The Italian American Table

The Italian American Table

Simone Cinotto in The Italian American Table, Food, Family, and Community in New York writes about the importance of food for Italian American culture. Cinotto’s says that food shaped Italian identity because of three reasons. Fist was the power of food to create and support families and sustain communities. The second reasons is because of the importance of the food trade in Italian immigrant economy. The third reason was because of the symbolic value of their food which helped them understand who they were. He believes that through this interaction with food and eating, Italian American ethnicity was a cultural, symbolic, and a social and physical one.  On page 4, his argument is that Italian American food during the 1920-1930s in New York explores the forming of disaporic identities through consumption and lifestyle, and the means that allowed these immigrants their self-representations. Cinotto writes about the differences of diets between North Italians and South Italians, and how in America immigrant cooks used a variety of different foods and products from Italy to make many new dishes. Similarly, intermarriages and often visits with neighbors from different backgrounds contributed to “culinary invention,” (5). On page six he talks about how restaurants codified these new Italian recipes to have standardized menus for Italian immigrant and American clientele. Later, he argues that food became a nation building symbol among Italian American because food was at the center of consumer choice that reflected class, race, gender, and relations of power (7). He continues on to explain that the success of the Italian family ideology were shaped and transmitted through food rituals and were rooted in class, that show both the “old” and “new” material cultures (8). Beginning on page 9 and ending on page 16, Cinotto writes about the structure of his book and briefly discusses the content of chapters. Chapter one is about the conflict between New-York born Italians and their immigrant parents. The second chapter argues that the construction of Italian American food culture was a heavily gendered process, and the role of women as providers. Chapter 3 explores immigrants from Harlem and their experience with food, and explains how food has been important to the Italian experience of ‘race’ during the interwar years. Chapter four covers the Italian food business and consumer marketplace. Then, chapter 5 reveals the realities and problems of importing food. Finally, chapter 6 describes how restauranteurs used food to represent Italian identity away from the Italian community/ nation. Cinotto concludes by reasserting his statement that food plays a vital role in Italian American culture and life that was and still is central to the migration, racialization, and Americanization experience (16).

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