11/07/2006 - 22:00

Symposium offers thought for food

11/07/2006 - 22:00

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An important debate about the place of food in our society will be held in Perth next month as the University of Western Australia’s Institute of Advanced Studies presents Food: Production and Consumption.

An important debate about the place of food in our society will be held in Perth next month as the University of Western Australia’s Institute of Advanced Studies presents Food: Production and Consumption.

To be held from August 4 to 8, the symposium will evaluate the role of food and drink in human history, examine its place in contemporary societies and cultures, and even its impact on scientific development.

The institute’s deputy director, Dr Wendy Were, says the program’s exploration through food aims to have extensive practical and symbolic application.

As a cross-disciplinary entity, the Institute of Advanced Studies creates and prepares only two unique academic works each year and presents them to the public. The choice of food has already garnered the interests of many Australian and overseas academics.

“Food is such a common and important topic that it cuts across a lot of academic disciplines,” Dr Were told Gusto. “We have a physicist, a sociologist, an anthropologist and chefs all talking about food.”

The event will offer the rare opportunity to hear and see leading authorities addressing the same topic, and hence bringing together a collection of vastly different but equally relevant standpoints.

Among the international guests are ‘gastrophyicist’ Dr Peter Barham (Bristol University), anthropology professor Sidney Mintz (Johns Hopkins University, US) and professor Alan Warde (University of Manchester).

Of particular interest will be the viewpoints of Dr Barham, considered to be one of the world’s leading gastrophyicists. His cutting-edge work concerns ‘molecular gastronomy’, the science of taste and flavour.

He is the author of The Science of Cooking and is well known in Britain as popularising the importance of science in the kitchen. Through Mr Barham’s work, many interesting scientific applications have produced a new brand of cooking that combines the previously unthinkable.

Notable molecular gastronomy creations have been tobacco-flavoured ice cream made with liquid nitrogen and sardines on sorbet toast. Even the standard kitchen spatula has made way for blowtorches, pH meters, and refractometers.

Dr Barham will give a demonstration lecture on his work on Monday August 7.

Australian guests include Gay Bilson, the pre-eminent authority on the history, preparation and aesthetics of food in Australia, culinary historian and food writer Barbara Santich, and managing director of National Food Industry Strategy and leading policy-maker, Susan Nelle.

And to add a little practicality into the mix, local culinary identities Kate Lamont and Sophie Zalokar will join to add their opinions and talents.

Other notable figures on the bill include Vanya Cullen, Danielle Gallegos, Andrea Gaynor, professor Stan Kailis, Mike Kerrigan, Rob Mann, Doug McEachern, Felicity Newman, and Raelene Wilding.

And while this melding of scholars, writers, historians and chefs will provide an insightful discussion on what has come before us in the state of play with food – they will be chiefly concerned with what is before us.

As Dr Were points out, of chief concern to the symposium is answering the ‘big questions’ about food: the future viability of food production in an Australian and global context; the influence certain foods can have economically, politically and socially; and the role of food as commodity that can be used to wield influence.

The event begins with a three-day excursion in Margaret River (where else?), culminating in a two-day symposium at UWA. And while seemingly entrenched in delicious theoretical debates on the subject, Dr Were is quick to confirm that there will be plenty of ‘practical research’ available for willing participants.

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