This article begins with a parody, a fictitious set of regulations for the production of “traditional” Italian polenta. Through analysis of primary and secondary historical sources we then discuss the various meanings of which polenta has been the bearer through time and space in order to emphasize the mutability of the modes of preparation, ingredients, and the social value of traditional food products. Finally, we situate polenta within its broader cultural, political, and economic contexts, underlining the uses and abuses of rendering foods as traditional—a process always incomplete, often contested, never organic. In stirring up the past and present of polenta and placing it within both the projects of Italian identity creation and the broader scholarly literature on culinary tradition and taste, we emphasize that for so-called traditional foods to be saved, they must be continually reinvented.
Disciplining Polenta: A Parody on the Politics of Saving Food
Zachary Nowak is a College Fellow in the Harvard History Department. He is also Associate Director of the Center for Food & Sustainability Studies at the Umbra Institute. Nowak has written about the history of pizzerias in Naples, Chianti wine in California, unsalted bread found in Perugia, truffles found all over the world, and terroir found only in the imagination and nowhere in the soil.
Bradley M. Jones is a PhD candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. His research explores alternative agriculture, human/environmental relations, and neo-agrarianism in the United States.
Elisa Ascione is Coordinator of the Center for Food & Sustainability Studies at the Umbra Institute, Perugia, Italy. She teaches courses on sustainability and food production in Italy and on the anthropology of food. She has published articles on heritagization processes of foods in central Italy and on migration, work, and gender relations.
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Zachary Nowak, Bradley M. Jones, Elisa Ascione; Disciplining Polenta: A Parody on the Politics of Saving Food. Gastronomica 1 May 2020; 20 (2): 1–11. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2020.20.2.1
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