CFP for ICMS 2021 Kalamazoo: Eating Like Orientals in the Medieval Western Imagination

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Soojung Choe

In the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak, a common practice for many western media was to revisit an old orientalist habit to equate eastern culinary customs to primitiveness, eagerly reporting on Chinese “omnivorous markets” and “culinary adventurism” as a likely cause of the pandemic. Western disdain for extremely omnivorous eastern eating habits is not new to medievalists, nor is it a distinctively modern phenomenon. Such disdain for “oriental” eating habits focuses on the purportedly unclean, unethical, underdeveloped ways of eating everything, including whatever is tabooed for a Latin Christian to eat. As Kim Phillips observes, many European traveler-narrators contemptuously comment on the unusual and extreme eating habits of eastern people, being disturbed while yet somewhat fascinated by such exotic eccentricity, whose viewpoints resonate closely with the popular modern perspective on Chinese people as “unnervingly omnivorous.”

This session invites reflections on medieval representations of “exotic” eating habits and their resonance in our time of pandemic, taking into consideration the recent epidemic of orientalist sentiments, assumptions, judgments against not “eating like white people,” in today’s terms.

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • representations of “exotic” food culture
  • medieval discourses of consumption and edibility (e.g., the debates on edible/toxic/prohibited animals) 
  • Christian food ethics and regulations
  • religious food practices
  • the biopolitics of race and food
  • food as medicine, medicine as food

Please submit a 250-word abstract for a 15-20 minute paper using the submission portal ( by September 15, 2020. For further information and questions, please email the contact person for the session, Soojung Choe (The Graduate Center, CUNY;