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COURSE NAME: "Italian Food Culture"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Summer Session I 2020

INSTRUCTOR: James Schwarten
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: Remote Learning

Italy's deep-rooted network of local food knowledge is an excellent example for students to understand what food culture is, how food scenarios changed with industrialization, and how they are evolving further today. This course presents students with the basic tools necessary for better understanding Italian food culture. Its broad perspective encompasses traditional farming and processing techniques, the industrial and global food economy and changing consumption habits. Its anthropological approach draws from classical and modern writing. Italy is world-famous for its produce diversity and vibrant peasant traditions. By exploring the complex set of influences forming the Italian food culture, students will acquire an analytical approach enabling them to read through the other "foodscapes" that they encounter in their home country or abroad, and eventually choose, value and embrace career paths into the food sector. Even apparently simple, everyday food staples contain layers of significance connecting to the following topics: the peculiar man-nature relationship needed for their production; preserving and cooking techniques; the influences from foreign cooking philosophies and/or crops; the pressure of the global market; and the type of socialization involved during the meal.

The course explores the formation of Italian food culture, contextualizing it into the broader framework of ecological and nutritional dilemmas confronted throughout history. It focuses on each stream of influence that contributed to the contemporary picture of Italian cuisine. Students are first introduced to the main ways in which humankind accesses food (hunting, foraging, farming, herding and industrial farming). Next, the course explores the raw and cooked, breaking down cooking processes into four main approaches: cooking with fire; cooking in a pot; baking; and fermenting. Each displays different symbolic significance. Students also discover the creative power of scarcity by examining the ways in which the need for preserving foods created the most renowned Italian delicacies, multiplying both gastronomical and nutritional assets. To understand the interdisciplinary value of foods, the course explores some "cultural" Italian staples such as bread, olive oil, cheese and cured pork meat, describing their respective histories, their nutritional features, ecological and social roles. This explanation brings us further into the analysis of Italian food as a complex web of relationships involving the story of farming civilizations and the subsequent streams of influence that contributed to define regional recipes. Students will discover how recent the Italian food identity is and the forces at play in its current shape. The course will raise gender issues from home cooking, usually gendered as female, to the role of professional chefs (largely male) and look at the different forms of commercial catering (hostelries, restaurants, street food and fast food). The contemporary picture shows an unusual revival of the "cucina povera" and a contested concept of "typical" and "local" food involving labeling systems and the idea of "terroir". This topic leads to an investigation of the food chain and especially the social and political role of marketplaces throughout history and the modern retail system. Students will be challenged to explore the issue of food trade, from its history down to the recent debates on globalization.


1. Develop an understanding of the main Italian foods, such as e.v.o., pasta, cheeses, wine, that enables them to overcome common prejudices or myths and assess the quality of these staples.

2. Recognize the anthropological areas of influence which have contributed to shaping foodways, especially in the Mediterranean area (Middle-Eastern and Greek, Latin/Etruscan, Germanic, Muslim and French).

3. Define what food culture is and how it is related to other aspects of society such as gender, race, class and ethnicity.

4. Locate the history of Italian cuisine within the larger evolution of agriculture and food production.

5. Explain how global processes are reshaping the Italian food system from above and below (such as through international trade, homogenization, traditions and the new farm-to-table movements).

6. Develop research skills by carrying out a paper project, based on high quality bibliographical research as well as some fieldwork techniques, if appropriate. The methods, instruments, and conclusions of the paper will form the basis of an in-class oral presentation.

Participation and preparation Assessed qualitatively and quantitatively and includes such practices as actively participating in class debates/discussions, offering insightful comments, and asking pertinent questions. The grade will largely be determined on the basis of student interaction in the online course.10%
Research PaperMinimum 1500-word research essay on a topic relevant to the course and with at least three academic sources. Handouts will be provided.25%
Oral PresentationStudents will critically analyze an aspect of the food culture of an Italian region or city, or a typical foodstuff. A minimum of one academic, peer-reviewed source is required; additional sources must be reputable.20%
Quizzes (2)Each quiz is weighted 10%.20%
Final ExamThe Final Exam is cumulative.25%

A94–100 points = A / 90–93.99 = A- Work of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
B 87–89.99 = B+ / 83–86.99 = B / 80–82.99 = B- This is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
C 77–79.99 = C+ / 70–76.99 = C This is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
D 60–69.99 = D This level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
F 59.99–0 = F This work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


You cannot make up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean's Office. The Dean's Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will miss an exam must notify the Dean's Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up the work that will be missed.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


If possible, on-site visits will supplement in-class meetings.



WK 1

Course introduction, syllabus, goals and expectations. Food and the senses. Gastronomy as a field of knowledge.

WK 2

Food as an indicator of culture. The invention of cuisine. Italian cuisine from its origins to the Renaissance. QUIZ 1.

WK 3

Italian cuisine from the Enlightenment to Unification. Italian cuisine after unification.

WK 4

QUIZ 2. Italian cuisine from post-WW1 through the economic boom. Viticulture across time and space. PRESENTATIONS

WK 5

Slow Food, Eataly. Course conclusions. RESEARCH PAPER DUE. FINAL EXAM JUNE 26.

A detailed Syllabus and Schedule will be distributed on the first day of class.