Spring Pépin Lecture Series offers Global Perspectives on Food

The Pépin Lecture Series at Boston University is your chance to learn from some of the world’s foremost gastronomy and food studies experts, free of charge. Sponsored by the Jacques Pépin Foundation, these lectures explore issues of the day through the prism of food.

This spring’s slate of Pépin lectures features a number of global perspectives on food, drawing focus on matters such as the role of fruit in the expansion of empire, the impact of colonization on regional cuisine, trans-Pacific tea trade, and France’s rich culinary history, among others. Lectures will be presented online, in a webinar format. Attendance is free and open to the public, with registration.

On Friday, February 11, Shana Klein Reisig, assistant professor of art history at Kent State University, will lead The Fruits of Empire: Art, Food, and the Politics of Race in the Age of American Expansion. In the decades after the Civil War, Americans consumed an unprecedented amount of fruit as it grew more accessible with advancements in refrigeration and transportation technologies. This fervor for fruit led to an explosion of fruit imagery in art—from still life paintings to prints, trade cards, and more. New images of fruit labor and consumption by immigrants and people of color also gained visibility, merging alongside the efforts of expansionists to assimilate land and, in some cases, people into the national body.

This lecture will investigate how the representations of fruit struck the nerve of the nation’s most heated debates over land, race, and citizenship in the age of high imperialism.

Register for The Fruits of Empire

On Friday, March 18, René Alexander D. Orquiza, Jr., associate professor of history and classics at Providence College, will lead Taste of Control: Food and the Filipino Colonial Mentality Under American Rule.

Filipino cuisine is a fusion of foreign influences, adopted and transformed into its own unique, delicious flavor. But to the Americans who came to colonize the islands in the 1890s, it was considered inferior and lacking in nutrition. Changing the food of the Philippines was part of a war on culture led by Americans as they attempted to shape the islands into a reflection of their home country.

This lecture will examine what happened when American colonizers began to influence what Filipinos ate, how they cooked, and how they perceived their national cuisine. Food historian René Alexander D. Orquiza, Jr. tracks these changing attitudes through a variety of rare archival sources, including the letters written by American soldiers, the cosmopolitan menus prepared by Manila restaurants, and the textbooks used in local home economics classes. He also uncovers pockets of resistance to the colonial project, as Filipino cookbooks provided a defense of the nation’s traditional cuisine and culture.

Through the lens of food, this lecture will explore how, despite lasting less than fifty years, the American colonial occupation of the Philippines left psychological scars that have not yet completely healed, leading many Filipinos to believe that their traditional cooking practices, crops, and tastes were inferior. We are what we eat, and this lecture reveals how food culture served as a battleground over Filipino identity.

Register for Taste of Control

On Friday, April 1, Robert Hellyer, associate professor of history at Wake Forest University, will lead Green with Milk and Sugar: When Japan Filled America’s Tea Cups.

Today, Americans are some of the world’s biggest consumers of black teas; in Japan, however, green tea, especially sencha, is preferred. These national partialities are deeply entwined. Tracing the trans-Pacific tea trade from the eighteenth century onward, this lecture examines the ways interconnections between Japan and the United States came to influence the daily habits of people in both countries.

In the nineteenth century, Americans favored green teas, which were imported from China until Japan developed an export industry centered on the United States. The influx of Japanese imports democratized green tea: Americans of all classes, particularly Midwesterners, made it their daily beverage—which they drank hot, often with milk and sugar. In the 1920s, socioeconomic trends and racial prejudices pushed Americans toward black teas from Ceylon and India. Facing a glut, Japanese merchants aggressively promoted sencha to their home and imperial markets, transforming it into an icon of Japanese culture.

This lecture offers both a social and commodity history of tea in the United States and Japan as well as new insights into how national customs have profound, if often hidden, international dimensions.

Register for Green with Milk and Sugar

On Friday, April 15, Liz Hauck will lead a discussion regarding her book, Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up — and What We Make When We Make Dinner.

Liz Hauck is an educator and writer from Boston in the midst of completing a PhD in educational policy studies and history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her book, Liz shares how she and her dad had a plan to start a weekly cooking program in a residential home for teenage boys in state care, which was run by the human services agency he co-directed. When her father died before they had a chance to get the project started, Liz decided she would try it without him. She didn’t know what to expect from volunteering with court-involved youth, but as a high school teacher she knew that teenagers are drawn to food-related activities, and as a daughter, she believed that if she and the kids made even a single dinner together, she could check one box off of her father’s long, unfinished to-do list.

This is the story of what happened around the table, and how one dinner became one hundred dinners.

“The kids picked the menus, I bought the groceries,” Liz writes, “and we cooked and ate dinner together for two hours a week for nearly three years. Sometimes improvisation in kitchens is disastrous. But sometimes, a combination of elements produces something spectacularly unexpected. I think that’s why, when we don’t know what else to do, we feed our neighbors.”

Capturing the clumsy choreography of cooking with other people, this is a sharply observed story about the ways we behave when we are hungry and the conversations that happen at the intersections of flavor and memory, vulnerability and strength, grief and connection.

Register for Home Made

On Friday, April 29, Maryann Tebben, professor of French and head of the Center for Food Studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, will lead Savoir-Faire: A History of Food in France.

This lecture will provide a comprehensive account of France’s rich culinary history, which is not only full of tales of haute cuisine, but seasoned with myths and stories from a wide variety of times and places—from snail hunting in Burgundy to female chefs in Lyon, and from cheese appreciation in Roman Gaul to bread debates from the Middle Ages to the present. Tebben will examine the use of less familiar ingredients such as chestnuts, couscous, and oysters; explore French food in literature and film; reveal the influence of France’s overseas territories on the shape of French cuisine today. Attendees will even be introduced to historical recipes to try at home.

Register for Savoir-Faire