Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Politics and Public Life, Contemporary Manuscripts, writes
A few moments ago a cruel diary notification reminded me of something I’d been looking forward to all year - a talk at the British Library about the culture and history of Jewish food with Claudia Roden and Simon Schama. This was one of the 25 events on offer during April and May for the 2020 British Library Food Season, supported by Kitchen Aid. For the third year in a row the Food Season was set to celebrate the Library’s extensive food-related collections and explore the politics, pleasures and history of food. Speakers including Ken Hom, Harold McGee, Asma Khan, Carolyn Steele and Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall were to discuss subjects as diverse as the UK’s cheese history, food in crime fiction and feeding our children.
Mrs. Beeton's Family Cookery and Housekeeping Book ... New ... illustrations, etc. [Another issue, in an altered form, of “Beeton's Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book.”] 07944.g.63. facing p. 80
Thanks to Covid-19, however, this series of talks, tastings and workshops has been put on hold but we recognise that the conversation about food is more important than ever in the current climate. The emergency has brought to the fore so many food related issues and has impacted on our shopping, cooking and eating habits. At a global level food supply chains have been challenged through interrupted distribution and labour shortages while closer to home eating out has been off the menu and home cooking has seen a surge. Research commissioned by KitchenAid found that 23 per cent of bakers have increased their repertoire but they are not just baking for themselves. According to the research almost a third deliver their creations to others, including 36 per cent to relatives outside of the home and 23 per cent to neighbours. Covid-19 has sharpened awareness of the politics and pleasures of food and so the Food Season feels more relevant than ever. We were incredibly proud of the events planned for 2020 so we are hoping that many will still go ahead in some form and we’ll be announcing details when we know more.
In the meantime, there are other fantastic food festivals and conversations on offer remotely. The Oxford Symposium for Food and Cookery, an organisation which since the 1970s has existed to explore and share food research by scholars, enthusiastic amateurs, writers and chefs from around the world, is going virtual this summer. In a normal year in July around 400 people from around the world gather in Oxford for a weekend of lectures, seminars, conversation and conviviality focussed around a selected food topic. This year the subject is “Herbs and Spices” but instead of meeting in person the Symposium has moved online. Taking place between 10 July – 2 August with 500 attendees from across the world, this interactive event will include keynote addresses, panel discussions and chefs’ videos along with spaces for virtual ‘hangouts’ and discussion boards. Follow this link for more details and registration: https://www.oxfordsymposium.org.uk/events/2020-v-symposium-registration/
Closer to the British Library, Borough Market has established itself as a hub for food discussion, debate and deliberation over the last few years through supper clubs, talks and publications. Since Covid-19, Borough have been running a fantastic series of lunchtime events including, last week, a riveting account of food in cities in lockdown with award winning food writer Rachel Roddy in Rome and Yasmin Fahr in New York. Coming up on the schedule, just this month, are Sami Tamim and Tara Wigley on food from Palestine and, possibly more relevant than ever, Kimberley Wilson talking about food and mental health. Find out more at: https://boroughmarket.org.uk/events/borough-talks
We’ll announce news of forthcoming Food Seasons as soon as we can but in the meantime who knows, maybe I’ll see you from the comfort of my kitchen at a virtual food happening. I hope so!
British Library Food Season supported by: