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Global Cultures of Food Conference Report

Chiles, Chocolate and Tomatoes: Global Cultures of Food After Columbus’

Palazzo Pesaro Papafavo, Venice, 11 January 2008

Conference Report

In his recent history of Italian cuisine Massimo Montanari noted that food is ‘an unparalleled site of exchange and contamination, beyond its origin’. Foods acquire new meanings as they travel from their point of origin, and a map of the flow of foods around the world in some sense traces out a history of human civilisation itself. Food is therefore an inherently global topic. This colloquium’s aim was to help situate the history of food within a framework of global history. Specifically, it sought to explore the impact of new world foods on global cultures of food in the five centuries after Christopher Columbus’ landfall in the Caribbean in 1492. Speakers were asked to explore the impact of specific new world foodstuffs on local cuisines in Europe and Asia, and to consider the post-conquest transformation of diets within colonial spaces in the Americas itself. These individual contributions were complemented by round-table discussions that drew together common threads and raised further questions. There were also many opportunities for informal discussion over meals and coffee.

The event took place over two days and was attended by some 40 participants. Speakers and audience were drawn from institutions in the UK, USA, France, and Italy, and included a wide range of levels of seniority. Speakers for example included both postgraduates and senior scholars. Participants also represented a variety of disciplines, including history, history of art, and literature. Overall, the event provided an opportunity for focused, sustained, interdisciplinary and comparative discussion of the significance of new world foods on global culinary cultures, and for exploring the (quite varied) ways in which individual cooks and eaters interacted with new foodstuffs.

The conference benefited from generous financial support. Key funding was provided by the University of Warwick’s Centre for Global History and Culture, the Università degli Studi di Padova, and the Fondazione Cassamarca. Additional support was provided by the University of Warwick History Department, the European University Institute, L’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, and the University of Warwick’s Humanities Research Centre.

Rebecca Earle

26 March 2008