“Scarborough Fare: Global Foodways and Local Foods in a Transnational City” was the first joint conference of 3 major food studies organizations: the Association for the Study of Food and Society; the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society; the Canadian Association for Food Studies; and the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition.
The conference was held at the University of Toronto Scarborough, a fitting venue, given the presence of Culinaria on that campus. (I’ve been in awe of their “Mapping Scarborough Chinatown” digital project for some time now.)
The first day of the conference was devoted to a choice of food-related field trips: vineyars, Monforte Dairy, Indigenous foodways, gardening in old suburbs and on rooftops, community food centres, historical food markets, and (my own choice) Dishing Up Toronto.
Two #DishingUpTO tours were offered: one of Chinatown, and one of Filipino/a restaurants. The “Balikbayan Renaissance: KAIN NA! Filipino Food Tour” took us on a walking tour to three venues. We began with a brief history of the community at the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture.
Our guide took us to Market 707, Filippine food vendors in shipping containers located near the corner of Dundas and Bathurst.
We ended the tour at Lamesa. The coconut adobo was delicious!
The conference began in earnest the next day. Eager to see Culinaria’s new teaching laboratory, I participated in Naomi Duguid‘s kitchen demonstration on fermentation.
She took us on a smelling and tasting tour of various fermented foods, both familiar and unfamiliar: fermented black bean, kimchi, miso, pickled mushrooms, natto (with its sticky, stringy texture), tofuru (tofu fermented in wine, a kind of tofu cheese), yogurt, keffir, and thua nao (fermented pressed sundried soybeans).
There was also the rock-hard kashk, a fermented whey that is dehydrated, then reconstituted and put on vegetables.
A fermented version of kashk, containing tamarind, was also served to us. It looked (but did not taste!) like chocolate.
Soy sauce, fish sauce, ngapi or trssi (a Burmese condiment for vegetables), and some strong cheeses rounded out the session. Duguid argued that fermented foods emerge in response to need to preserve what is available (non-dairy cultures thus ferment soybeans, for example, rather than milk). She reminded us that “everything has its place and often has a necessary origin. Do not judge different tastes in fermented foods.”
Another excellent session introduced several digital projects in food studies. Helen Zoe Veit shared What America Ate, which features material gathered by the 1930s America Eats project, digitized community cookbooks, and a digital archive of ads and packaging and other materials.
Camille Bégin shared Culinaria’s project, Mapping Scarborough’s Chinatown. This project links archival and contemporary photos and documents with digital maps. It’s something I’d love to develop for downtown Winnipeg’s grocery stores (past and present).
Adrian De Leon shared the website SALT (Savour a Little Taste), which allows exploration of types of cuisine and searches of restaurants by type of dish. A great improvement over Yelp and similar restaurant review websites!
Other productive sessions included a roundtable on the legacy of Sidney Mintz (author of the food history classic Sweetness and Power), including his Marxism and critique of modernization theory; several papers on ‘ethnic’ grocery stores; a roundtable by some of the authors of Food and Museums… Three days of fascinating presentations in multiple concurrent sessions.
And, of course, as it was a food conference, there was excellent food! I particularly enjoyed the tacos al pastor from the El Trompo Movil food truck, which paid a lunchtime visit to the UTSC campus.
Thanks to the organizers (Sanchia deSouza, Jeffrey Pilcher, Donna Gabaccia, and others) for putting together a remarkable 5 days of scholarly and sensory investigations of food. Truly a memorable event!