9 July – 1 August 2021 online

This year it was still different

For the second year running, 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 our customary real life gathering St. Catz – but we managed to re-shape the Symp as an on-line version based on Zoom that was fully interactive, meaningful, and enjoyable.

With the help of our congenial web designers at Igloo, and employing user-friendly technologies, our new space allowed for a broad and diverse audience (including many who might otherwise not be able to journey to Oxford) to experience and contribute our mission to change the conversation, expand the table, and improve the plate.

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

Our 2021 on-line Symposium began on July 9th with a flurry of concentrated activities over what was designated “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 hanging out in the bar, stretching well into the evening: refreshment breaks that offered opportunity for live chats with fellow Symposiasts.  In short, the weekend of July 9th-11th proved itself as much of a marathon as the in-person event at St. Catz.

Thereafter, a three week “Conference” not only offered Symposiasts the opportunity to view or review all content at a more relaxed pace, but we also scheduled daily live discussions with all our paper presenters and invited chefs, Wiki-edits, Sifter-edits, and two hands-on Kitchen Lab events.

The Symposium concluded on Sunday, 1st August, with the Grande Finale. Starting with an imaginative video that delivered the essence of the topic for 2021, followed by a final Plenary to sum up the events of the previous three weeks,  rousing finish with the selection by public vote of the topic for 2024, and a chance to bid fellow-Symposiasts farewell.

Priya Mani’s report:

I am a virtual Symposium old-timer.

That is to say, a novice, uninitiated in the delights and warmth of the real gathering. But I know Symposiasts in untraditional ways, through the intimacy of Zoom – their bookshelf backdrops, a random pet that makes an appearance or the occasional presence of a spouse. 

For forty years, I am told, friends and strangers have gathered in Oxford for a weekend steeped in food thinking. Many of us would have taken the train journey to Oxford in a typical year, and the 40th-year celebration in 2021 would have been a historic affair at St.Catz. We celebrated nonetheless in a pre-Symposium Zoom room hosted by Jill Norman, with many early symposiasts including Claudia Roden, Barbara Wheaton, Charles Perry, Harold McGee, Paul Levy, and Sami Zubaida, filling us with recollections and curious trivia of the Symposium’s simple beginnings.

But the power of this virtual gathering [471 attendees], its accessibility [39 countries, 100 new Symposiasts in 2021] and outreach to attract global talent [26 out of 55 papers presented were first-timers] is evident in its data!

The Symposium has been familiar to me mainly through its generous [public] Proceedings. Powering through the pandemic year, the Symposium has expanded its outreach. A new monthly newsletter [What’s Cooking; signup, if you haven’t already] and monthly virtual gatherings [Kitchen Table; the new season is starting soon]- all invite thought leaders to put relevant conversations on the table. Read more

Plenary sessions


Margaret Atwood

Fictional Foodies

Eric Rath

The Imaginary Cuisine of Medieval Japan

Rob Hopkins

What is to What If

Janet Beizer

Walking through our Gastronomies: Notes from an Imaginary Flâneuse

OFS Rising Scholar

Emily Martin

‘My dear Miss Eddington’: Reader Letters and Early Twentieth Century Food Media

OFS Young Chefs

Cordula Peters and Gaurish Shiyam


Wiki edit-a-thon

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

The Sifter

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

The Virtual FoodMuseum

Hungry Rabbits Jumping Through the Art World in Search of Some Proper Food.

Meals & Receptions

After dinner events

Parallel sessions & papers

Panel 1 – Hunger & Memory
Janet Beizer
— Eat, Lose, Imagine
Suzanne Evans
— Imaginary Feasts: Virtual Meals in a Second World War Prison Camp and in COVID Times
Rares Craiut
— European TV Dinners
Panel 2 – Identities
Gill Eastabrook
— Waterloo Porridge and Plentiful Yorkshire Teas: Food and the Creation of Northern English Identities in Mid-Nineteenth Century Novels
Shayma Saadat
— Food Reimagined: Diasporic Identity and Authenticity
Ana Karen Ruiz de la Peña Posada
— The Birth of a Legend: Mole de Guajolote and Mestizo Identity in the Imaginary of Post-Revolutionary Mexico
Panel 3 – Science & Technology
Lindsey Foltz
— Saving Food in Bulgaria: Imagining Hopeful Futures Through Quiet Food Sovereignty
Priya Mani
— The Hen that Laid a Tofu Egg
Anna Seecharan
— ‘Coming from a Place of Impossibility’: Imagining a World without Taste
Panel 4 – Pedagogy
Peter Hertzmann
— Cogito ergo sum meditati: I Think, Therefore I Imagine!
Nicholas Tosaj
— Stirring Up Historical Imagination: Promoting the Teaching of History through Food-Based Pedagogy
Nikki Werner
— Teaching Cookery Gets Personal: Harnessing Imagination to Feed the Will to Learn
Panel 5 – Innovating on Tradition
Vidya Balachander
— Chaat: Why India’s Beloved Snack Is also a Feat of the Imagination
Keri Matwick
— Singapore’s Rising Hawkers: Food, Heritage, Imagination, and Entrepreneurship
Nader Mehravari
— Persian Tahdig: A Canvas for Culinary Imagination, Innovation, and Artistry
Panel 6 – Food as Politics
Paul Brummell
— Delicacies Real and Imagined: Food and Drink as a Diplomatic Gift
Caroline Favre
— Celebrating the Franco-Russian Alliance: French Chefs as Purveyors of Influence and Creators of Culinary Imagination
Adriana Sohodoleanu
— Reading the Cookbooks of Communist Romania: A Very Intimate Defence
Panel 7 – Gastrocriticism
Paul Levy
— Imagination and Food (and Drink) in the Novels of Iris Murdoch
Anke Klitzing
— Food and the Irish Short Story Imagination
Méliné Kasparian
— Food, the Imagination, and Social Resistance in Sandra Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek
Panel 8 – Food of the Other
Noel Buttigieg
— The Infidels’ Drink: Coffee Encounters and Transformations in Early Modern Malta
Ragini Kashyap
— Caste: The Main Character of Indian Food
Joshua Lovinger
— Fish and Foreigners: The Case of Hot Salmon in Early Modern England
Panel 9 – Material Culture & Design
Sibel Kutlusoy
— Defining Good Food Design through Case Studies from Turkey
Lindsay Middleton
— ‘Broiling is the poetry of cooking’: The Imaginative Symbolism of Gridirons and Broiling in Nineteenth-Century Food Writing
James Oseland
— The Cookbook Whisperer: How Maria Guarnaschelli’s Powers of Imagination Redefined Recipes
Panel 10 – Fantastical Worlds
Len Fisher, Anders Sandberg
— Food and Foodways in Science Fiction
Shana Worthen
— A Short History of Science Fiction and Fantasy Tie-in Cookbooks
Helmut W. Klug, Julia Eibinger, Astrid Böhm
— ‘Imagine a zoo …’ – Show and Surprise Dishes in German Medieval Cuisine, an Homage to the Medieval Chef
Panel 11 – Creating Personae
Adrienne Harrington
— Stories Full of Recipes
Michael Krondl
— Steak or Salad? Food, Gender, and the Victorian Imagination
Laura Shapiro
— Have It Your Way: Elizabeth David and the Problem of Norman Douglas
Panel 12 – Utopian Agriculture
Jennifer Holm
— Reconsidering the Culinary Imagination
Caitlin Morgan
— The Spiritual in the Sensual, the Sensual in the Virtual: Modern-Day Spirituality through a Community-Supported Farm
Charity Robey
— New York’s Artisanal Oyster Farmers: Creating the Wild(ish) Oyster
Panel 13 – American “Exceptionalism”
Bruce Kraig
— Big Cheese: Cheese and American Imagination
Nancy Siegel
— Incredible Edibles: American History in Chocolate, Cheddar, and Confectionary Forms
Panel 14 – Episodes in the Birth of Mass Media
Emily Martin
— ‘My Dear Miss Eddington’: Reader Letters and Early Twentieth Century Food Media
Mary Margaret Chappell
— Edibly Ever After: The Foods of Seventeenth Century French Fairy Tales
Kevin Geddes
— A Conceit of Coney: Britain’s First Television Food History Programme – How Philip Harben Pulled a Rabbit out of a Castle to Imagine what Food Broadcasts May Have Looked like in Elizabethan Times
Panel 15 – Methodologies
Volker Bach
— Imaginary Diets, Edible Masculinities: Pirate Food in History and Fiction
Anthony Buccini
— Poetic Wisdom and Food for the ‘Savage Mind’: Greek Tamisos and Provençal Toma as Evidence of Ancient Celtic Cheesemaking
Christopher Grocock
— Food as Fun and Fantasy in the Old Comedy of Ancient Athens
Panel 16 – French Gastronomy
Richard Shepro
— Making the Ordinary Exotic: The Role of Literary Imagination in the Rise of Gastronomic Tourism in Early Twentieth-Century France
Maximillian Shrem
— Food Looks like a Lady: Designing Gastronomy through Ritualized Seduction
Jenny Herman
— Materializing the Culinary Dreamscape: Maps, Guidebooks, and the Role of Terroir in (Re)Constructing the Myth of the French Gastronomic Utopia
Panel 17 – Globalizing Foods
Rebecca Fils-Aime
— Imagination and Food in the Black Diaspora
Samapan Saha
— ‘Bileti’ to ‘Desi’: Global Foodways and the Re-Imagining of Bengali ‘Modern’ Cuisine in Late Colonial Bengal
Xinran Wang
— Boundary, Body, Ban: Moral Transformation of Gamey Flavour (yewei 野味) in China
Panel 18 – Gastronomic Utopias of the Medieval World
Sudha Gopalakrishnan
— Feast for the Soul: Food Imaginaries in a South Indian Performance
Andrea Gutiérrez
— The Curious Case of Nala’s Mirror on Cooking: Innovation in Medieval Indian Cookbook Writing
Susan Weingarten
— Food in Sabbath Table Hymns: A Taste of the World to Come