10 July – 2 August 2020 at our new virtual space(ship)

This year it had to be different

The worldwide pandemic required that we transform our annual gathering into a virtual symposium where participants around the globe could join our community remotely. We missed St. Catz – but we were excited and had been working hard to shape the V-Symp in ways that would be engaging, meaningful, and enjoyable.

With the help of our congenial web designers at Igloo, and employing user-friendly technologies, we created a new space, a true spaceship, that allowed for a broad and diverse audience (including many who might otherwise not be able to journey to Oxford) to experience and contribute to our first V-Symp.

It has been a fantastic opportunity to fulfil our mission to change the conversation, expand the table, and improve the plate.

V-Symp 2020 started on 10 July with a flurry of concentrated activities over the weekend. Replicating the event at St Catz, we unlocked recorded materials in real time BST, including keynote addresses, paper presentations, chefs’ videos and other materials. We also scheduled breaks for virtual coffees, teas, meals and ‘hangouts’ in the bar, stretching well into the evening: these ‘refreshment breaks’ were opportunities for live chats with fellow symposiasts. The Weekend was a marathon, like the event at St. Catz.

In the three weeks following The Weekend, “The Conference” not only offered the opportunity to view or review all content at a more relaxed pace, but we also scheduled daily live discussions with all paper presenters and the chefs. We concluded the V-Symp on Sunday, 2 August, with the Grande Finale: a final keynote for summing up, the topic selection for 2023 as well as farewell drinks and the disclosure of the Vsymp playlist at the virtual bar of our spaceship. Long may it float, fly, and sail.

Logo, poster and menus designed by Jake Tilson

Richard Shepro’s report:

On 4 May 1979 twenty scholars participated in a little conference in Oxford that led in later years to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. We could play the game of imagining what they might have said had they been told that in the year 2020, after decades of holding symposia in Oxford colleges, the Symposium would be conducted electronically and simultaneously in half the world’s time zones by Picture Phone, illustrated text and musical accompaniment, with each Symposiast participating in his or her own home or office—but that inquiry would be futile because no one could have anticipated (1) the strength and longevity of the Oxford Food Symposium, (2) the technology that could allow a world-wide symposium even to be remotely plausible, and (3) the drive and skill of a world of food-focused heroes to make something happen that no one was even dreaming of in the past…. Read more

Read another personal report from those enriching, emotional weeks by trustee Naomi Duguid.

Plenary sessions


Charles Spence

Gastrophysics: the Psychology of Herbs and Spices

Vivienne Lo

Potent Flavours: Nutritional Practice in the Sinosphere

Harold McGee

A Nose Dive Into Plant Aromas

Krishnendu Ray

Summing Up the Journey

OFS Rising Scholar

Julia Fine

Half-Coloured with Turmeric’: The Visual Function of Spices in Early Modern Britain, in discussion with Polly Russell.

OFS Young Chefs

Andiswa Mqedlana, Jedeiah Esteves, Shannon Compton, Caitriona Nic Philibin


Wiki edit-a-thon

Food & (mostly) Women, led by Roberta Wedge and Polly Russell.

The Sifter

The cyberworld of cookbooks in a searchable database, presented by Barbara K. Wheaton and Charlie Rubin.

The Oxford Food & Museum Project

And Edible Treasures Unlocked, presented by Linda Roodenburg and Liz Wilding.

Meals & Receptions

After dinner events

Parallel sessions & papers

Panel 1 — Adulteration
Nina Bauer
— Cheating the Senses
Ian Hemphill
— Perils of Popularity: How Popularization Leads to Ultimate Degradation
Peter Hertzmann
— The Road That Spices Travel is No Longer Silk
Panel 2 — Pot-pourri
Suzanne Caskie
— Cannabis in Your Spice Rack
Rebecca Federman, Jessica Pigza
— Grass Fed: Cannabis Cooking in the United States
Panel 3 — Colonialism
Janet Beizer
— Traveling with a Hairy Heart, or Where Cooking with Annatto Can Take You
Eva Schalbroeck
— Season with Money, Knowledge, Civilisation, and Exchange: Culinary Herbs and Spices during Colonial Rule in the Congo (1885 to 1960)
Panel 4 — Agri-Culture: Identity, Politics, Discourses
Rabea Eghbariah
— The Struggle for Za’atar and Akkoub: Israeli Nature Protection Laws and the Criminalization of Palestinian Herb-Picking Culture
Scott Barton
— Melegueta or Grains of Paradise: To be ‘Pepperish’
Binti Gurung
— Foraged Food of Nepal: Stinging Nettle, is it a Super Food?
Panel 5 — Pharmacopoeia
Joshua Lovinger
— Saffron and Šavu’ot: A Note on Jewish Memory and Pharmacology
Heather Hunwick
— Captain James Cook, Scurvy, and the Use and Misuse of Herbs
Alexandr Gorokhovskiy
— Vodka in Early Modern Muscovy: Foreign Doctors, Travelling Herbalists, and the Tsar’s Kitchen
Panel 6 — Interpreting Medieval Texts
Willliam Woys Weaver
— Herbs and Spices in the Court Cuisine of Medieval Cyprus: Food in the Cyprio-Gallic Style
Robban Toleno
— Ambiguous Aromatic Umbellifers and Other Obscure Characters: On the Intricacies of Recreating China’s Culinary Past
Volker Bach
— Season to Measure: Measurements in Early Culinary Recipes and their Relation to Medicine
Panel 7 — Structures of Cuisines
Ken Albala
— The Rise and Fall of Certain Herbs
Helmut W. Klug, Christian Steiner, Fritz Treiber, Astrid Böhm, Julia Eibinger
— A Journey Back in Taste: Herbs and Spices in Medieval German Cuisine
Panel 8 — Chilis on the World Table
Kelly Sharp
— “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag.”: The Diasporic Roots of Hot Sauce in Black American Culinary Culture
Tuba Şatana
— İsot: The Pepper on Hot Rooftops
Voltaire Cang
— Shichimi: The Spice, its Trade, and Centuries of Food Business Survival in Japan
Panel 9 — Changing British Cuisine
Gina Rae La Cerva
— ‘Good Old Things’: The Transformation of Wild Herbs from Common Sustenance to Aristocratic Luxury in Early Modern England
Paul Freedman
— The Savoury Course at Oxford and Cambridge Colleges
Panel 10 — Contemporary Issues
Amy Trubek, Eric Bishop-von Wettberg, Maya Moore
— A Twenty-First Century Spice: A Journey to Madagascar and the Promise and Peril of the Wild Tsiperifery Pepper
Richard Shepro
— The Geopolitics of Saffron and the Puzzles of Saffron Arithmetic
James O’Donnell
— What Does Prestige Taste Like? The Divorce of Saffron from Its Cultural Context
Panel 11 — Evidence from the Herbals
Michael Krondl
— The Chile Diaspora: Unravelling Evidence from Sixteenth Century Botanicals
Marianne (Jen) Datiles, Vivienne Lo, Francesca Scotti, Michael Heinrich
— Green Gold of the Galleons: Culinary Spices or Medical Supplies? Economic Plant Journeys from Mexico to the Philippines in the ‘Age of Empire’
Panel 12 — The Cuisines of India
Priya Mani
— Stone Curry: P. perlatum as a Secret Spice in Indian food
Sharmila Vaidyanathan
— The Curious Case of Asafoetida
Panel 13 — Flavours of Antiquity and Beyond
Sally Grainger
— ‘Pound pepper and lovage’: The Use of Spices in the Apician Recipe Text
Jeremy Simmons
— Pepper and Paradox in the Roman Imagination
Susan Weingarten
— Food for the Soul: The Rabbis’ Cinnamon
Panel 14 — Literary Spices
Taylor Parrish
— ‘A Spice of Idolatry’: Seditious Spices and Ginger Anxieties in Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair
Devika Devika
— ‘But the spices are my love’: Understanding the Significance of Spices in Indian Diaspora Fiction
Panel 15 — Herbs (and Other) Biographies
Lauren Allen
— A Visual History of Basil
Regina Sexton
— ‘This is all very well, but where in Ireland can you get fresh tarragon?’: Myrtle Allen and Herbs: Towards the Creation of an Irish Food Identity
Rising Scholar Presentation
Julia Fine
— ‘Half-Coloured with Turmeric’: The Visual Function of Spices in Early Modern Britain
Panel 16 — Spice Biographies
Jennifer Moragoda
— Cinnamomum Zeylanicum: Continuing Voyages of Discovery
Aiko Tanaka
— The Wild Yuzu: Japan’s Little Treasure
Panel 17 — Perceptions of Heat
Gerald Zhang-Schmidt
— Lessons from the Chilli in China
Doug Duda
— Now Entering Hyperspice: The Boomer’s Last Hurrah