Last week I attended the joint annual meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society and the Association for the Study of Food and Society. The conference was in Madison, Wisconsin and the AFHVS folks were in charge, which probably accounts for the very agriculturally-focused theme: “The Agroecological Prospect: The Politics of Integrating Values, Food, and Farming.” This is always a great conference, well worth attending. The University of Wisconsin campus is lovely and historic. We were there at the same time as a conference/reunion focusing on Madison in the 60s, which meant that there was a constant buzz of nostalgic discussions of radical politics and counter-cultural activities in the air.
This is a small conference. I think there were around 500 people participating this year. It is also very open to students. There are a lot of graduate students who present research and even some undergraduates, along with faculty, professional researchers, activists, people from government agencies, and nonprofits. People are generally quite approachable, and it is easy to meet scholars and make new connections. This is probably helped by the wonderful snacks provided between sessions (hey, it is a food conference), which in Madison included some very crunchy radishes.
We had a nice contingent of SAFN members at the conference. SAFN sponsored several sessions (at least four, I think), including a session on food activism in higher education, another on restaurants and social movements, a roundtable discussion with representatives from funding organizations, and another on the relationship between food studies programs and local communities (many thanks to Amanda Green and the SAFN program committee for organizing all of this). There were many anthropologists on the program outside our sessions as well. Rachel Black and I organized a little gathering of SAFN members (I apologize for the confusion regarding the location), which included a little wine (as an aside, it is amusing to go shopping for wine with a wine scholar, especially in a store that markets primarily to college students) and nice conversation and ended in a beer and bratwurst establishment that featured mediocre brats, but also lovely little triangles of deep fried macaroni and cheese. Highbrow stuff, you betcha.
A lot of conferences have a sort of shadow conference happening on social media and the AFHVS/ASFS conference is especially intense in this regard. Emily Contois, of the University of Tulsa, led this effort and she has provided a sort of round up of the live tweeting from many sessions here. Even though I contribute to this in a modest way, I am still always surprised when people outside the conference (people in the world of food writing, for instance, who might have been mentioned in a presentation) see the tweets and respond in real time. This is both very cool and somewhat vertigo-inducing, as you realize that the conversations you are having are echoing around the planet in real time.
The conference also usually features a day of field trips to food and agriculture-related organizations prior to the beginning of the main conference. This year there were several, including a visit to the Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society, a field trip to two social justice organizations that are linked to food and agriculture (the Badger Rock School and the Farley Center), a trip to Milwaukee to visit a variety of food-related activist organizations, a sustainable meal hackathon, and much more. I took a tour of the campus of Epic Systems, a company located outside of Madison that specializes in health-care software. The company’s campus is built with an eye toward sustainability, especially through the production of food for their employees. The site is indeed quite remarkable.
Madison is, by the way, a lovely city. If you happen to visit, be sure to stroll around the capital on a Saturday morning to see the Dane County Farmers Market and get some cheese curds (or actual cheese) or any of the great produce. Strawberries, rhubarb, and, of course, radishes were especially abundant while we were there. Such good radishes.
Next year’s conference will be in Anchorage, Alaska, June 26-29, 2019. Start making your plans now.