ICR Seminar, 2010THE MEANING OF FOOD
“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are”
JEAN BRILLANT-SAVARIN, 1825
20 and 21 November 2010
The Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
School of Oriental and African Studies
10 Thornhaugh Street, London WC1
We need to eat, but nutrition is only one of the reasons we have for eating. We share food with our families and with our friends, and when a Scot eats haggis or an Afghan eats pilau, they are sharing powerful ideas about their nation and culture too. Through our cuisine, our table manners and our tastes human beings have turned eating into an art form but also used food to exclude people of other classes or cultures.
In many religions food is a sacrament. In others, some foods are forbidden. When we talk of good and bad fats or are tempted by chocolate, we are combining moral and religious thinking with modern nutritional science. And, since food is nutrition, choices about what we eat change the shape of our bodies and the structure of our brains.
To help us think about some of the ways in which food makes us who we are, this seminar included talks by:
- writer and artist Elisabeth Luard, whose fascination with food as a means of human expression and creativity underlies her many award-winnning books on food and the culture of food
- archaeologist Professor Martin Jones, whose book Feast – Why Humans Share Food explores how the human meal has evolved through time and suggests social and evolutionary reasons why we eat together
- artist Sophie Herxheimer, whose beautiful and intriguing works recording people’s stories of food leads us to see how powerfully food and memory are intertwined
- geographer Professor Peter Atkins, whose work on milk, a food that, he says, “has been revered and ignored, respected and feared, in almost equal measure” offers an amazing insight into the history and culture of a drink we, even now, invest with all sorts of myths and meanings
- gastronome and professor of politics Professor Sami Zubaida who will talk of the legacy of the Ottoman Empire on the fusion of tastes and cultures in the Middle East – and also about newer, more global influences
- food writer Helen Saberi, author of Noshe Djan – Afghan Food and Cookery, who has spent many years writing on food and the role it plays in our lives and cultures. Her most recent work is Tea – A Global History
- psychophysiologist Dr Neil Martin, whose groundbreaking work on taste and smell shows how our brains and behaviour are affected by food
- journalist Paul Levy, whose forthcoming book Taboos and the Table investigates the fascinating reasons - social, cultural and sometimes just contrary - we have for proscribing some foods.
This two day seminar helped to give all who attended a unique insight into how what human beings eat shapes our lives, our relationships and our thoughts.
The seminar ran from 9.45am till 5.15pm on Saturday 20th November and from 10am till 5.15pm on Sunday 21st November.