Tuesday, July 16, 2024

“Fall Conversation: How Has Food Mended Cambridge?” is free and open to the public. It takes place at 7 p.m. Monday via Zoom. Register for details.

Over the course of the year, History Cambridge has explored how the city has repaired its social, economic and political fabric in the wake of historical crisis points – as well as the ways the need for mending remains. As a means of physical and emotional nourishment, food has played a central part in the creation of family and community ties in the city. In this program we will examine how the proliferation of restaurants serving Asian, African, Latin American and Middle Eastern cuisine affected Cambridge in the 20th century. To what extent did the presence of these restaurants create a deeper awareness of the struggles and contributions of immigrants to the city? How did the act of eating “new” types of food affect how Cantabrigians thought about the political climate of the 20th century?

We will be joined in this program by Stephen Chen, son of famed Cambridge chef Joyce Chen and the owner and president of Joyce Chen Foods; Merry White, professor of anthropology at Boston University; Megan Alias, director of the gastronomy program at Boston University; and Gus Rancatore, Cambridge restaurateur and author. Together they will discuss the ways Cambridge’s restaurant community was changed by the emergence of diverse cuisines over the past century, examining how food has served as a means of connection and how it has, at times, fallen short of this goal. The panel presentation will be followed by Q&A with the audience for a deeper exploration of the role of food in mending Cambridge.

Stephen Chen is son of famed Cambridge chef Joyce Chen and the owner and president of Joyce Chen Foods. Founded in 1958 and based on the standards and recipes of Joyce Chen, an innovator of Northern Chinese cuisine, Joyce Chen Foods makes and distributes healthy innovative Asian sauces, condiments and more. Born and raised in Cambridge, Stephen Chen is dedicated to preserving and sharing his mother’s legacy in the city’s culinary history.

Merry (“Corky”) White is professor of anthropology at Boston University, with specialties in Japanese studies, food and travel. A caterer before entering graduate school, she has written two cookbooks, one of which – first published in the mid-1970s – was reissued recently by Princeton University Press. Her current project is “Don’t Tell the Kinder,” a family history of art and rescue in the exhibition “Try All What is Possible: How Emil Singer’s Art Saved Lives, 1936-1942.”

Megan Elias is a historian and gastronomist whose work and research explores the rich history of food and culture through prisms of food writing, markets and home economics. In addition to developing curricula and producing online courses, Elias has designed and taught classes in the areas of food studies, food in world history, American women’s history and African-American history. Elias is the author of “Food on the Page: Cookbooks and American Culture” (2017) as well as other books, book chapters and articles about food history.

Gus Rancatore is the co-founder of Toscanini’s, the Cambridge-based shop that The New York Times says makes “the best ice cream in the world.”


Register here for “How Has Food Mended Cambridge?


About History Cambridge

History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name, a new look and a whole new mission.

We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We strive to be the most relevant and responsive historical voice in Cambridge. We do that by recognizing that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We support people in sharing history with each other – and weaving their knowledge together – by offering them the floor, the mic, the platform. We shed light where historical perspectives are needed. We listen to our community. We live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone.

Our theme for 2021 is “How Does Cambridge Mend?” Make history with us at cambridgehistory.org.