By Hazel Riggall
I returned home as a first timer symposiast, satiated and stimulated after a packed couple of days.
Harlan Walker and Roger Hale have both been regulars at this wonderful event for many years and had enthused about the wonderful weekends spent in halls at ‘St Catz’ steeped in all that is food related in its very broadest sense.
Where else can you dine on crickets, snails, artisan cheeses and Yemeni bread, imbibe top-quality wines and discuss all things culinary with food writers, academics, chefs, winemakers and a pianist? For more than 30 years The Oxford Food Symposium has attracted a diverse range of international speakers and attendees. Co-founded by the late Alan Davidson, author of ‘The Oxford Companion to Food’, a much referred to tome on my own bookshelf and Dr Theodore Zeldin, social historian.
The subject matter is either ingredient focused- Seeds (2018) or Offal (2016) or more generic as with Food and Communication (2015) or this year with ‘Food and Power’. Plenary sessions were followed by parallel sessions and it was possible to dip into such diverse themes as Gastrodiplomacy (who knew?), Imprisonment or Bodily Limits. Proceedings are published the following year and provide rich archive material.
As a semi-retired dietitian, I was the sole representative for the profession and found a few opportunities to gently challenge mistruths and myths. However, with such a broad swathe of subject matter there was so much to learn. I have more than a passing interest in food history and food in the arts and with the opportunity to experience four themed and well executed meals, it was foodie heaven. One wonderful moment was meeting Claudia Roden and chatting about the glorious Thai lunch Roger and I had partaken of in the famous bustling covered market, swiftly followed by blackcurrant ice cream, made the previous day.
A most moving moment was hearing about the Hubb Community Kitchen project with the women coming together after the Grenfell Tower fire and cooking together as part of the healing process. They planned a delightful lunch from a selection of family recipes gathered from their diverse community.
I am now aware of the meagre diet experienced by girls incarcerated in the Magdalene laundries, avoiding a faux pas when providing food for guests in Foreign Embassies and how a group of so called ‘hunger artists’ in the late 17thcentury deliberately starved themselves for extended periods of time in a bizarre form of performance art.
I am already planning a return visit …