Food and Italianness03 Nov 2015, by Home in
The English definition of ‘authentic’ relies on Italian food as an example:
Oxford English Dictionary | AUTHENTIC (adj)
‘of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine: “the letter is now accepted as an authentic document”; made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original: “the restaurant serves authentic Italian meals”’
The connection between food and ‘il bel paese’ is propagated by both Italians and non-natives alike. ‘For Italians, the most important thing in life is food’, celebrity chef and ‘walking compendium of all things Italian’, Gino D’Acampo instructs viewers in ‘Gino’s Italian Escape: A Taste of the Sun’. Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling popular novel ‘Eat, Pray, Love’(London: Penguin, 2006) and subsequent film version perpetuate readings of Italy as gastronomic catharsis; and of course, there is Sophia Loren’s much-celebrated pronunciation, arriving in Los Angeles, that ‘everything you see, boys, is down to Italian pasta’ (‘tutto quello che vedete, boys, lo devo alla pasta italiana’). It seems interesting to trace ‘Italianità’ (Italian-ness, or ‘being Italian’) through eating not (only) because of the widespread popular association of Italy with food, but because of the particular emotive and mnemonic value attributed to food, especially when far from home. As Deborah Lupton puts it:
‘Food and eating are central to our subjectivity, or sense of self, and our experience of embodiment, or the ways that we live in and through our bodies, which itself is inextricably linked with subjectivity. As such, the meanings, discourses and practices around food and eating are worthy of detailed cultural analysis and interpretation.’ (Lupton 1996: 14)
Historian Terri Colpi’s study of Italian migration to Britain opens with the question of the importance of food in patterns of Italian migration, and though she speculates that the catering association might be exaggerated, she nevertheless describes how the economic structures of Italian migration are historically underpinned by food, particularly in Scotland: initially with ice-cream carts, fish and chip shops and cafés, and, after World War II, with the introduction of the pizzeria, trattoria and coffee bar. These images can be seen as highlighting some of the themes related to the production, consumption and distribution of food in migration and/or translation: authenticity, nostalgia, sociality, ‘home’.