Closing Remarks

Adriano Pasquali, University of Toronto Mississauga

            On behalf of the organizing committee for Gastronomy, Culture, and the Arts, I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincerest gratitude to all of our speakers and attendees who helped to make this conference an outstanding success. Although the human preoccupation with food is as old as civilization itself, gastronomy is a field still in its infancy throughout much of the academic world: an interdiscipline existing between the cracks of the humanities and the sciences. Yet this twilight existence has not prevented it from flourishing in recent years. As the innovative research featured at each of this weekend’s twelve sessions has illustrated, food is a topos that has ever permeated the arts and sciences and one that continues to play an important role in maintaining society: perhaps now more than ever before, confronted with an increasingly globalized and interconnected world that asks us to re-evaluate longstanding assumptions about culture, tradition, and identity. But even in the face of such rapid change, food remains the single most influential building block of human civilization: the organizing principle by which familial bonds are first established, communities are given cause to develop, and lasting cultures emerge. It is fitting, then, that we are brought together by a common appreciation for good food and good company: scholars drawn from all across the globe and an unprecedented range of disciplines to dine and debate with one another, painting a living portrait of Dante’s own intellectual banquet.

            If there was a common strand that ran through all of our sessions this weekend, it was the power of food narratives, as captured in art, to shape individual and communal experiences of a culture. We began our discussion by taking a traditional academic approach and examining food narratives as they have been represented on the page, on the stage, and on the silver screen. But as Professor Capatti noted in his keynote address, “Nessun prodotto tipico vive e scompare dove è nato, e la sua forza è di viaggiare in diversi modi.”[1] So it was that, through the critical thinking of our speakers and attentive imaginations of our attendees, we bore witness to the gastronomic subject as it leapt from its static canvas and blossomed into emergent discussion, illustrating its persistent, inseparable relationship with the people that produce and consume it. It is through its representation in art that we recognize gastronomy to be a powerful, imaginary agent that frames social interactions within a community. We meditated on this power of food well into the evening, voicing concern about the ethical implications that surround consumption—not only of certain foods, but the languages and narrative frameworks that we digest along with them.

            During his keynote address, Professor Capatti argued that it is the role of the imagination to imbue a culinary product with a cultural narrative that closes the distance between its place of production and its consumers, evoking its elusive land of origin with every bite. The second day of the conference built upon this argument by exploring the power of food narratives to establish and regulate the invisible markers that define cultural spaces. We discovered that these invisible markers can take many forms, ranging from the languages that we speak, the production rituals that we practice, and the traditional recipes that we cook as a substitute for homelands lost to us by space and time. While we depend on the power of such food narratives to serve as borders of socio-economic spaces or pillars of cultural identities, we must always remember that narrative is a function of an ever-expanding and ever-curious imagination. Just like the thirst for knowledge, the palate is insatiable in its desire for new and diverse tastes, eventually driving us to cross those very same borders that were once raised to preserve our cultural identities in a globalized world. By mixing tastes and sharing recipes, the gastronomic impulse inevitably blends these imaginary spaces and weaves distinct cultures into one grand, interconnected mosaic. To see this paradox in action, one needs to look no further than the new life that gastronomy has attained through social media, where Instagramming a photograph of a plate of fettuccine can in seconds be “liked” by a breadmaker in Paris, shared with a teppanyaki chef in Tokyo, and commented on by a poet-cook in Santiago, all of whom may then be inspired to create glocal variations of the dish and compose food narratives of their own. Just by tweeting out the hashtag #UTMGASTRO16, gastronomy in the information age can close great distances and bring diverse peoples together, resulting in new gastronomic experiences—and, of course, potential research subjects—that will eventually find their way back here, to that most celebrated and multicultural of Toronto’s suburbs, which I hope that you now agree possesses the imaginative power to dissolve boundaries and provide a fertile ground from which a fruitful, boundless discourse can grow.

            Scholars of gastronomy must work with, and not against, this interconnected world in order for the discipline to continue to thrive. In the spirit of interconnectedness, then, I return to expressing our gratitude for the collaborative efforts of all our contributors that helped to set the table for our own convivio. Thank you to all of our attendees for supporting this conference, and especially to those who joined us from abroad: we appreciate your dedication to the academic community and hope that you enjoyed your time here. We thank Professor Alberto Capatti in particular for travelling all the way from Piedmont, Italy, to deliver his insightful and passionate keynote address, which provided a critical reference point for all of our sessions. Finally, we thank each of our speakers for sharing the fruits of their research with us. Without you, there could be no conference nor banquet: your hard work has been the “pane delli angeli” (Dante I.i.7) that we have had the privilege of feasting upon, and, like Dante, we are all the better for it. Thank you for joining us at the University of Toronto Mississauga for this weekend. We hope that both the conference and our campus exceeded your expectations, and that you found this to be a satisfying, meaningful exchange of—if you will allow me the final pun—(g)astronomic proportions.

Works Cited

Dante Alighieri. Convivio. Princeton Dante Project, version 2.0, 18 May 1999, Accessed 10 Apr. 2017.

[1] That is, “No traditional product simply lives and dies where it is born, but rather its strength lies in travelling by diverse means.” I here quote from my English translation of Capatti’s keynote address, which is included in this volume alongside the original Italian text.