Knowing Food: BU MET Hosts Global Gastronomy Conference

From May 31 through June 3, 2023, Boston University’s campus was abuzz with culinary scholars, foodies, and explorers of gastronomic traditions from near and far attending the 2023 Conference of the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) and the Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society (AFHVS). Hosted this year by BU’s Metropolitan College (MET), the joint annual meeting is the crème de la crème of food conferences, established in 1987 by ASFS and held jointly with AFHVS since 1992. Last year the event was hosted by the University of Georgia’s Sustainable Food Systems Initiative. The 2024 conference will convene at Syracuse University.

This year’s conference was organized around the theme of “Knowing Food: Insights from around the Table.” This theme is a natural extension of BU MET’s graduate programs in Gastronomy & Food Studies and Programs in Food & Wine, which marry food scholarship and culinary practice via the MA in Gastronomy and Food & Wine programs such as Culinary Arts, Cheese Studies, Pastry Arts, and Wine Studies. These programs have been guided by the idea that you cannot know food unless you know food—material interactions with food inform intellectual engagement with food, and vice versa.

“It was significant for us to host this conference because it gave us a chance to share with our colleagues what makes our program so special—the integration of hands-on and theoretical work with food,” explained Dr. Megan Elias, director of BU MET’s Gastronomy Programs and chair of the conference planning committee.

The conference was attended by more than 500 guests on campus and an additional 128 virtually. “It was wonderful to welcome colleagues from all over the world—Singapore, South Africa, even Tasmania—to talk about food, culture, and society,” Dr. Elias observed. “It reinforced our role as a hub for food-focused research and teaching.”

Elias, who is also an associate professor of the practice, noted that the 2023 event was only the second ASFS conference post-pandemic. “For many people, it was the first time since 2019 seeing colleagues they used to see in person every year,” she explained. “There was a lot of hugging and a lot of excitement about meeting people in person we had only known on Zoom. Everyone is much taller than they look on their screens!”

The conference boasted a packed agenda, and included paper sessions, exploration galleries, creative workshops, roundtables and panel discussions, and lightning talks, as well as experiential, hands-on kitchen sessions in BU MET’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, the Groce Pépin Culinary Innovation Laboratory.

Gastronomy master’s candidate Marie-Louise Friedland makes a presentation titled "Considerations for Building a Progressive Wine Education Program"

“What I’m really excited about with this conference is that we get experiential sessions, so we get to be hands-on with food and beverage,” said current Gastronomy master’s candidate Marie-Louise Friedland, who offered a brief welcome message for attendees. “Who doesn’t like to eat and drink while you’re at a conference?”

The conference included a diversity of topics, including the following:

  • Are You What You Eat? Discussing Food and Identity
  • Alt Meat and Plant-Based Diets
  • Tasty Inclusion: Queer Food Narratives
  • As Seen On… Food and Media
  • Dining Room as Stage: Eating in Public on Public Spaces
  • Using Data to Design Sustainable Food Systems
  • Food University: Higher Education and Food Programs
  • Perishable Package: Food Kits as a New Foodware
  • Growing Gender and Gendered Growing: Gender in Food Production
  • Ripely Aged Food Histories
  • Hot Red Dust Defines Me: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Culture, Labor, and Belonging
  • For Your Page: Food, Culture, and Consumption Across the Digital Landscape of TikTok
  • Vulnerability, Resilience and Adaptation: Surviving Climate Change
  • Books or Bites? Food Insecurity in Higher Ed

Those attending virtually were also able to participate in a range of events, including paper sessions such as “Culinary Hybridity, Food Habits, and Values” and “Food Justice, Equity, and Food Literacy”; roundtables such as “Nurturing Cross-Institutional Relationships to Diversify Sustainable Food Systems Education” and “Gastrofeminism: Special Focus on the Global South”; panel discussions such as “Food Voice: The Polish Context”; lightning rounds such as “Fresh Ideas: Food History, Food Insecurity, Agriculture, and Gender”; and virtual cooking demonstrations.

The ASFS–AFHVS Conference keynote was delivered on Thursday, June 1, by none other than Jacques Pépin (Hon.’11), acclaimed chef, educator, best-selling author, and Emmy Award-winning host of several long-running PBS cooking programs. With Julia Child (Hon.’76) and BU MET’s Rebecca Alssid, Pépin also cofounded Metropolitan College’s Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts in 1989 and the Master of Arts in Gastronomy in 1991.

“After a whole life of cooking in many different styles of professional kitchens and teaching cooking in many different types of schools, creating the program at BU for me was a normal extension of what I do best in life,” said Pépin.

“The study of food, until a number of years ago, had never been seriously considered in most cultures, certainly not by academia,” said Pépin. His speech touched on his life in the culinary arts, from his doctoral dissertation on the history of French food in the context of civilization and literature (rejected at the time by Columbia University) to his forays into education at cooking schools, Wesleyan University, and then Boston University. He described the ability of food, like music, to stir “the memory of the senses—smell, taste, touch, hearing, and eyesight” while weaving a tapestry of food’s influence on literature, fine art, social science, philosophy, and other liberal arts.

“Food is a basic necessity, but it is also a powerful subject,” explained Pépin. “It helps us to understand history, and culture. It helps us to understand others. It allows us to be generous, and nurturing. It shows us who we are. This is what we aimed to do in this program, to offer a greater understanding of life through food.”

Friday evening featured a “dine-around” banquet located at WBUR’s CitySpace. The event highlighted delicious presentations by chefs and wine studies faculty from BU’s Programs in Food & Wine, including Chris Douglass (Tavolo), Jody Adams (Trade, Porto, Saloniki), Janine Sciarappa (Sweet Lessons), Michael Leviton (Codman Community Farms), Max Harvey (Wulf’s Fish), David Vargas (Vida Cantina), Lauren Moran (Honeycomb), Chris Bee (Boston University’s campus culinary director); Mark Holmes (Field & Vine), and Sam Kauff (Mae’s Sandwich Shop). Also represented were Storica Wines, Artis Winery, Twelfth Night Wines, and Rupee Beer.

“It was really special on Friday night to be able to share with our extended food studies community how talented and creative the chefs are who work with our programs,” said Dr. Elias. “I kept hearing people refer to dishes as life-changing (in a good way)—which is exactly what we want. It’s not just incredibly tasty, it also helps you think about food in a whole new way. Shout out to Chef Janine’s ‘BU Mess,’ which combined rhubarb poached in strawberry with fabulous meringues. So many people came up to me to rave about it. Also, Field & Vine chef Mark Holmes’s beet dish, which converted a lot of beet haters on the spot!”

The 2023 conference was organized by Professor Elias, recently retired Assistant Director of Gastronomy Programs Barbara Rotger (MET’11), Senior Lecturer Karen Metheny (GRS’02), Master Lecturer William Nesto, Director of Food & Wine Programs Potter Palmer, and Assistant Director of Food & Wine Programs Lisa Falso-Doherty, and graduate students Marie-Louise Friedland and José Lopez Ganem.

About Gastronomy at BU’s Metropolitan College

Boston University is internationally recognized as a top institution of higher learning and research. As one of BU’s 17 degree-granting schools and colleges, Metropolitan College has played a unique role within the University since 1965, serving as a bridge from BU to the community and the world. With its mission to broaden the reach of BU through part-time and online programs designed to help busy adults achieve their personal and professional ambitions, BU MET serves as a laboratory and incubator for new programs, pedagogy, and educational technologies. Students have access to cutting-edge facilities and the latest learning tools—as well as the opportunity to build networks with classmates and industry peers.

BU MET offers one of the premier food studies programs in the nation, available both online and part-time on campus. The gastronomy master’s degree program is among the few in the country, and its blend of cross-pollinated academic perspectives helps develop a comprehensive understanding of society and food throughout history. Classes are taught by BU faculty members, visiting lecturers, and industry professionals with expertise in a wide range of fields, such as policy, history, anthropology, entrepreneurship, marketing, hospitality, journalism, and the sciences. Read more.

The 16-credit Graduate Certificate in Food Studies, available online as well as on campus, fosters expertise in the culture and science of food, making it a substantial credential that can also serve as an appetizer to an eventual pursuit of the master’s degree in gastronomy. The Food Studies curriculum can be tailored to focus on food-related areas such as business, communication, history and culture, or policy. Read more.

Finally, Metropolitan College’s experiential Programs in Food & Wine put students face-to-face with some of the most talented chefs, mixologists, wine experts, and food industry veterans from Boston and beyond. Food professionals and aspiring artisans alike can benefit from the culinary arts and wine studies programs, taught by masters of their craft. Hands-on certificate programs—such as the intensive, semester-long Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts, developed in 1989 by Founding Director Rebecca Alssid along with Child and Pépin—exist alongside a variety of noncredit Seminars in Food & Wine, lectures, and certificates in subjects such as Cheese Studies, Pastry Arts, and Wine Studies. Programs in Food & Wine are open to the public and are noncredit, though students in the Master of Arts in Gastronomy receive credit for select certificate programs and courses. Read more.

About the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS)

The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) was founded in 1985 with the goal of promoting the interdisciplinary study of food and society. It has continued that mission by holding annual meetings; the first was in 1987, and since 1992 the meetings have been held jointly with the Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society. Working with Routledge Publishing, the organization produces the Food Culture & Society journal.

About the Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society (AFHVS)

The Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society (AFHVS) is a prominent professional organization which provides an international forum to engage in the cross-disciplinary study of food, agriculture, and health, as well as an opportunity for examining the values that underlie various visions of food and agricultural systems. From a base of philosophers, sociologists, and anthropologists, AFHVS has grown to include scientists, scholars, and practitioners in areas ranging from agricultural production and social science to nutrition policy and the humanities.