“Building Food,” Vassar’s upcoming food symposium, examines the relationship between food and architecture, futuristic foods, and features celebrity sushi chef Bun Lai, April 7-8, 2017

Foodies take note: Vassar College’s first food symposium “Building Food: Food, Space, and Architecture,” will be held on Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8, at Alumnae House. On the menu: invasive species sushi, proteins you can listen to, and an exploration of food, art, and architecture.

All events are free and open to the public, but registration is required. The symposium is sponsored by the Department of French and Francophone Studies, Vassar’s Creative Arts Across Disciplines, the Environmental Studies Program, Asprey CCAS Student Research Enhancement, Science and Technology Studies, The Departments of Philosophy, Chemistry, and Biology, the Grillo Fund, and the Office of the Dean of Faculty.

“This symposium is a chance to explore many aspects of food and culture,” says organizer Thomas Parker, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies. “There are lectures and programs that will appeal to a wide array of people—scholars, activists, artists, and foodies alike.”

The event kicks off on Friday at 5:30pm with a keynote address from sociologist and food studies authority, Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson of Columbia University.

Saturday is a full day of lectures organized as four panels. Topics included are as diverse as why the French eschew doggie bags to an examination of the look of American restaurants to a presentation on understanding protein sequencing through sound.

A highlight of the symposium will be the lunch panel on futuristic foods. Among those featured are: celebrity chef Bun Lai of Miya’s restaurant in Connecticut, who makes sustainable sushi made from invasive species; scientist and inventor Camille Delebecque from Afineur who makes vegan civet cat coffee without the animal; and Kevin Bachhuber, the founder of Big Cricket, American’s first cricket farm to cater to human eaters. Lunch will be organized around samples from the three speakers.

Bun Lai's visit is sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program, Camille Delebecque is sponsored by Asprey CCAS, Kevin Bachhuber is sponsored by STS, and the protein panel (see details below) is sponsored by Creative Arts Across Disciplines. 

Participants can register for select events or the entire symposium. To register, contact A full schedule of events can be found below.

All events will take place at Alumnae House, 161 College Avenue, Poughkeepsie.


Friday, April 7
Keynote lecture, “Build it up, Tear it down: Consumption as Destruction”
Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Department of Sociology, Columbia University

Saturday, April 8

Panel 1- Gastronomical Representations- 8:30am-10:00am
"Rendering a Great Chef:  the Lard Statue of Vatel"
Mike Garval, Professor of French, North Carolina State University

François Vatel (1631?-1671) is remembered as a veritable patron saint of chefs, a holy martyr to the exacting art of French cuisine, who killed himself over a late seafood delivery for a dinner honoring Louis XIV.  In 1888, there was a brief flap in the French press over a small statue of Vatel, in lard, displayed at the annual culinary exposition in Paris. This talk will explore chefs’ broader evolution from Ancien Régime domestic servants to media darlings of today.


 “Gustave Caillebotte’s Fruit Displayed on a Stand and the Urban Grid”
Marni Kessler, University of Kansas, Kress Foundation Department of Art History

Kessler will discuss artist Gustave Caillebotte’s Fruit Displayed on a Stand (1881-82), in which clusters of fruit fit themselves into an architected grid. Massed and sorted, these densities of blueberries, gooseberries, figs, pears, tomatoes, and apples, are represented from up close and above. Kessler will analyze the ways in which Caillebotte represents this display of fruit using a modern and technologically sophisticated urban viewing and organization system that mimics the very layout of Haussmann’s Paris.

“Erecting Cities out of Couscous: Kader Attia’s and the Art of Reparation”
Sylvie Durmelat, Department of French and Francophone Studies, Georgetown University

Durmelat will discuss Untitled (Gardhaïa) (2009), an installation that represents a scale model of the ancient Algerian city of Gardhaïa, made entirely out of cooked couscous by Kader Attia, an internationally recognized artist who grew up in the Parisian suburbs and whose parents immigrated from Algeria.

Vegan civet cat coffee and refreshments will follow, 10:00am- 10:30am

Panel 2- Material Culture at the Table- 10:30am-12:00pm
“Why the French Hate Doggie Bags”
Janet Beizer, Department of French, Harvard University

Recent attempts to institute the practice of doggie bags, often referred to by the French as a "foreign" practice," have generally failed in France. This lecture examines the negatives attached to the concept of taking home leftovers from a restaurant meal.

The Look and Feel of American Restaurants”
Paul Freedman, Department of History, Yale University

The design of restaurants has tended to convey information about service and atmosphere and sometimes expectations about the nature of the food conform to a design type:  steakhouses with (supposedly masculine) paneled wood and leather banquettes; “Continental” restaurants of the 1970s with flocked velvet walls, oversize menus in leather covers and waiters grinding oversize peppermills. This lecture explores restaurant types with regard to layout and atmosphere and speculation about current trends.

An Ancient Delicacy Meets Modern Domestication: The Architecture of the Edible Nest Swiftlet”
Gina Rae La Cerva (Vassar Alumna), Department of Forestry, Yale University

 Edible Bird’s Nest (EBN) is a delicacy primarily eaten in China and is one of the most expensive food products in the world, with a global market worth over $5 billion USD. It is made from the spit of a southeast asian cave-dwelling bird called a swiftlet. There is a long history of nest collection from the vast network of limestone caves that pocket Borneo’s tropical hardwood forests, but in the past three decades, over-harvesting has led to a crash in the wild bird populations. Today nearly 95% of the cave swiftlets in Borneo are gone. This talk traces the history of EBN, from a "precious" food once reserved for the Emperor, to the "innovative" EBN chocolates and face-creams sold by multi-level marketing schemes today. 

Panel 3- Experiential and Experimental Eats- 12:30- 3:45pm- Lunch and Afternoon Food
12:30pm- 1:30pm
Lunch of invasive species sushi with presentation by Bun Lai, owner of Miya's Sushi in New Haven, James Beard Nominee, and recipient of White House Champion of Change Sustainability Award.

1:45pm- 2:30pm
Cricket dessert and discussion of edible insect farming, presented by Kevin Bachhuber, founder of America's first edible insect farm for human consumption.

2:45pm- 3:45pm
Vegan civet cat coffee and discussion about the future of cellular agriculture between Camille Delebecque, Harvard PhD, founder of Afineur cultured coffee and Benjamin Wurgaft, author of a soon-to-be published book on in vitro meat.

Panel 4- Artistic Abstraction, “Listening to Proteins” 4:00pm- 5:00pm

Robert Bywater and Jonathan Middleton, Data-to-Music sonification has been explored by Drs. Bywater and Middleton in relation to the secondary structures of proteins.  The first stage of their work was published last fall in the journal Heliyon and widely reported in many media outlets.  This presentation will feature a lecture demonstration of their data-to-music transformation methods using proteins from today's menu for your analysis and enjoyment.

Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event, Mondays-Fridays, at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space/and or assistance may not be available. For detailed information about accessibility to specific campus facilities, search for “campus accessibility information” on the Vassar homepage (

Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, March 22, 2017