Judges’ Report – 2016

After a record breaking 39 papers two years ago, the number of entries for the Sophie Coe prize has levelled off at 23, both last year and this year. The decline in numbers seems to be concurrent with a rise in relevance, with few papers which we had to exclude because they were too focussed on, say, archaeology or sociology rather than food history.

The papers covered a wide geographical and chronological range, and several papers addressed interesting questions of theory. They seemed to come in twos this year: with a number of instances which chanced to cover the same subject from two different aspects. There were two on Ethiopia, two which discussed American Italian food, two on African-American diet, not to mention two candidates who each sent in two papers on different aspects of the same subject. The good quality of many of the papers made our task of judging most enjoyable, and perhaps sadly for those who were looking for a good fight over favourites, we were unanimous in our selection of the final contender.

A majority of judges noted Christine Knight’s Deep-frying the nation: communicating about Scottish food and nation, which takes the modern phenomenon of the notorious fried Mars Bar and analyses it in the historical context of anti-Scots prejudices; and Valentina Peveri’s The exquisite political fragrance of enset, which despite a narrow focus on a particular food in a particular country, Ethiopia, contributes new insights to the general field of food and symbolic value. Pamela Cooley’s Searching for Amelia: a quest for the author of the first American cookbook was seen to mark an important advance in the Amelia Simmons story: it needs to be edited and published.

All the judges commended Robert Dirks’ African Americans and soul foods, a readable and carefully researched paper, which overturns current concepts of the diet of late 19th and early 20th century African American communities.

The judges singled out for special mention Anthony Buccini’s Defining cuisine: communication, culinary grammar and the typology of cuisine, which succeeds in making a serious paper about theory readable and entertaining. It is a significant contribution to culinary history, giving us new and useful terms for thinking with. You can find it in the 2015 Symposium Proceedings.

In another year this might have been the winner, but the judges were unanimous in their choice for the 2016 Sophie Coe prize:

Susanna Forrest’s ‘Horsemeat is certainly delicious: anxiety, xenophobia and rationalism at a nineteenth-century American hippophagic banquet.’ This is a really enjoyable and accessible paper, with a compelling analysis of the historical phenomenon of hippophagy (eating horses) and attitudes towards it, well-contextualised and ranging from Neolithic Europe and Asia to 20th century New York. Congratulations to Susanna for a really well-earned prize.

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