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James McCann to Give Workshop on Food and Politics in Africa

Prof James McCann will discuss the link between food and politics at the University of Edinburgh.

Most people don’t hear politics and think food, but James McCann, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of history, is of the opinion that the correlation provides an interesting way to think about politics, agriculture, and the environment. His ideas on food and politics form the basis of a workshop he will give at the University of Edinburgh next month.

“I had suggested the theme of looking at food as a form of politics,” he says, when he met with a fellow from the British Academy and a fellow from the University of Edinburgh to plan the workshop. 

The three scholars decided that food was something that linked their respective areas of research on African politics, so they organized the workshop Eating and Drinking in Culture and Politics. Where people live defines their identities, says McCann, and food is specific to certain environments, particularly in Ethiopia.

He and a Boston University graduate student are the only U.S. representatives among the 15 who will attend the June 20-21 workshop. The small-group format allows the scholars to discuss ideas more easily, but McCann hopes the British Academy will produce and publish reports for a wider audience.

McCann plans to present his translation of an Ethiopian chronicle on an empress’s banquet that contains the idea that we are expressed by our food. The translation is part of his book Cuisines in Africa: The Tastes and Textures of Global Exchange.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.