Food, Drink and Identity in Europe

By Thomas M. Wilson | Go to book overview

FOOD FIGHTS AT THE EU TABLE:
THE GASTRONOMIC ASSERTION
OF ITALIAN DISTINCTIVENESS

Erick Castellanos and Sara M. Bergstresser1


Abstract

This essay will examine the roles of food and 'traditional' diet in the
negotiation of Italy's place in the European Union. As the consolida-
tion of the EU is becoming a reality, Italian citizens and institutional
leaders have begun to voice fears that new laws, categories, and defi-
nitions will disrupt their ways of life. Recent doubts surrounding the
inevitability of Italy's place in the EU have frequently been described
in terms of perceived threats to Italian food products. Using exam-
ples such as the debates over product standardization, origin controls,
and the contestation surrounding the EU Food Safety Agency, we
will show how the distinct identity of Italians is often described in
terms of gastronomic specificity or superiority. We will discuss the
ways in which food acts as a powerful tool in the maintenance of
'Italianness,' and we will consider the impact of the EU incursion into
the valued realms of everyday diet and 'typical' local foods. Finally,
we will outline the ways in which these contestations have often been
used as a political tool to promote a suspicious view of 'European-
ness.'

1 This essay is based on data collected in Bergamo, Italy through a systematic
analysis of newspapers and television programs, interviews, and participant observa-
tion for our respective dissertations (see Bergstresser 2004; Castellanos 2004) between
2000 and 2002. Additional data were collected during short visits over the summers of
1997 and 1998. Funding for this fieldwork came from the German Marshall Fund of
the United States and the Fulbright Commission. A version of the essay was presented
in the panel 'Debating Europe: Questioning Culture, Place and History in the New
Century” at the Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association in New
Orleans, Louisiana, 21 November 2002.

-179-

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