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GUEST BLOG: Foodways Symposium: Preserving Arkansas Heritage, History through Food

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Foodways Symposium: Preserving Arkansas Heritage, History through Food

Hundreds of people come every year to connect with Arkansas culture, history and food during the annual Foodways Symposium. 

“The symposium focuses on ethnic foods that reveal the diversity and rich heritage of our state,” said Wendy Richter, director and state historian at the Arkansas State Archives. “Arkansas is more diverse than most people realize.”

The Arkansas State Archives, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, organizes the symposiums and chooses which ethnicity will be featured. Special speakers talk about their food experiences, chefs demonstrate cooking techniques and an ethnic-themed lunch brings the audience a taste-experience it might never get to experience otherwise.

Just like Arkansas’s foodways, the symposium has evolved since it first started in 2014, said Julienne Crawford, Archives’ curator-collection services coordinator. Crawford sat on the first committee behind the symposium. That first event was an overview of Arkansas foods and included staples like fried okra and pickled watermelon rinds, she said.

Now, the symposium spotlights food brought to Arkansas by different ethnic groups.

“The first year was a big success, and we decided that we wanted to make this an annual event,” Crawford said. “In years since the initial Foodways Symposium, we have focused on the food of various ethnic groups.”

Past symposiums were: The Roots of African American Foodways in Arkansas (2015,) Southern Fried Schnitzel: German Food and Culture in Arkansas (2016,) Fruit of the Vine: Arkansas’s Italian Communities and Foodways (2017) and From China’s Farmland to Arkansas’s Delta: A History of Arkansas’s Chinese Immigrants (2018).

The next symposium will be Sept. 14 and will focus on Greek food, said Danyelle McNeill, Archives’ outreach coordinator.

The symposiums are important because they allow Arkansans the chance to see history through food and to discuss influential ethnic groups, said Stacy Hurst, heritage department director. Food is of tremendous historical importance because it is a window into how people lived and a connection to our past, Hurst said.

“Food plays a central role in how people identify themselves. Food reveals where we came from and who we are,” Hurst said. “It’s important to preserve our food heritage and, thereby, preserve our unique culture, history and identity — that’s exactly what our Foodways Symposium does.”

For more information on Foodways Symposium, contact Danyelle McNeill at 501-682-6902 or via email at [email protected].