Stimulated by the explosion of interest in the Italian diet over the past couple of decades, this two-day event was an opportunity to contextualize and re-assess the meaning of Italian food through an inter-departmental effort led by the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies (Department of Spanish and Italian), with the collaboration of the Global Education Center, the Coccia Institute for the Italian Experience in America, and the Food Management Program (Department of Health and Nutrition Science). Through an academic panel of five experts and an evening comprising a talk and a tasting, Mangia Piano: The Internationalization of Italian Local Foodways - whose title was inspired by the Italian movement called Slow Food - reached a highly diverse crowd of roughly 200 people between March 6 and 7.
At the panel, historian Donna Gabaccia (University of Minnesota) challenged the validity of national labels assigned to products by showing how even something as basic as pizza represents the intersecting foodways of North and South America, Spain, and Italy. Anthropologist Cristina Grasseni (University of Bergamo/Harvard University) introduced the audience to the Italian G.A.S. (solidarity-based purchase groups) through which common people forge agreements to buy in bulk from farmers thus securing food quality. Food scholar Fabrizia Lanza (Anna Tasca Lanza School) asked us to challenge the myths surrounding Italian food, particularly the naïve identification of “old” and “artisanal” with “good” when in reality Italian peasant food in Italy 100 years ago was hardly attractive. In his concluding remarks, Italianist Pietro Frassica shared stories about his successful hands-on course at Princeton University on the cultural relevance of Italian food. The evening was enriched by a set of dishes furnished by Grace Grund, a Montclair food activist who illustrated the locally grown and fairly traded ingredients she used for a set of dishes including frittata with leeks from Milford, NJ; a salad with lettuce from Princeton, NJ and cranberries from Vincetown; as well as a selection of cheese made in Lawrenceville, NJ and apples grown in Bucks County, PA.
On Wednesday night, Chef Lanza prepared a delicious Sicilian meal with the students, showcasing several dishes inspired by the St. Joseph’s Table. Her self-produced video on the topic demonstrated the intricate relationship between food, community, and sacred rituals in this March tradition, still alive in Sicily and in the Italian diaspora.
According to Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair, the overall event had two goals: “On the one hand, I wanted to introduce students to the concepts of fresh, local, as well as fairly distributed food inspired by Italian practices. Students, who often relate stories of microwaved meals or lack familiarity with farmers markets, were able to see how simple and healthy it can be to rely on local resources for preparing tasty dishes. On the other hand, Mangia Piano offered critical perspectives on the origins, circulation, and consumption of food that effectively counteract the current obsession over ‘authentic’ Italian and Mediterranean dishes.”
For more information on the event and related press coverage, see http://www.montclair.edu/inserra/events/index.php#mangia.
For other Inserra events, see http://www.montclair.edu/inserra/ (click on Events).