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Archival Stories of Food, Airplanes and Museums

Jan. 25, 2021

On January 28, 2021, the Northrop Frye Centre (NFC) will be co-presenting “Archival Stories of Food, Airplanes, and Museums” with the Culinaria Research Centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. “The NFC is very excited and proud to expand our connection with both the Material Culture Program and, especially, the Culinaria Research Centre, our co-sponsor of last year’s Taste Symposium,” says Robert Davidson, director of the Northrop Frye Centre.

Irina Mihalache and Elizabeth Zanoni will each be presenting their latest work on food and material culture at this event.

An associate professor and Master of Museum Studies director at U of T’s Faculty of Information, Mihalache is also an associate of Victoria College and an instructor in the Material Culture Program. Zanoni is an associate professor of history at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. She the author of Migrant Marketplaces: Food and Italians in North and South America (University of Illinois Press, 2018) as well as scholarly chapters and articles on immigration, gender, food and consumer culture.

Mihalache’s talk will explore her research at the archives of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. She disrupts histories of museums through an investigation of the museum’s first restaurant, Mitla. Opened in 1911 to resemble the Mexican ruins of the same name, this restaurant’s story is one of constant failures. Mihalache gives voices to the culinary professionals who are often excluded from museum histories, as the tiny number of staff at Mitla try to advocate for the significance of the eating space in a very complex and contradictory institution.

Zanoni will discuss her research at the Pan American World Airways Collection at the University of Miami. She will reflect on how archival sources provide glimpses into the postwar history of airplane food’s culinary infrastructures. Zanoni considers the physical technologies and facilities (flight kitchens, freezing technologies, food workers, etc.) as well as the knowledge- and culture-based infrastructures (media, culinary training, passenger complaints, etc.) that mobilized airplane food across geographical space and communicated meanings about eating aloft.

Davidson says, “From the technologies of extremely ‘mobile’ food to the aesthetics and politics of hospitality in the unique setting of a museum, Thursday’s event promises to be a compelling example of how archives can come alive.”

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