Program Topics

Experienced, popular public speaker. Listed with the speakers bureaus of the Chicago Writers Association, Society of Midland Authors, and Northern Illinois Library Association. In 2014–2015, the rum history presentation was part of the Illinois Humanities Council's "Road Scholar" program; for 2017–2018, the corn program was selected for the Illinois Bicentennial Road Scholar Speaker's Bureau; and the corn program was picked up for the 2019-2020 Road Scholar program. Both the corn program and the pig program were picked up by the Illinois Humanities Council for the 2021-2022 season and have been renewed for 2023–2024. In addition, was a panelist for Heritage Radio Network's "Eat Your Heartland Out" podcast series (nominated for Taste Awards award in two categories).

UPCOMING SPEAKING EVENTS are listed on my Speaking Schedule page.

FEES: Base price is $175, plus travel expenses if venue is more than 5 miles away. (Generally fifty cents per mile, plus tolls.) For distances greater than 100 miles, fees are negotiable. Destinations that involve an overnight stay will include accommodation and meal expenses.

When COVID-19, weather conditions, or travel costs make live presentations impractical, programs can be given online, if you are set up to host a virtual presentation. The fee in these cases is a flat $165 rate.

When programs are live, permission is requested to sell books after presentations, when there is a related book.


"Destination: Heartland History" The history of the Midwest is remarkable and often surprising. Fortunately, people realized early on that it was worth preserving. See and learn about destinations and events across the Greater Midwest that reveal how a region famed for supplying food actually supplied so much more, including iconic images, legendary individuals, and inventions that would change the world. From prehistory to present, hear the tales and “visit” some of the museums, living-history venues, archaeological sites, historic towns, vintage farms, reenactments, and even restaurants that make the Midwest’s past accessible—and fun. (Narrated slide show, general audience, 60 minutes.)

“How Corn Changed Itself and then Changed Everything Else”  About 10,000 years ago, a weedy grass growing in Mexico was transformed into a larger and more useful grass—the cereal grass that we would come to know as maize and then corn. Nurtured by Native Americans, this grain would transform the Americas even before First Contact. After First Contact, it spanned the globe, but it also drove westward expansion in North America, building cities and inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs. However, vampires, whiskey, Henry Ford, time zones, Fritos, and the Chicago Bears are also part of this remarkable story. As Margaret Visser noted in her classic work Much Depends on Dinner, “Without corn, North America—and most particularly modern, technological North America—is inconceivable.” Come learn how and why corn transformed the Heartland and helped create today's world. (Lecture, general audience, 60 min.)

"Wild Boar to Baconfest: Pigs in History and Popular Culture" Pigs were the first food animals to be domesticated, so they have a history with humans that goes back more than 12,000 years. Antiquity is only one of the reasons, however, that pork is the most commonly eaten meat in the world. This odd, contradictory animal offers a great range of advantages when it comes to feeding large populations, especially urban populations, though historically, it has also offered several disadvantages. Pork was virtually the only meat available to most of Europe during the Middle Ages, and if you ask for meat in China, you will get pork. From the invention of blood sausage by the Assyrians to the creation of such American icons as barbecue and hot dogs, pig has long dominated the menu for all but a few notable people groups. Celebrated at fairs and looked to for medical research, pigs offer culinary delight and potential promise but also create some challenges. So the topic of pigs is as far-ranging as the pigs themselves. (Lecture, general audience, 60 min.)

“The Rule of Rum”   Food historian Cynthia Clampitt shares the reason rum arose where it did and when it did, how pirates got involved, and who really said “yo ho ho” (not the pirates), but also how rum helped unite the 13 Colonies, why it became one of the issues that led to the American Revolution, how it also led to a revolt in its next home after the Caribbean: Australia, and how it affected culture and history after that. (Lecture, older teens and adults, 60 min.)

"Seeking Spiceland" Throughout most of the history of civilization, people have been seeking ways to get to southern India, because a surprisingly large percentage of the world’s most flavorful spices come from a relatively small area at the tip of the subcontinent. The pursuit of these spices has had a tremendous impact on world events. However, today, tourists largely ignore the region that was for more than 4,000 years the destination of merchants, armies, dreamers, the Jewish Diaspora, and others. That’s a pity, because southern India is a remarkable destination that is rich in history, stunning beauty, gracious people, wonderful food, and, as one saying tells it, more coconuts than there are stars in the sky. Come learn a bit more about the spice trade, the place of southern India in world events, and the delights to be enjoyed by a traveler today. (Narrated slide show, general audience, 60 min.)

“Mongolia: The Farthest Horizon”  Author-photographer Cynthia Clampitt guides you on a trip through Mongolia, from Lake Khuvsgul in the north to the Gobi in the south and across the vast expanses of the central plains, where Ghengis Khan once marshaled his Golden Horde. Learn about the surprising impact of the “Pax Mongolica” on the history of the world (and, more surprising still, on the world's culinary history). See yaks and reindeer, towering sand dunes, the first milking of the mares, the opening of the Nadaam Games, and much more. And even take home a Mongolian recipe. (Narrated slide show, general audience, 60 min.)

“Waltzing Australia”  From sophisticated cities to rugged outback, desert to rainforest, Great Barrier Reef to ancient inland ranges, the land Down Under offers an often-surprising kaleidoscope of memorable experiences. Australia is a splendid destination with friendly people, astonishing landscapes, strange animals, great wineries, abundant birdlife, and rich history. Far more than a mere travelogue, this program covers Australian culture, history, geography, and lore. Though writer-photographer Cynthia Clampitt has visited Australia several times, this presentation focuses on places visited during the six-month, 20,000-mile journey that is the subject of her award-winning book, Waltzing Australia. (Narrated slide show, general audience, 60-90 min.)

References: Judy Bock, Geographic Society of Chicago,, 847-223-7627; Anna Demitraszek, Wood Dale Public Library, (847) 766-6762,;  Stephanie Driscoll, Schaumburg Public Library,, (847) 923-3395; Vicky Edwards of Chicago-area Mensa,, 630-629-8385; Scott Warner, Culinary Historians of Chicago,


So you know what I sound like on the radio:

Talking about my book, Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs with Brian O'Keefe on WDCB.

Talking about Hungry Magazine on The Restaurant Guys Radio Show.

Talking about Salt and Pepper on the Culinary Media Network.

Talking about writing on The Writing Show.

Contact:, (847) 537-7915