Eating Ethnicity: Italian Americans Writing Food
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines representations of food in narratives by Italian Americans. Building on Claude Levi-Strauss' insistence on food as language, I argue chosen foods, preparation techniques, aesthetics and ritual reveal much about ethnic inheritance, group ideology and personal identity formation. This work explores the use of and meanings assigned to food, and how that meaning has been influenced by the dominant American culture, stereotypes and prejudices, and at-home pressures to conform to old-world values. The use of food symbology in Italian American literature, as opposed to other avenues of signification--language, religious practice, dress, is also considered. The inclusion of recipe and ritual as subversive of or compliant with ethnic tradition is a primary concern. My first chapter, Food and Assimilation, examines perceptions of ethnic food, the role of food in the creation of an authentic Italian or American identity and the ways in which food may enable or hinder upward mobility. Two memoirs, Jerre Mangione's Mount Allegro and Louise DeSalvo's Crazy in the Kitchen, are the focus. In chapter two, Food and Faith, I consider Pietro di Donato's Christ in Concrete, Mari Tomasi's Like Lesser Gods and Tina De Rosa's Paper Fish and analyze food as it functions in descriptions of religious ceremony (feast days, sacramental celebrations) and takes on spiritual significance in lieu of organized religious ceremony. My third chapter, Food and Fast, explores depictions of eating disorders and disordered eating in Josephine Gattuso Hendin's The Right Thing to Do and Carole Maso's Ghost Dance. In keeping with feminist readings of anorexia nervosa, I argue self-starvation may be read as a means of autonomous expression. Considering the importance attached to the family meal, starvation emerges as an effective, though dangerous way to extricate the individual from the larger family unit. Chapter four, Food and Violence, examines violence to the body set against depictions of shared meals and celebratory feasts in Mario Puzo's The Godfather and The Fortunate Pilgrim and Don DeLillo's Underworld. My conclusion argues literary foodways as accessible pathways to discussion about the dynamics of class, race, individual and collective ethnic identities.