PIs with some speakers at the event
PIs with some speakers at the event

This gathering of students, PIs, colleagues from UWC, UP and UKZN as well as members of NGOS and other research sites such as the Surplus Peoples’ Project, was aimed mainly at marking five years of the intra-institutional Mellon-funded Programme, “Critical Food Studies, Transdisciplinary Humanities Approaches”, drawing together UWC as main partner, together with UKZN and UP. The Programme has exceeded its mandate to Mellon and has published four special issues of peer-reviewed journals, will shortly produce an edited book consisting mainly of graduate students’ essays as well as a cookbook, graduated a number of honours and masters students and, by the start of 2024 will have graduated 5 PhD students. The Programme has also supported work for publication by early career scholars at UWC, UP and UKZN, in addition to organising an international conference during the lockdown (see website for all proceedings of this), several webinars (see website) and a number of colloquia and webinars.

PIs, Profs Lewis (middle), Reddy (left) and Moletsane (red), together with other key leader on the Programme, M Heather Thuynsma and Dr Lynn Mafofo, wanted to celebrate these achievements as well as the energetic involvement of staff and students across disciplines, universities and even continents over the years.

Prof Moolla, Dept Dean of Research (Humanities)
Prof Moolla, Dept Dean of Research (Humanities)

The programme kicked off with a talk by the Arts/Humanties Faculty’s Deputy Dean of Research, Prof Fiona Moolla, a prolific transdisciplinary scholar who has published and researched extensively on food as material culture. Prof Moolla succinctly yet rigorously mapped out the relevance of food as an optic for deepening analysis of literary texts, as well as processes of subject formation, complex social histories and dynamic cultural processes, thus explaining the obvious relevance of homing in on food for all humanities scholars.

Prof Lewis, the lead PI of the programme, went on to stress the need to celebrate UWC’s long legacy of critical scholarship on food and/in society, referencing PLAAS and Prof Andries Oliphant and the CoE Food Security, under the leadership of Julian May. During the event it was recalled that the CFS Programme actually had its origins in a project affiliated to the CoE. Lewis stressed that although the CFS programme has significantly strengthened consolidated food studies in the humanities, the Programme’s one example of the many interventions made by UWC researchers, academics and students on food.

Her words were exemplified by the poetry reading of PhD candidate and writer, Pralini Naidoo, who is completing her thesis through publications – all revolving around relationships between seed, women and food.

Ms Naidoo’s work is an excellent example of the creative knowledge production which food studies encourages, As co-PI, Prof Vasu Reddy, now deputy VC at the UFS and a long-standing member of the editorial board of South Africa’s oldest feminist journal, discussed Agenda’s special issue and its relevance to expanding food studies. Focusing on new work that addresses ecofeminism, food and the Anthropocene, Prof Reddy also drew attention to the value of younger researchers who are bringing fresh and vibrant insights to ideas to bear on interdisciplinarity in the humanities, as well as the relationships between food and the human. He also affirmed the importance of the range of voices in the issue, including a well-known American food scholar, Indian feminist scholars and work from various African countries.

Prof Siona O Connell further illustrated Ms Naidoo’s approach to food by discussing her own work as a film-maker and social historian and visual text scholar. Discussing the film she has made titled, she explained how often researchers or film-makers enter a community to “document”, yet can never actually convey anything approximating the lives of members of those communities. She showed how her own approach as a film-maker – to jettison her original mandate, and allow the community to leader her as they explored the meanings of food, led to far more rewarding results, and a film which she will make available to all who attended.

Prof Moletsane, the CFS co-PI based at UKZN emphasised the innovative work of students, affirming the mutually beneficial teacher-student relationship between supervisors and PIs and students in the various workshops, peer-review sessions and writing works organised over the past years. Prof Moletsane drew particular attention to how enriching work across universities and faculties can be, remarking on the relationships of trust and feelings of confidence – alongside intellectual growth – that she has witnessed among students.

Dr Mafofo seated next to her students.
Dr Mafofo seated next to her students. Apart from supervising several, she has led writing workshops for students – working on their theses as well as chapters for publication -from

Heather Thuynsma from the Humanities Faculty at UP and a central figure in UP’s publishing networks, spoke as a long-term participant in the CFS programme – as a student mentor and supervisor, working alongside editors of journal special issues, and organising events. She provided a welcome discussion of the UP’s new publishing initiative, the Emerging Writers’ Series (EMI). Explaining that this press initiative is aimed mainly – although not only – at publishing outstanding work by early-career academics and postgraduates, she also discussed the CFS programme’s current book in progress to be published in this series. Ms Thuynsma also reminded the audience of the need for academic publishers to transcend the narrowly academic, discussing the cookbook published by humanities staff and students at UP last year, and inviting students to approach her or the press if they wished to have innovative book projects considered. Her words struck a chord with many of the postgraduates at the event.

Students’ confidence was further demonstrated by the enthusiastic inputs offered by Prof Rory Bester’s students. Introduced by him, the three students, taking Prof Bester’s MA elective, “Kitchen Histories”, spoke excitedly about their conceptual work in examining processes of cooking, recipe making and recording in relation to particular social histories and cultural dynamics.

As one the many innovative scholars who has long worked on food independently of the CFS programme, Prof Bester spoke just before another group of speakers who have all had long histories of teaching beyond UWC, and whose interdisciplinary curiosity and passions have led them to pay critical attention to epistemological, philosophical and theoretical work on food’s meanings meanings, and the relationships between human experiences and food. Prof Carla Tsampiras, a historian working in the field of medical humanities, has had a long interest in gender, identity formation, nationalism and met-eating. Also interested in the media representation of popularised foods, especially meat, Prof Tsampiras, referencing a novel by Margaret Atwood, raised the provocation of where our current world of food situates us in relation to what we might call “the soul”. Angelo Fick, whose wide range of experience as an academic at different institutions, in the media, and now as director of research at an independent institute, reflected on the meanings of being tangentially connected to academic research and being able to do research that holds personal, social and political meaning, rather than to be driven by bureaucratic dictates.

It would not do justice to this event to leave out remarks about what Prof Moola termed “its conviviality”. Food was available in abundance as were seedlings, fresh vegetables and fruit and seeds which members of the audience could take home to plant, cook or eat. There were frequent musical interludes, with members of a band -consisting mainly of UWC students ensuring that all were well-entertained for the entire day. The event ended with a sense of well-being and joy as we were all reminded of the tremendous range of energies of staff at UWC – including Mrs Berneshia Abrahams, the CFS administrator and her colleagues who assisted her with organising, students – who are often poets, musicians, performers as well as enterprising thinkers and writers. We were also reminded of how enriching and joyous intellectual engagements can be when we interact across our usual disciplinary and institutional boundaries.

Do visit the website for updates on this event as well a the many other events organised in the last five years.

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