taste.
David Shields
— Replenishing the Seeds that Made Southern Cookery.
Hanna Simonsen
— Choice of Seeds, Not Only a Practical Matter: The case of Bambara Groundnut in Tanzania.
Raymond Sokolov
— Zoochory: Animals Spread Seeds in a Dung Deal.
Gabriela Soto Laveaga
— Traveling Seeds: How Mexican Wheat Hybrids Became the Seeds that Feed the World.
Corey Straub
— Revisiting the Acorn-Eater: The Case of the Arkadians in Greek Antiquity
David Sutton
— Food of the Gods, or Seed of the Devil?
Malcolm Thick
— The English Quest for Novelty: Kitchen Garden Seeds from Abroad from the Sixteenth to the Early Eighteenth Centuries
Kate Thomas
— Seed-Time: Sex, Politics and Sustainable Dining at the Fin-de-Siècle.
Jaci Van Niekerk, Rachel Wynberg
— The Centrality of Traditional Seed in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Susan Weingarten
— Mustard in the Talmudic Literature.
Katie Hoi Ki Wong
— The Potential of Cultivating Rice (Oryza Sativa) in Canada
Zafer Yenal
— Karakilçik Bugdayi and Its Promise for a Better Food World