Fire, Knives and Fridges
The material culture of cooking tools and techniques
This year’s topic of the Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food is inspired by the renewed interest in traditional cooking and preservation techniques, such as baking and fermenting, but also by innovations like sous-vide cooking and molecular gastronomy. Since prehistoric times humans have used tools, such as fire, grindstones, and knives to transform raw ingredients into edible food. Anthropologists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss and Richard Wrangham have suggested that it is the discovery of cooking which sets humans apart from apes and makes us a “cooking animal”. In their view, advancements in the technology of cooking mark the human transformation of (raw) nature into (cooked) culture.
From the control of fire onward, technology defines the way we eat: what we eat and cook depends on how we cook it. Tools and techniques are first adopted because they meet a certain need or solve a particular problem, but over time they become an integral part of food culture. Yet, they do not emerge in isolation, but through interaction with local resources, cultural preferences, technological innovations, prosperity levels, and beliefs. The symposium aims to explore how cooking techniques, skills and tools as a form of material culture have shaped food cultures and eating habits – and vice versa.
In her highly praised book Consider the Fork (2012) Bee Wilson, for instance, reveals how culinary tools such as forks and chopsticks, but also devices like the stove, the fridge and the microwave have fundamentally shaped our daily life, cuisines and food cultures. She demonstrates, for example, how the introduction of the refrigerator changed the way food was preserved, cooked and eaten. Refrigeration liberated cooks from preserving food through pickling, salting or canning. As a preservation device the fridge removed the seasonality from our diet and transformed what people ate: fresh dairy and produce all year-round, but also processed convenience food. Furthermore, fridges changed the way people shopped for food, for instance, by time-saving weekly shopping at the supermarket.
Technological changes, though, are never a top-down story. Even in the age of mass media and production, consumers and users matter. Collectively we determine products’ success and change their meaning through tinkering and adapting its usage. Ruth Oldenziel and Adri Albert de la Bruhèze, for instance, have focused on such processes of mediation and negotiation during technological changes.
We invite papers on topics including, but not restricted to the following:
1. Technological history/archaeology/material culture
- In general, tools and techniques used for cooking, preservation and eating in domestic households, restaurants, fast food eateries, and street vendors.
- The influence of new cooking technologies on cuisines and dishes
o The use of gas and electrical stoves; microwave ovens
o Mixers and blenders, (semi-)automatic toasters, grills and the like
- The organisation of professional kitchens based on cooking techniques and tools
o The influence of grand restaurants (Escoffier)
o The use of convenience foods and their tools
2. Social history/anthropology
- The influence of cooking and eating tools on time consumption, etiquette, table manners and social distinction
o The use of forks and knives
- Tools specific to society, culture and place
o Fork cultures, chopstick cultures, eating with fingers
o New techniques and utensils brought in by colonial powers or by immigrants
- Religious cooking techniques and tools
o Ritual slaughter; Kosher kitchen practices
3. Cultural history
- The representation, mediation and promotion of (new) cooking tools and techniques in cookery books, literature, magazines, advertisements, and audio-visual media
o The representations and marketing of the refrigerator or microwave
o Cookbooks on cooking with gas ovens or stoves, mixers
- Imagination and mediation of ‘labour saving’ devices, ‘wonder’ and ‘miracle’ machines, and futuristic gadgets
Guidelines for Paper Proposals
The conference program consists of plenary keynote lectures, paper presentations and panel discussions. If you are interested in presenting a paper at the conference, please submit an abstract before 30 april 2015. Please expect to be presenting to a large audience of up to 350 people, including academic as well as professional participants. Submissions are encouraged to use an interdisciplinary approach, in which theory and methods from other (social) sciences are appropriated or other disciplines that take a historical stance.
The conference language is English. Presenters of accepted papers are asked to speak 20 minutes, followed by a discussion with the panel and the audience under the supervision of a session chair.
Applications should include:
- title of proposed paper
- abstract (maximum 500 words)
- biographical information (short CV)
- contact information (e-mail, telephone and postal address)
Applications should be sent by the deadline of 30 April 2015 to:
Notification of acceptance: