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Food Research Working Group

The MAS Museum Antwerp hosted the 23rd International Ethnological Food Research Conference ‘'Food, People and the City. Comparative Perspectives'.

The MAS was very happy to host the 23rd SIEF Food Research Conference 'Food, People and the City. Comparative Perspectives', which is strongly linked to the theme of the MAS exhibition 'Antwerp à la carte'. The conference aimed to increase our awareness of food systems as dynamic cultural phenomena. It offered us a lot of food for thought on the past, present and future of cities and food and on food systems as dynamic, but often unequal cultural phenomena. Thank you to all the participants and co-organizers!

The conference was a collaboration between the SIEF FOOD RESEARCH WORKING GROUP, MAS, CSG Centre for Urban Studies - University of Antwerp, FOST Social & Cultural Food Studies - Free University Brussels, ICAG Interfaculty Centre for Agrarian History - KU Leuven, and IOB Institute for Development Studies - University of Antwerp.

Report: 23rd SIEF Food Research Conference 'Food, People and the City. Comparative Perspectives' in MAS 21, 22, 23 September 2022

By Jing Van den Berg (KU Leuven, Chinese Studies, 2nd Master)

The 23rd SIEF food research conference took place on September 21, 22, 23 (2022), in the MAS (Museum aan Stroom), located in Antwerp city, focusing on the strong connection between food, the city and its citizens.

As a master student in Chinese Studies who has just started writing her thesis about Chinese restaurants in Belgium, attending this conference was a great opportunity for me to broaden my knowledge and research network. I can only express my gratitude to the people of the MAS, who enabled me attend the entire congress. Participating in my first ever conference, I did not know what to expect, except the fact that I would be surrounded by academics at the top of their respective fields.

The theme of the congress had strong ties to the MAS exhibition Antwerp à la carte. On food and the city. It thus came as no surprise that after a first welcoming word we were invited to take part in a guided tour of this exhibition. Already, from the initial section of the exhibition, it became clear, visually, how traces of food can be found in our streets, and, more precisely, in street names: the wall of the initial room of the exhibition area was fully covered with street-name signs in different languages. Personally, I think there was no better way than this to introduce all of the attendees to, not only the exhibition, but also to the conference theme itself. Besides the numerous paintings and objects that were presented, this exhibition also included several smells, such as that of the city and the port.

Although every lecture sparked my interest, the dialogue session about food, migration and the city, was the most inspiring for me, as it covered most of my interests relating to the master’s thesis that I am now starting to write. Talking to all of those academic researchers about my thesis topic made me even more motivated towards the start of the academic year that was just around the corner. I remember the talk I had with Leen Beyers, who works at the MAS, and who noticed that my interests in Chinese restaurants had strong ties with the city of Antwerp. Talking with her about this topic opened new ideas and interesting fields that I had not previously considered. I did not realize how the city of Antwerp, and, more specifically, the port of Antwerp, played such a large role in the establishment of Chinese restaurants in Belgium.

Besides the variety of lectures that we could attend, there were also planned excursions, all located in Antwerp city. Even as a local, I discovered new food-related places in Antwerp, especially during the guided walk given by ‘Food for Foodies’, an organization that provides guided walks through the different parts of Antwerp which have a rich culture and history regarding food and migration. We ended our tour at the Jewish quarter, where were we got a taste of kosher food.

To conclude, as a participant of the 23rd SIEF Food Research conference, I can only say that this was a great opportunity for me to attend such a conference and to broaden my research network and ideas. Although at first I was not sure that I could contribute some knowledge of my own about the conference theme and share it with others, I now realize how little researchers sometimes know about my area of studies, which is China/East Asia. I came to the realization that, except for Prof. Naoto Minami (Japan), even the top minds associated with some of the food topics under discussion at the conference, did not know some of my initial thesis facts. I am glad I could tell some of the participants about ‘Chop Suey’, as an invented – though often mistaken as an authentic – Chinese dish. It was during this moment that I realized that I might have something to contribute to the interdisciplinary research field on food culture.

The 24th conference of the WG Food Research is scheduled to take place in Hungary, at the Ethnographic Museum, Budapest, in September 2024.

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Caption photo 2: Jing Van den Berg (left) and other participants of the 23rd SIEF FOOD conference, sharing gingerbread (left) and reflecting on its associated exploitation history, 23rd September. @MAS, Tom Van Ghent.