Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food 2018

Body and Soul : Examining the historical relation between nutrition, health and culture

Dates: Friday, 16 November – Saturday 17 November 2018
Venue: Aula of the University of Amsterdam, Singel 411, 1012 XM Amsterdam.
Symposium fee: €90 (until 1 September €75)
Reduced fee: €45 (students, Friends of the Special Collections UvA)

The act of ingestion ensures our intimate relationship with food. This literal ‘incorporation’ has implications that go far beyond basic physicality: it is precisely in the corporeal sphere that the cultural significance of our food habits is on display. Crucial to the connection between food and body is the concept of control. State institutions, medical professionals, and spiritual teachers have prescribed and proscribed dietary behaviour, exercising what Michel Foucault has termed ‘biopower’, in an attempt to regulate the nourishment of populations. Such nutritional advice has often been a form of moral guidance: to authorities like doctors and religious leaders, public health was a medical and an ethical issue. Corporations have made similar persuasion efforts, often aided by health gurus and sportspersons – from 19th-century fruitarians to 21st-century Instagram influencers advertising their ‘killer’ bodies. By conceptualizing the body as a machine in need of ‘input’, they increasingly sold consumers the prospect of total control over their health and wellbeing.

Yet the public has the agency to modify and contest existing food regimes. By narrativizing the fundamental everyday practice of food consumption, individuals fashion eating – and not-eating – into a performance, thereby inextricably linking these acts to personal identity. Their pursuit for healthy and inspiring lifestyles can lead to greater self-care, but can also encourage problematic body/food mindsets, such as anorexia or orthorexia. No wonder that, since ancient times, the notion of a powerful connection between psychological and physical health has been deployed by spiritual leaders to promise audiences control over their desires and appetites. Hence it is especially in the context of the body that the cultural relevance of food can be explored.

Organizing Committee

IJsbrand van Dijk;  Antonia Mazel; Joke Mammen; Jon Verriet; Ingrid de Zwarte

Advisory Board

Prof. Dr Ir. Louise O. Fresco; Mrs. Claudia Roden; Prof. Dr Peter Scholliers; Prof. Dr Irene E. Zwiep.

Preliminary Programme

Friday 16 November 2018

09.00–10.00        Registration and coffee

10.00–10.05        Welcome Marike van Roon

10.05–10.30        Professor J.M. van Winter Stipendium

10.30–11.00        Keynote lecture by David Gentilcore

11.00–12.30        Panel 1 – Nutritional Science and its Applications

Chair: Peter van Dam

  • Peter Scholliers – Problematic calories: Belgium, 1890-1918
  • Lisa Haushofer – Food groups and macronutrients revisited: the role of nutritional products
  • Adele Hite – A tangled web with no spider: “Eating right” and the U.S. dietary guidelines

12.30–13.30        Lunch break

13.30–14.00        Intermezzo: The Four Humours in Early Modern Art

  • Claudia Goldstein – Fire, Water, Air, Earth: Nutritional Advice and Social Class in Beuckelaer’s Four Elements
  • Sara van Dijk – Passchier Lammertijn’s ‘Banquet on a table’: A healthy diplomatic gift

14.00–15.30        Panel 2 – (Not) in Control: Diets and Bodily Discipline

Chair: Tessel Bauduin

  • Carla Cevasco – Feasting and Fasting: Native Americans, European Settlers, and Undisciplined Bodies in Colonial North America, 1600-1770
  • Emma Hilborn – The feminisation of dieting. Food and controlled eating 1890-1930
  • Zofia Boni – Fat Bodies and Fat Souls: Discussing Childhood Obesity in Poland

15.30–16.45        Tea break

16.45–17.30        Prize-giving ceremony of the 2017 Johannes van Dam Prize

Saturday 17 November 2018

09.00-09.30         Registration

09.30–10.30        Panel 3 — Prescriptions and Proscriptions: Nutrition and Public Health


  • Joseph L. Barona – Tadasu Saiki: Science and Nutritional Policies in Japan in Interwar Years
  • Efrat Gilad – “The Child Needs Milk and Milk Needs a Market”: The Politics of Nutrition in the Interwar Yishuv

10:30–11:00        Coffee

11.00–12.30        Panel 4 – The Mediatization and Popularization of Healthy Eating

Chair: Carolyn Birdsall

  • Inga Bryden – Picnics and Poison: the (un)healthy benefits of Victorian outdoor dining
  • Nathalie Cooke – Validating medicinal and nutritional information when Every(wo)man was their own doctor
  • Maria Tonini & Max Gonen – “Watch Me Eat My Weight in Mac n Cheese”: Mukbang and the Performance of Unclean Eating

12.30–12.50        Wrap-up – Irene Zwiep

12.50-13.00         Closing remarks and topic for 2019

Afternoon Programme of the Foodie Festival at Special Collections of the UvA (festival starts at 13.00; registration for this event will start in September)

The Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food is the annual point of assembly and an exchange of knowledge in the field of the food history. It intends to stimulate debate and research that bridges the gap between different disciplines. Another aim is to transfer academic research to a wider public and stimulate research using the Special Collection of the University of Amsterdam. The symposium is therefore targeted at both an academic and a professional audience.

The Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food is the result of a collaborative partnership between the Special Collections, University of Amsterdam, the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies, University of Amsterdam and the research unit Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.