On Tuesday, this summer’s virtual course on the History & Culture of Food in Italy had its final zoom session. During the session, the class got interactive as students engaged in a workshop on making tagliatelle all’uovo from scratch (with a zucchini pesto!). Professor Elisa Ascione used the workshop to discuss the links between tagliatelle all’uovo and traditional festive meals enjoyed by Umbrian families. Students were also encouraged to reflect on what they learned about pasta’s (fresh and dry, made of soft or durum wheat) long history in different parts of the country and its status as a symbol of national identity, something that didn’t come to be until after Italy’s political unification of 1861. Pasta, the students learned, was also a marker of the middle class rather than a common food for peasants.
The activity concluded a course through which students explored the historical changes of food production and consumption in Italy, and the many ways in which food shapes identities and politics. The use of food as a gateway to understanding processes of social and cultural exchange, political and religious influence, and economic and scientific development encourages students to develop critical understandings of history as well as an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Italian culture and society.
Even through the online format, the course offered a hands-on approach as students had to research, prepare, and present an Italian regional dish and a meal that followed all of the contemporary guidelines of the Fondazione Dieta Mediterranea. Though they made a meal that followed the guidelines for the so-called “Mediterranean Diet,” students wrote a paper that critically analyzed the diet’s history and current objectives. Though the class was not taught in Perugia this summer, students were still able to link theory and practice while virtually connecting with their peers for an engaging academic experience with Italian culture and cuisine!