Looking back at RU grad student-organized international conference ‘Food & Drink in the Ancient World’ (31 May-1 June 2019)

It went by in almost the blink of an eye—or so it seemed. Over the course of two days marked by gloriously warm late spring weather, the Cook / Douglass campus of Rutgers University-New Brunswick hosted “Food and Drink in the Ancient World” (Friday 31 May-Saturday 1 June 2019).

It’s not often that one wants an academic gathering to extend well beyond its schedule, but for many participants, this was such a case. The topics presented here certainly were rich enough to provide discussion for many further days, if not weeks. And then there was the actual food and drink…

This Rutgers international conference (Twitter hashtag = #RUFoodDrink) featured 17 speakers, including presenters from Israel, France, Germany and the UK. Registration pretty much met capacity, and it was hard to spot spare empty chairs during the keynote (by Dr Kristina Killgrove) and five paper sessions. Conference-wide communal meals highlighted the cuisine of Greece, Italy, and—in a bold experimental gesture—ancient Rome. And it was all exquisitely organized by two Rutgers Classics PhD candidates, Emmanuel Aprilakis and Nicole Nowbahar.

An Italian-themed lunch featured on Day 2 of the conference, in the stunning atrium of the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health. Day 1 focused on the cuisine of Greece, and was spectacularly catered by Pithari Taverna (Highland Park NJ)

Co-sponsors were many: the Rutgers departments of ClassicsArt History, and Italian, its Center for European Studies, and especially the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (= SEBS), which provided major support.  The Classical Association of the Atlantic States helped fund the proceedings with a generous Leadership Initiative Grant. Douglass Residential College generously provided its cheery Trayes Hall for the first day of papers, and SEBS its striking new NJ Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health for the second, which closed with the “ancient” Roman feast.

Crucial support for the conference was offered by Classics chair James McGlew; Dr Robert M. Goodman, executive dean of the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and executive director of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station; and also Dr Lia Papathomas, Director of Operations of the NJ-based team for the innovative New Agriculture for a New Generation Program.

A glimpse of some elements of the recreated ancient Roman feast offered to conference participants after the Saturday paper sessions

One indisputable highlight of the conference was the Friday evening keynote address by Kristina Killgrove (UNC Chapel Hill), “Food and Foreigners in Rome and Beyond”. Dr Killgrove also impressively live tweeted most of the conference (Twitter = @DrKillgrove or #RUFoodDrink). Another came during the Saturday lunch, when Jake Morton (Carleton College) addressed the attendees on “Seasonality and Diet in the Ancient Greek Sanctuary”. Dr Morton also created the menu for the Saturday evening Roman feast, following a suggestion of RU Classics Assistant Professor Jeffrey Ulrich.

Keynote speaker Dr Kristina Killgrove (UNC Chapel Hill) at center, with conference co-organizers Emmanuel Aprilakis and Nicole Nowbahar

Lunch talk on Day 2 of the conference, by Dr Jake Morton of Carleton College

Presenters on the five paper panels were Dan Beckman (Princeton), Leonardo Bison (Bristol), Nicholas Cross (Queens College), Christopher Ell (Brown), Catharine Judson (UNC Chapel Hill), Peggy Leiverkus (Bergische Universität Wuppertal), David Lew (Bar-Ilan University), Luke Madson (Rutgers), Evan McDuff (Brandeis), Morgan Moroney (Johns Hopkins), Ruth Palmer (Ohio University), François Porte (Rouen), Robert Santucci (Michigan), Julia Simons (University of Pennsylvania), and Jorge Wong (Harvard).

Luke Madson (Rutgers), presenting on “The Black Broth of Sparta: Plutarch and Social Capital”

A full house listens to Evan McDuff (Brandeis), “A Peppered Past: Piper nigrum and Piper longum Products in the Greek and Roman World”

Peggy Leiverkus (Bergische Universität Wuppertal) speaks on “Food Symbolism in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Rutgers’ Department of Classics provided the discussants for each of the five panels: Distinguished Professor of Classics and Ancient History Thomas Figueira; Associate Professor Serena Connolly; Assistant Professor Bice Peruzzi; and PhD candidates Steven Brandwood and Selena Ross.

Dr Serena Connolly (Rutgers) at the Food and Drink in the Ancient World conference

But that’s not all. RU Classics Program Coordinator Tandria Cooper saw to numerous logistical and organizational arrangements for the conference, including booking flights and rooms for participants. Rutgers Classics PhD candidates Molly Mata and Kate Stevens took care of conference registration. Special thanks are owed to Ian Keith, chef manager at Harvest at the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health, and a skilled, energetic team from Rutgers University Dining Services.

In the final session, conference co-organizers Nicole Nowbahar and Emmanuel Aprilakis underlined that Ian Keith and his staff “have been working tirelessly today to help bring alive our ideas for each of the meals we’ve enjoyed. When we initially gave Ian a list of recipes for the event, we had no idea that he and his team would be willing to make everything on our list!”

And finally, mega-kudos to the co-organizers themselves—without whom none of the above would have happened! For more images to gat a taste of this great event, see the conference website here.

After Day 1, dinner at Evelyn’s Restaurant (New Brunswick), where conference presenters enjoyed superb Mediterranean fare

Conference co-organizers Nicole Nowbahar and Emmanuel Aprilakis

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