Published in October 1995 issue of Prospect Magazine
Not everyone knows that there is a food intelligentsia. And even some who would count themselves among it are unaware of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. It takes place every year in September at St Antony’s College. Foodie scholars attend, but this is still a secret society after 16 years. None of the flamboyant critics come: no Craig Brown, Jonathan Meades or AA Gill. Food plus scholarship equals obsession, not narcissism. The media has never been interested.
They come from 16 other countries besides Britain. Conversation is curious. “Do you still get the food insects newsletter?” “Yes.” “I have eaten cockroaches in every country in the far east and they are all palatable except in South Korea.”
The joint chairman of the symposium, Dr Theodore Zeldin, has just been elected to the British Academy-to the great joy of the “symposiasts,” as they grandly label themselves. (They see this as a tribute to food scholarship. Now they are looking forward to an Oxford Chair of Gastronomy.)
Zeldin’s co-chairman is Alan Davidson. He is a gaudy dresser but this year wore a white T-shirt printed with the cover of the 50th issue of his food mag, Petits propos culinaires. He has the usual bits of dirty string round both his wrists from the Lao New Year ceremony. (He was British ambassdor to Laos from 1973-75.)