For the last couple decades, food has increasingly become a topic of conversation and controversy in the U.S. and internationally. Though food movements are growing in reaction to industrial food systems and globalization both here and in Italy, there has been little research done that delves into the topic.
The running joke in my family is that all we talk about is food. All we ever do is related to food. When we’re together, we’re either eating or talking about where we’re going to eat, what we just ate, or what we’re going to eat tomorrow. My family is Italian-American. Because of this, I grew up thinking Italian= food. This seems to be a popular attitude. When most Americans think of Italy, food is the first thing that comes to mind. Italy is regarded as a food capital of the world and their values of food are often romanticized in the United States. In the United States, many artisan producers generally focus on making their product “Italian” because of the stigma associated with Italians and their values on food.
As a senior at my college, we are given the option of doing a senior honors project. I wanted to do something helpful to a wider movement that was a combination of my passions. So my project emerged as a culmination of my majors, Environmental Studies and Anthropology. I’m fascinated by food and food culture and especially the movements surrounding food. Thus came the idea to delve deeper into the whole Italy food versus United States food and the food movements developing in both places. Since this is an extremely broad topic, I decided to focus my project on the production of a certain product and follow the process from start (the growing) to finish (the consumer). After much more thought than it should have taken me, I decided to study my favorite food; cheese.
The research I will be conducting is fairly typical in its anthropological style. I will be doing participant observation (working on the farms in Italy and Idaho), taking field notes and doing interviews. I hooked up with a cheese farmstead in Idaho and have been working there for the last couple months to gain insight into the way they produce their cheese and will officially start my research there in March. Once I arrive in Italy in May, I will be living and working on the farm for two months and gathering data there as well.
Once back in the states, I will be putting my anthropology major to good use and analyzing the data to compile a final written report that will be made into a spiral bound book and digital copies will be distributed to anyone who would like a copy. I hope to eventually get the report translated into Italian as well. In addition, I will be updating a blog twice or three times a week for the period of my research until the final report is done in January of 2013.
Though the U.S. and Italy have different histories and different cultures, both are facing changes in their food systems that have urged people to act against them. Food takes on many roles within a society and the process of producing food changes from place to place. Farms are a product of the place they are formed. My goal is to look specifically at three different subjects within the project: governmental policies, because they have a huge impact on what farms can and can’t do; the value that the people place on food, because it shows both what the farmworkers themselves believe and also how they adapt to the values of the customers; how the land and place is treated, because it is a manifestation of the value people have of the place in which they live and work. Through these three topics I hope to find not an in depth picture of how culture and food production interact in the individual countries, but a general idea of what the differences and similarities are between the U.S. and Italy. Through this cross-cultural comparison, a framework is made for future research into the topic and a pathway opens for the exchange of ideas on how a food movement can move forward within the cultural context of each place.