|Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress|
Last week, I visited Toronto for an academic conference on foodways entitled "Diasporic Diners, Transnational Tables, and Culinary Connections." The agenda featured speakers from a dozen countries and 21 U.S. states, including historians, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, artists, political scientists, art historians, and filmmakers.
Conference themes included foodways as a reflection of migration patterns and how displaced people relocate themselves in a new environment by way of food. Southern issues of food, gender, and race made an appearance as well. University of California-Davis professor Kimberly Nettles-Barcelon considered how racial and gender stereotypes are implicated when black women become professional chefs. Professor Courtney Thorsson of the University of Oregon provided a literary analysis of Vibration Cooking by South Carolina native (and SFA Founding Member) Vertamae Grosvenor.
The highlight of the weekend, however, was a panel discussion on Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Sidney Mintz, the author of that classic foodways history, described his work as a history of capitalism that focuses on the people who produced and consumed sugar. Among other themes, Sweetness and Power reveals how much British industrialization depended upon Caribbean slavery. Sugar profits generated by slave labor created profits that capitalized British factories. By the nineteenth century, sugar fueled the labor of Britain's working class.
In short, this conference paid homage to a pioneering work of scholarship that gave rise to the interdisciplinary field of food studies, emphasized the diverse group of scholars actively researching this area, and showcased an impressive array of graduate students who will continue to grow the field.
Citation: Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking, 1985).
Editor's note: Speaking of sweetness, Jill brought back maple-filled chocolates for the office, which we gobbled up post-haste. Southern, Canadian—we don't discriminate against sweets. Thanks, Jill!