Last Thursday, June 8, was my first direct encounter with the academic study of food and culture, thanks to the joint conference of the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS). Was presenting a paper on craft beer and cultural identity that day, before getting a real feel of the conference. Came back psyched, hyped, pleased, happy, energized.
These two academic societies form a very interesting crowd. Been trying to find descriptive terms for that crowd, none is ideal. Welcoming, charitable, nurturing, friendly, warm, thoughtful, insightful, thought-provoking, interested, passionate…
Not only was my positive feeling of the conference strong but it was apparently shared by many attendees. A few hypotheses about this.
- It's a very interdisciplinary context. As such, people can't assume that you have read so-and-so's work and will in fact help you to find relevant sources for your work.
- Surprisingly enough, it's a relatively new field, this study of food and society. In fact, many attendees hadn't attended that many conferences. Less bagage than older fields.
- People come to it from the sidelines. In fact, it's my case, coming as I do as a linguistic anthropologist and ethnomusicologist.
- Food is associated with passions and it's quite ok to be passionate about food when you work on food and society.
- Food has an intimate quality that goes well with a nurturing attitude.
- Perhaps because of prevailing (though semi-hidden) gender roles, a good proportion of conference participants were women, some of them coming with kids in tow or in womb (there were four fregnant women out of 350 participants).
- The selection of papers for presentation is quite democratic and students are certainly encouraged to present.
- The conference is happening at a time of year when faculty members and students aren't too caught up in their work.
- The location, Boston University, was relatively quiet during the conference.
- Food and society scholars are likely to eat together, which generates a lot of fascinating discussion.
- Food is a good ice-breaker.
- Food is universal and particular, like so many other things we study in anthropology.
- Work on food isn't necessarily part of the primary academic identity of those involved.
- Though small and growing, food and society has a rather cohesive body of literature.
These may all just be factors in making this food and society conference such a pleasant and powerful experience.