CALL FOR PAPERS: The Rhetorics of Food

Deadline: 21 December 2013


The Rhetorics of Food

KU Leuven, Belgium

26-27-28 May 2014

 Food is, along with air and water, a basic “ingredient” of human life and cultures, so it is no wonder that Norbert Elias focuses on the ways people interiorize food in order to write Über den Prozess der Zivilisation (1930s, reedited by UCD in 2012), while Lévy-Strauss deduces whole cultural patterns from the way a culture treated food (Le cru et le cuit, 1964). Over the past twenty years the rhetorics of food have developed rapidly and widely: TV chefs and journalists develop new lifestyles and ways to talk about them, weekend magazines introduce new things to eat and new ways to prepare regional, exotic food or a “transnational” combination. Slow and fast food compete for consumers’ daily meal decisions.  In contexts of postcolonial cultures or diaspora (like the Irish one) where a transnational identity is being developed, rejection or acceptance of food is one of the main identity markers of cultural assimilation or alienation. Individuals and cultures define themselves, or find themselves defined, by their food: Der Mensch ist was er isst (Karl Marx). People also speak (or refuse to) with their bodies, breastfeeding (or not); children develop eating disorders to signal deep-seated problems. As food is focused on in its social function, manners will figure prominently. But the changes go beyond manners: a new ethics of food goes hand in hand with a new awareness of ecological aspects of produce.

That the rhetorics of food is a “hot” topic is illustrated by the latest issue of the renowned Cultural Studies Review published by UTS (Sydney)[1] on food cultures and amateur economies.

This multi- and interdisciplinary conference on the Rhetorics of Food looks at how, both in the past and the present, people have been using the language of food to many purposes. We welcome papers in different areas: literature, cultural studies, theology, art (iconography/iconology), film, history (of ideas) and architecture, anthropology, political sciences, psychology, philosophy. Topics could include (but are not strictly limited to):

Media and food:

– Rhetorics of food in the bible, in other religious and literary texts,

– in film

– journalism and style of cookery books;

– forms of advertisement and assessment of food (cf. Brillat-Savarin 1807, Gault & Millau 2013)

Theology of food:

– Questions relating to the Eucharist

– things, images and words to be swallowed, e.g. in the mediaeval “Schluckbilder”

– images of the Maria lactans

– Iconography of fasts and feasts (cf. Rubin 1992)

– Eating and being eaten

– health and holiness (cf. Levenstein 1996).

Psychology, philosophy of food:

– Food and identity; the ethics of food

– the rhetorics of quantity: offering abundance or scarcity (cf. Montanari 1995); world ecologies and sustainable development

– refusing food: bulimia, anorexia, allergies;

– food as a weapon or/and as a reward: aggression with food: poisoning (political, personal, commercial reasons); heavenly food

– kind of food: classic, creative; local, regional, multicultural; cult(ure) of the “terroir”

– educating through food; slow and quick food; “uses” of food: functional, social, creative (Jan Fabre 2000, Tuymans 2013)

– discourse: genetic manipulation; food scandals; fear of food (Ferrières, 2002)

– diet and health (Ficino 1541, Branlard 1999); hygienic rules

– accompaniments: music, dance, other entertainment interacting with food, proof of the participants’ worth (cf Arthurian romance which inverts Brecht’s dictum zuerst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral)

– hierarchies of food (animals, plants, herbs, spices)

– hierarchies in food producers, processors, guests

– taboos: the sacred and the forbidden (cf eucharist and cannibalism)

– gendered kinds of food

– types and times of eating

– symbolism of food: salt, honey, bread, fish, potato, turkey, haggis…

Rhetorics of chosen company and of food spaces:

– select or vast numbers of invitees; problems of selection

– forms of hospitality: monastic, regal, humble, bourgeois, nomad, spontaneous, professional (hotel, pub, restaurant, caterer)…

– xenophilia: stories about unexpected visitors, magic of conviviality

– dealings in the kitchen & in the dining room: rituals (cutting bread, carving meat) and table manners: how to offer and refuse food

– eating at home or elsewhere, inside, outside (picknick) or in between (loggia, …)

The Esthetics of food:

– references to all the above; metaphors of eating (cf. Goya’s Saturn)

– still life, kitchen pieces

– the language of cutlery, crockery, glass, textile at table

– food as art: consummation of the visual

– representations of feasts and fasts: Brueghel, Botticelli, Veronese, Jordaens, Moreau, …


– any of the abovementioned aspects

– verbal and other rhetorics in pivotal positions in a novel (Molly Keane’s Bad Behaviour, Joyce’s Dubliners and in Ulysses, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse …);

– Christmas scenes and other ritual feasts often mark a conflict (or a reconciliation)

– “Gastropoetics”: writers and cookery (from Dumas to Dahl et al); metaphors used to describe food (Jean-Paul Aron, Jean-François Revel, …)

– developments in etiquette, books on good table manners (from Middle Ages till now)

– Lands of Cockaigne and all kinds of fabled food

– kitchen sink drama; meals in plays (cf Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus);

– whole poems have been dedicated to fruits or dishes (Keats, D.H. Lawrence, Harrison…);

– links between eating and reading, interiorizing food or words (Apocalypse, The Name of the Rose); connections between the making of a poem and the making of food

Economics of food:

– food scarcity and strategies of poverty reduction,

– agricultural development and food distribution

– climate change and effects on food production and consumption


Contributions on (Northern)Irish topics will be especially welcomed.

Confirmed plenary speaker: Tina Beattie (Roehampton College, UK): The female breast in theology and art.

The conference is hosted by the KU Leuven, the Faculties of the Arts, Theology, Psychology and Pedagogy in cooperation with the Leuven Centre for Irish Studies (LCIS). It will take place in the newly refurbished Irish college in Leuven (the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe).

Fees: 150 EUR (tenured), 80 EUR (students) which covers conference costs, social events, lunches and coffees.

 Papers should not exceed 2500-3000 words (20 minutes’ delivery). Proposals for papers (250 words) and a short biography should be sent by e-mail to

Hedwig Schwall ,

You will be notified by 15 January.

More information about the conference will be posted on