The culture of Italian food

Cultural Insights — By on October 3, 2008 at 7:45 am

I came across a great article about a movement that has sprung up in Italy to preserve the country’s culture of cooking and serving good food. Ah, but Italian food is always good, you might say. Perhaps, but the members of the Home Food movement contend that something of the country’s heritage is being lost – the sense that food is about more than nourishment or even taste. Rather, the culture of Italian food, they believe, is about bringing people together and about satisfying the soul.

“I am deeply convinced that one of the best things we have in Italy is our cooking,” says Marcante, 48, married, with four children. “Italy is one of the few places in the world that you move 10, 20 miles and you eat something completely different.” She goes on: “We have such an enormous tradition about the food and we have to absolutely preserve it.”

The Italian Parliament seems to agree. It is trying to protect the Mediterranean diet, citing it as an “intangible heritage,” by reaching out to UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, to recognize it as such.

But there’s a preservation movement burgeoning even closer to the kitchen. Called Home Food, this four-year-old cultural organization collaborates with the University of Bologna in the belief that “good typical food” and civility go hand in hand.

It also believes “good typical food” is disappearing in Italy. Hence, its mission to preserve and promote authentic Italian fare: the traditional recipes, the painstaking methods of preparation, the hug-and-kiss-on-each-cheek delivery…

“Eating traditional, local foods is an experience that brings satisfaction to the palate but, above all, is enrichment for the soul,” says Italian sociologist Egeria Di Nallo in an e-mail. A sociology professor at the University of Bologna, Di Nallo founded Home Food four years ago after being struck by how expedient and global Italian food had become both in restaurants and on the home front. And that, she found civility-shaking.

“Those foods are symbol and metaphor for a traditional way of staying together according to a cultural heritage that we are risking to lose,” says Di Nallo. She goes on: “Home cooks hold the key to our Italian heritage. So our goal is to access that wisdom, keep it alive and share it.”

The best description of the community-building culture of Italian food may come from this quote by Ornella Marcante: 

“Around the table, everything changes,” Marcante explains. “People feel better, more friendly, more open. And even in the family, if there are problems, when we sit down at the table and we try to solve them in front of the dish of pasta, it’s different. It’s easier.”

Check out the whole story, which includes some traditional Italian recipes.

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