A food history symposium revealed the wide range of topics that can be studied within the field and the appeal of food history to a variety of audiences.
The second Canadian Food History Symposium, sponsored by the University of Winnipeg’s Department of History, took place on October 26, 2013. It brought together approximately twenty-five participants including community activists, government representatives, media, archivists, scholars, and interested members of the public.
This year’s symposium was designed to “showcase the works of Ian Mosby, work done by [history] department members, and to show the wide range of topics that can be studied in food history,” said Janis Thiessen, the event organizer and an assistant professor of history at the University of Winnipeg.
Ian Mosby, an historian of food and nutrition, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) postdoctoral fellow at the University of Guelph, presented his research on nutritional experiments conducted in Aboriginal communities and residential schools between 1942 and 1952. Mosby’s research reveals that food was used as a reward and punishment of students in residential schools.
These nutritional experiments, if conducted today, would not be approved, as they do not meet the ethical standards required of research. In the 1940s, however, there were no rules governing the ethical implications of studies, explained Mosby, and there was no requirement for informed consent.
Mosby called into question the purpose of research broadly, asking who benefits from the research? Is the benefit going to Indigenous communities? In the case of these experiments, he uncovered a “unique and disturbing window of the guise of benevolent administration and researchers who furthered their political endeavors instead of addressing the root causes of issues.”
Mosby said food is one way to talk about the larger process of cultural dislocation that Aboriginal people in Canada faced and continue to face. “Survivors of residential schools have been saying for decades that they were subjects of experiments. But it takes a white guy with a PhD to say it before it’s accepted,” he said.
Thiessen, assistant professor of history at University of Winnipeg, presented her research about Hawkins Cheezies; a Canadian owned and operated snack food company known for its one product, Cheezies. She questioned the blanket moral judgments that are placed on the snack food industry and challenged the rhetoric that all snack food companies are equally interested in creating an addictive product to increase sales.
“Smaller corporations have not looked to diversify product to capture a larger market share. Making judgment on the levels of management in a global company is one thing but to transfer that rhetoric to smaller companies is dismissive,” said Thiessen.
Andriy Zayarnyuk, associate professor of history at the University of Winnipeg presented his research about the history and workings of a Soviet train station restaurant in Lviv, Ukraine from 1944-1980. He discussed the restaurant in terms of its physical space, the food served, and the language of culture used when describing the ambiance of the restaurant.
Zayarnyuk’s research addressed how Soviet restaurants worked after World War II and compared Soviet use of space to capitalist use of space. “There’s still no systematic study of urban space and the difference between western and Soviet use of that space,” he said.
Thiessen was pleased with the success of the event. “It was nice to see the variety of people in attendance and to hear the good discussions that occurred after the event,” she said.
The next Food History Symposium is being planned for spring 2014 and will feature work and research by students in Thiessen’s Food History class.
Ellen Paulley recently graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a Bachelor of Arts.