On September 30th, a rainy Wednesday evening, Dr. Ari Ariel presented the second Pepin lecture of the year, titled “Hummus Wars: Buying and Boycotting Middle Eastern Foods.” The new head of the Gastronomy program began his presentation with a slideshow of the Guinness World Record competition between Lebanon and Israel, each vying for the award of producing the largest hummus dish. A 9,000-pound dish in Israel was quickly defeated by a group of Lebanese chefs. After a few rounds of back and forth battling, the record for largest dish of hummus was won by Chef Ramzi Choueiri and students in Lebanon for their 23,000 pound serving.
While this might sound like nothing more than friendly competition between neighboring countries, Dr. Ariel says he views the hummus record as an extension of the political climate. It is set, he explains, within “a rhetoric of violence that turns cooks into combatants.” Since 2008, Lebanon has been seeking a legal claim to hummus. By trademarking hummus in the European Union, they aim to regulate the proportions of ingredients allowed in the tasty dip and require Lebanese recognition on every label.
The history of hummus is largely unknown. In Arabic, the word simply means “chickpea,” but the dish hummus bi tahini has become so popular around the world that it is commonly referred to as simply hummus. The exact origin remains a mystery – the earliest recipe is found in a 13th century cookbook – yet several countries claim ownership of the dish. Because hummus exists between multiple foodways and constructions of identity, this attempt to trademark the dish raises questions of authenticity and gastro-nationalism. Who has a right to regulate claims to authenticity? Is authenticity a product of, or a producer of, identity and nationality?
According to Dr. Ariel, the hummus wars prove that, while food can serve to reconcile, it can also push things in the opposite direction. Far from a bridge to peace, this culinary rivalry creates a new space within which political conflict can work itself out. Whether this non-violent space will remain such is yet to be discovered. So the next time you reach for some hummus, remember that the dish is a little deeper than you thought.
A few weeks ago a handful of Gastronomy students traveled to exotic East Lansing, Michigan to participate and present in the annual food and agriculture conference co-hosted by ASFS (Association for the Study of Food and Society) and AFHVS (Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society). The 4 day academic conference was held on the Michigan State University campus in the eco-friendly Kellogg Conference Center next to the babbling Red Cedar River and the heart of downtown (we lucked out with a two-night Jazz Fest and some mighty fine local eateries).The conference program was full of informative seminars, foodways focused panels, and several interactive round-tables; it was difficult for us to pick one over the other! After the day was over, graduate student attendees could mingle with other visiting students, catch up with other academics and professors, or tour the MSU campus and its many agriculture and food-related attractions, including an extensive botanical garden, several nature preserves, and an on-campus dairy store with homemade ice cream. While there, we also learned that MSU was the very first land-grant institution in the United States and was created to serve as a model for future agricultural-science based universities. Essentially, it was a perfect place to host a food conference.
Every Gastronomy student (and Professor) who attended the conference came back to Boston with new perspectives, promising connections, and nifty ideas for next year. Here’s a bit of what they had to say about their experiences:
“This was my first time presenting at a conference and I was very nervous, but everyone was incredibly supportive and encouraging. Meeting other students and professors from other programs was an awesome opportunity to share ideas, not just for academic enrichment, but for improving our social experience as well. This is definitely a great first conference for those who are new to the food studies world.” — Vicki Yu, presented a lightning talk on “Caught in the Middle: Taiwanese-American cultural identity formed in the comfort of food”
“I attended ASFS for the first time last summer in New York City when it was co-hosted by NYU and The New School. With one year’s experience under my belt, it was exciting to not only continue meeting the folks that make up our delightful world of food and whose work I follow, but also to see some faces that have grown familiar. At this year’s conference, I particularly enjoyed the lightning talk sessions. While the thought of condensing one’s research into a 5-minute talk made me relieved I was on a panel with a leisurely 20 minutes to share my MLA thesis on men and dieting, these sessions allowed me as a viewer to economically consume a veritable buffet of ideas, findings, and questions. Getting to attend the conference with so many BU Gastronomy classmates also made me so very proud of our program. From the craft food movement to food and ethnic identity, food in Jane Austen’s novels to the importance of food literacy, we presented on a wide range of topics with passion and aplomb.” — Emily Contois, participated in a panel with a presentation on “The Dudification of Dieting: Marketing Weight Loss Programs to Men in the Twenty-First Century”
“The conference was incredible. T’was a joy relaxing with fellow BU Gastro-peeps. It was great presenting our work on Culinary Craftsmanship and truly heartening to witness such a warm response. We also met a great many fellow food scholars who had suggestions for our continuing roadtrip documentary. As for East Lansing, it’s hard to argue with $2.50 pints of craft beer.” — Chris Maggiolo, participated in a panel with a presentation on “United We Brew: Culinary Craftsmanship and the American Craft Beer Renaissance”
“On a personal level, presenting at the conference pushed me to not only work on my presentation skills required for the five minute lightning presentation, but the process and experience provided validation of my chosen field and topic of study. But I would also add that it would have been a much more difficult challenge without the feedback and support of my fellow BU Gastronomy cohorts.” — Alicia Nelson, presented a lightning talk on “Grow Your Own: Defining and cultivating food literacy”
“Aside from losing my voice the day before my panel presentation, the entire conference experience was a great one! From networking with fellow food studies students to chatting with the well-known academics in our field (we didn’t ask for autographs or anything geeky like that), the conference was as much about socializing and fostering intellectual discussion as it was presenting new scholarly research. The variety of topics surprised me the most and made picking a favorite concurrent sessions quite difficult! Presenting my own undergraduate thesis in a new setting (with food scholars rather than English Studies or Lit majors) introduced me to some new perspectives for my research. It was great to talk with other people who geek out over food as much as we do! Biggest takeaway: everyone fumbles over words, skips a slide, says ‘um’, and gets a little nervous before a big presentation; even the academic pros.” — KC Hysmith, participated in a panel with a presentation on “Finding Food for a Rambling Fancy: Gastronomic Gentility and Symbolism in Jane Austen’s Texts”
“The papers that the Gastronomy students gave were excellent. These students demonstrated the academic rigor that is the hallmark of the Gastronomy Program. The conference gave me an excellent opportunity to hear about the latest food studies research and meet new people in the field. It’s always interesting to see what areas are popular and which are emerging. I noticed that urban agriculture was a hot topic once again this year. Organizing a roundtable about Food Studies/Systems/Policy Masters programs was a wonderful way to engage with colleagues in a philosophical dialogue about the future and directions of these programs. As more and more programs are developed, I think these discussions are critical. We need to think about what we are offering students and how we are going to give them useful training as they move forward with their careers.” — Rachel Black, participated in a round-table panel on “Masters Programs in Food Studies, Food Systems and Food Policy: A Roundtable Discussion”
Several other BU Gastronomy students and professors participated and presented in the conference, but were unfortunately unavailable for comment. See their presentation topics below:
Beth Forrest – La Pyramide or Top of the Food Chain: Chefs, Diners, and their Changing Spaces and Status
Brad Jones — We Nourish and Nurture the Community: An Ethnographic Investigation of Incubator Kitchens and Artisanal Food Production
Catherine Womack — “I don’t want no f***ing baby cup”: Diverse Eating Patterns and the Problem of Consensus in Making Food Policy.
We can’t wait for next year’s ASFS/AFHVS Conference in Vermont!