‘In Search of Our Mother’s Kitchens’ : Culinary Cultures at YSJ

By Jess Osborne


Anyone in York St John’s Quad South Hall on the 5th May (and possibly a few days after) will have noticed the soulful smell of fresh, exotically spiced food lingering in the curtains of the chapel: a perfect metaphor for the cultural synergy explored in the Culinary Cultures event held by Dr Sarah Lawson Welsh. The event was filled to the brim with excellent speakers whose papers and presentations all seemed to complement each other and help attendees develop a well-rounded understanding of food in literature, advertising, feminism, as well as every other facet of life. It did seem towards the end of the event that food permeated every aspect of existence, of course it would be hard not to think that when discussing the problematic masculinity of barbeque culture over the loveliest fried plantains I have ever eaten.

The day began with an eye-opening look at barbeque culture in America, focusing mostly on the one word that will pop up multiple times in this post as it did throughout the event: authenticity. You may have seen signs on restaurants claiming to deliver true flavours of their cuisine’s country of origin, or even claiming that they have the most authentic ingredients, we have all definitely been to an Italian restaurant that makes use of their mother’s/grandmother’s/any matriarch’s recipes from back home. But as the day progressed those of us in attendance began to unpack the problematic nature of these claims, making many of us simultaneously want a barbeque and not want a barbeque!culinary cultures 1

Thankfully after all this talk of food, we actually got to eat some! Food educator Sharmini Thomas cooked up a feast of wonderfully spiced foods for us to sample over lunch, whilst patiently answering any question thrown her way. Throughout the cook-up Sharmini chatted about spices and where they come from, the origins of certain dishes, as well as some interesting Indo-Caribbean history we definitely weren’t taught in school. But most interestingly, whilst chatting, we touched back on the idea of authenticity. When someone asked about whether or not coconut should be added to rice and peas Sharmini silenced us all by reminding us those cooking would cook with what was available, if there was coconut growing nearby, it would go in, but if not the recipe would go without. This begs the question: can the authenticity of these recipes really be replicated? And even should recipes made for survival be appropriated and lay any claim to authenticity in the face of luxury?

culinary cultures 3The answer is: yes probably. It’s unfortunate, but true, that some post-colonial cultures are in danger of dying. After lunch we explored the food of Palestine. Although the promotion of Palestinian agriculture through fair-trade as a means of raising awareness was fascinating, I found myself drawn to the discussion about Joudie Kalla’s cookbook Memories From my Mother’s Kitchen as a means of preserving Palestinian culture. As a literature student I find myself looking for importance in books, primarily in fiction, but cookbooks offer an insight into life just as deep as those in fiction, and they should definitely be allowed more close readings. Food, after all, is the point that our lives revolve around, so why should books dedicated to it not have an important place in our society?


Whilst discussing recipes and cookbooks, during in one of the many coffee breaks, I noticed quite a few attendees were speaking about family recipes that have somehow never found their way onto paper and as a result are cause for argument at family gatherings. Spookily, this was perfectly mirrored in the final discussions on the nostalgia of food, and maternal inheritance in the culture of family recipes. And it is there, with everyone fondly remembering their mothers and grandmother’s kitchens, that one of the best events I have attended at YSJ came to a close. Full of food for both body and mind, we all went home remembering the lingering smells of the spices.culinary cultures 2

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Sarah Lawson Welsh for organising one of the most academically fulfilling events I have attended throughout my degree. Those wanting to attend any more of these food related events should drop Sarah an email to get on the mailing list, it will definitely be worth it.

“The Book Closes: Finality in Contemporary Literature” Symposium, YSJU 6 June 2017

By Abi Sears


Finality is defined as the ‘impression of being final and irreversible’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). Within today’s society the significance of the final, and transition from the familiar into a world of change, is particularly poignant. The Brexit vote in June, and the recent inauguration of Donald Trump, has instigated an upsurge of hatred, vitriol and prejudice. From the horrifying increase in terror attacks all over the world, to the harrowing treatment of refugees reported in the media of the past year, some of us may feel the world we live in is becoming somewhat unrecognisable, and regressing into a haunting ideology of truly dangerous values.

Whilst the world we once knew is under the thumb of violence the necessity to resist, and challenge, these ideas has never been so important. As postgraduate literature students, we are finishing our education in a deeply troubling time; therefore, the importance of the arts and humanities is greater than ever to encourage resistance through new dialogues, voices and literatures. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950 William Faulkner spoke of the ‘inexhaustible voice’ of man and ‘the writer’s duty to write’. ‘The poet’s voice’ continues Faulkner, ‘need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail’ (Faulkner, 1950) accentuating the powerful, and vital, nature of the written word. The study of literature permeates our barriers, activates a space in which to question, critique, write back and teaches us to never stop asking questions. Such ability to evoke change can, we hope, interrogate the concept of finality and introduce new dialogues as a response to harmful and prejudicial ideas.

We are holding a one-day conference at York St. John University, on June 6th 2017, entitled The Book Closes: Finality in Contemporary Literature in which we aim to reflect on and respond to a number of issues in current literature surrounding finality, addressing and challenging its irreversible quality. Please send abstracts of 200-300 words to ysj.ma.symposium2017@gmail.com by Wednesday 5th of April. Link to CFP: https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/cfp/2017/01/30/the-book-closes-finality-in-contemporary-literature

Cityscapes: Media Textualities and Urban Visions. Registration now open!


Saturday 23rd April, 8.30am – 6pm


York St John University is hosting a one day conference exploring representations of the city and urban spaces in literature and media, organised by Dr Kaley Kramer and Dr Anne-Marie Evans. Drawing on the recognition of York as a UNESCO City of Media Arts and a member of the Creative Cities Network, this one day conference will provide a space for ongoing discussions about the representation of cities in literature and narrative arts, media, theory, and practice.


The event is FREE for YSJ students, and you can access the conference programme on the blog here: https://blog.yorksj.ac.uk/cityscapesconference2016/conference-programme/


If you would like to attend and book a place, please register here: http://store.yorksj.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?compid=1&modid=2&deptid=7&catid=6&prodid=428


If you have any questions, please email Dr Anne-Marie Evans (a.evans@yorksj.ac.uk) or Dr Kaley Kramer (k.kramer@yorksj.ac.uk )

Visiting speaker: Veronica Barnsley (Sheffield) 16 March

The Literature and Creative Writing programmes’ research series continues with a seminar and lecture by Dr Veronica Barnsley from the University of Sheffield, who will be discussing the status of disaster studies and the concept of the Bildung in postcolonial criticism.

This includes a lecture at 15:30 in De Grey 124, entitled

Chasing the Postcolonial Child: Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People


Image: Animal by Eleanor Stride http://www.indrasinha.com/books-2/animals-people/animal-by-eleanor-stride/

Undergraduates and postgraduates are particularly welcome to attend. For more information, please contact a.beaumont@yorksj.ac.uk.