The central theme of the 2023 Posthumus Conference is ‘Food Inequalities’. Since Fernand Braudel and the French Annales school started to investigate the material conditions of daily life in the 1960s, the access to food has become a central issue for social and economic historians. While older research questions about the quantitative and qualitative evolution of food consumption have lost nothing of their relevance, new topics have emerged, and many of them deal with inequalities in the production, allocation and consumption of food. “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are” – the famous aphorism by the French lawyer and culinary writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825) perfectly captures the idea that food inequalities are a perfect mirror of underlying social inequalities (of income, wealth, living place, gender etc.). But food also has an active role in shaping these inequalities: food might express social aspirations, it fashions identities and creates distinctions or bridges the gap between people of different origins and with different economic resources.
Today, the world’s relationship to food is under great pressure. The combined pressures of the climate crisis and the War in Ukraine have exposed the environmental and social constraints of the global agro-industrial model. All over the world, people are looking for more sustainable, more healthy and more secure, alternatives for the anonymous ‘food from nowhere’ offered by the global agro-food industries. Farm-to-Fork initiatives are flourishing, but also creating new distinctions between those able to feed themselves in a more ‘sustainable’ ways and those forced to accept the cheapest food available. In these conditions a historical reflection on Food Inequalities is badly needed.
The keynote lectures of this year’s Posthumus Conference will be delivered by Dr Susan Flavin (University of Dublin) and Dr Peter Scholliers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel).