Engagement Details

ITAL 358: The Italian Food Experience from Antiquity to Today


What to Expect

Rome and Florence, Italy

5/13/24 - 05/25/24

Course Description:
In this interdisciplinary culture course taught in English, we will explore the history and development of foodways and the history of food culture in Italy. In order to understand how Italian cuisine developed from antiquity to today this course will approach the subject from a variety of perspectives such as archeological data, historical accounts, art, literary references, and, of course, first-hand excursions and lessons. While in Italy, students will examine food, wine, nutrition, and tradition from historical, cultural, and culinary perspectives. Lectures will be complemented by archeological site visits, museums, tastings and/or visits to local farms, cheese producers, or restaurants. Students will learn firsthand from everyday people: farmers, family cooks, historians, archeologists, professional chefs, and creative entrepreneurs who hope to celebrate and preserve Italian heritage and culture. Since the course will travel from Rome (in the Lazio region) to Florence (in Tuscany), a special interest will be focused on regional differences within Italy and the history behind these differences. All courses are taught in English, and there is no language requirement. All majors are welcome to participate.

There is no better country to learn about cultural anthropology of cuisine than Italy. Italian cuisine has influenced food culture around the world and is viewed as a form of art by many. Specific cuisine and dishes are intrinsic to cultural identities and Italy is no exception. Regional differences are also an important but often overlooked aspect (or surprising for tourists) of Italian food, and these differences can be traced all the way back to the different ancient cultures who made up Italy before the Roman conquest. The modern regions of Tuscany (where Florence is located) and Lazio (where Rome is) correspond to the territories of the ancient peoples the Etruscans and the Latins and this class will look into differences between through groups through the lens of food culture and dining styles.

Sites such as the Tomb of the Baker in Rome demonstrate the economic power of the productive class in Rome, while visiting the National Archaeology Museum in Florence will show students how the Etruscans also commemorated their dead with scenes relating to food and dining culture. A site such as the Uffizi Museum links the ancient and modern through ways in which food and dining are omnipresent in art across time. For example, the course will consider the symbolism in Botticellis choice of depicted flora and fruit trees in his famous Primavera painting, or the importance of the fig tree and fig leaf to medieval and Renaissance Italian painting.

A walking tour of a Roman famers market ??" in the Circus Maximus ??" demonstrates the continuity of open-air food sellers in Italy, and additionally the continued value of small-scale producers, local, seasonal produce, and how these markets inspired the beginnings of the Slow Food movement and cuisine that is centered around promoting biodiversity and celebrating regional food heritage in a local rather than global economy.

This course links Italys cultural food history with contemporary production methods and techniques by having students experience an agriturismo on which they will be able to aid in and taste the production of olive oil, cheese, and wine. This first-hand experiential learning cannot be replicated in a classroom and will have a lasting impact on the students perspective on what they eat and where it came from.

Term: Spring

Participation Instructions: See program requirements to determine student eligibility.



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