Convened annually since 1981, the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery is the oldest academic conference on food history. Each year academics interested in using food as a lens to examine modern (and ancient) societies gather at the prestigious St. Catherine’s College in Oxford to take part in a series of discussions and hear the newest findings on food history.
Professor Zachary Nowak, the assistant director of the Umbra Institute’s Food Studies Program, was among those presenting at this year’s conference. Each year’s conference has a theme, and this year’s was foods that are “warpped and stuffed.” Nowak, whose research focuses on the intersection of folklore and history in Italian foodways, gave a talk on the supposedly traditional Perugian stuffed flatbread, the torta al testo. Enthusiasts link the torta to medieval breads (many see the torta in Perugia’s main fountain’s iconography), but Nowak’s paper showed that the torta has undergone dramatic changes in preparation, ingredients, and even meaning in the past century and a half. No longer the symbol of poverty and misery, the bread is invested with municipal pride as a link to Umbria’s farmer past.
Nowak’s paper is under consideration for publication in the conference’s Proceedings.