Mangia Piano: Exploring the Internationalization of Italian Local Foodways

Mike Peters

Chef Fabrizia Lanza

From lasagna to Mario Batali, the last few decades have seen an explosion of interest in eating and cooking Italian. Teresa Fiore, Montclair State University’s Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies, together with the Global Education Center, the Coccia Institute for the Italian Experience in America, and the Food Management Program (Department of Health and Nutrition Science), organized a two-day campus event that explored how Italian culinary traditions have migrated into other cultures.

“Mangia Piano: The Internationalization of Italian Local Foodways” took its title from the Italian “Slow Food” movement, which since the late 1980s has presented alternatives to fast food by promoting local, traditional cuisines and sustainable foods. Held on March 6 and 7, the event featured a panel discussion on Italian foodways—the cultural, social, and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food—and a Sicilian feast featuring traditional foods inspired by the St. Joseph’s Table.

“I wanted to put a spotlight on how Italian food traditions have dispersed all over the world and introduce students to the concepts of fresh, local, fairly distributed food inspired by Italian practices,” said Fiore.

The panel discussion was opened by Grace Grund, a Montclair resident and food activist, who prepared a variety of dishes using locally grown and fair trade ingredients to demonstrate the meaning of “slow food.”  

Panelists included the University of Minnesota’s Donna Gabaccia, who challenged the validity of the national identities of foods by showing how “Italian” pizza is actually a product of intersecting foodways of North and South America, Spain, and Italy; University of Bergamo and Harvard University anthropologist Cristina Grasseni, who discussed the G.A.S., Italian solidarity-based purchase groups that buy in bulk from farmers to ensure food quality; and food scholar and chef Fabrizia Lanza of the Anna Tasca Lanza School, who challenged the myths surrounding Italian peasant food. Princeton University’s Professor Pietro Frassicas closed the discussion with remarks on his use of Italian food history and culture in developing educational projects.

“Showing how easy it is to prepare simple, tasty, and healthy food using local resources was a real eye-opener for those students who rely too heavily on processed, fast, or microwaveable food,” remarked Fiore.

On the evening of March 7, chef Lanza and Montclair State students prepared a delicious Sicilian meal featuring a menu of sweet and sour eggplant, or caponata; bruschetta; Sicilian pizza; fava bean soup, cauliflower fritters, Sicilian salad with fennel bulbs and oranges, and sfince –traditional St. Joseph feast sweet fritters. Lanza’s self-produced video demonstrated the intricate relationship between food, community, and sacred rituals in the March St. Joseph feast, which is celebrated in Sicily and in the Italian diaspora.

Besides sampling mouth-watering dishes, Fiore noted that the 200 event attendees gained fresh “perspectives on the origins, circulation, and consumption of food that counteract our obsession with ‘authentic’ Italian and Mediterranean cuisines.”

For more information about this and other Inserra events, go to montclair.edu/inserra (click on Events).

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