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The Italian American Table

The Italian American Table: Food, Family, and Community in New York City

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Italian American Table
    Book Description:

    Looking at the historic Italian American community of East Harlem in the 1920s and 30s, Simone Cinotto recreates the bustling world of Italian life in New York City and demonstrates how food was at the center of the lives of immigrants and their children. Drawing on a vast array of resources including fascinating, rarely explored primary documents and fresh approaches in the study of consumer culture, Cinotto argues that Italian immigrants created a distinctive culture of food as a symbolic response to the needs of immigrant life, from the struggle for personal and group identity to the pursuit of social and economic power. Adding a transnational dimension to the study of Italian American foodways, Cinotto recasts Italian American food culture as an American "invention" resonant with traces of tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09501-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Even a perfunctory look at the representations of Italian Americans in film and on TV reveals the centrality of food in Italian American culture. InThe SopranosDavid Chase (born De Cesare) created at once one of the most sophisticated historical narratives about America at the turn of the millennium and a hyperreal description “from the inside” of Italian American life. Throughout the series, Tony Soprano makes nightly visits to the fridge for ethnic comfort food like capocollo and eggplant parmigiana, usually to deal with his depression—a consequence of the unresolved emotional relationship with his mother. Tony regularly reaffirms...

  7. Part I. The Social Origins of Ethnic Tradition:: Food, Family, and Community in Italian Harlem

    • 1 The Contested Table: Food, Gender, and Generations in Italian Harlem, 1920–1930
      (pp. 19-46)

      The proposition that family has been socially and psychologically central to the Italian American experience has become an axiom, as three generations of immigration historians have demonstrated: the realms of domesticity and family intimacy have been the most significant venues in which an Italian American identity has developed.

      In her early classic study of the Italians of Buffalo in the peak years of immigration between 1890 and 1930, Virginia Yans-McLaughlin set the tone for discussion to follow: “All provide evidence for the cohesion of both nuclear and extended [Italian immigrant] families… . On the whole, they maintained strict sex role...

    • 2 “Sunday Dinner? You Had to Be There!”: Making Food, Family, and Nation in Italian Harlem, 1930–1940
      (pp. 47-71)

      On a summer afternoon in the late 1940s, Orlando Guadalupe, a student who was preparing a paper on East Harlem street life for Leonard Covello’s class, ventured deep into the Italian section of the neighborhood. Back then, that could be a dangerous trip for a dark-skinned Puerto Rican boy. Guadalupe briskly walked the streets of Italian Harlem, memorizing the images that struck him the most. He knew that “the Italians brought over with them their love of the opera, the most favorite games and sports of their dear Italy, customs and habits such as eating spaghetti, mourning their dead for...

    • 3 An American Foodscape: Food, Place, and Race in Italian Harlem
      (pp. 72-102)

      The 1930s were difficult years for Italian Harlem. In New York, the Depression hit Italian Americans—the most proletarianized of the European ethnic groups in the city—especially hard. Italians were disproportionately represented among the recipients of city and federal subsidies, particularly in Harlem, where the poorest among them lived. Covello estimates that “more than 75 percent of the people in the community [were] being sustained, at present [1938], through Home Relief Bureaus and other organizations assisting in the amelioration of conditions due to unemployment.”¹ Joblessness, a deteriorating housing stock, crime, and disease (the annual tuberculosis mortality rate in East...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  8. Part II. Producing and Consuming Italian American Identities:: The Ethnic Food Trade

    • 4 The American Business of Italian Food: Producers, Consumers, and the Making of Ethnic Identities
      (pp. 105-154)

      From the beginning of the Italian experience in America, the importing, production, and sale of food has played an important part in the growth of the Italian American business community, and understanding the central role of food in the making of Italian American identity means understanding what the business of food represents in the economic life of the community. In New York, the largest immigrant market in the country, the relationship between economic interests and the promotion of an Italian diasporic identity was particularly strong and enduring. Immigrant entrepreneurs in every line of the food business sought to link food...

    • 5 “Buy Italian!”: Imports, Diasporic Nationalism, and the Politics of Authenticity
      (pp. 155-179)

      Nearly every one of the many actors involved in the Italian food business in New York between the turn of the twentieth century and World War II tried to make consumers aware of the relationship between Italian food and Italian identities. No other group played a more important role in connecting food consumption with Italian nationalism than the city’s importers of food from Italy. From the time New York Italians constituted in a large immigrant market at the end of the nineteenth century to the declaration of war on December 11, 1941, New York–based Italian food importers worked strenuously...

    • 6 Serving Ethnicity: Italian Restaurants, American Eaters, and the Making of an Ethnic Popular Culture
      (pp. 180-210)

      One hot July evening in 1940, two men dined at Moneta’s, at 32 Mulberry Street in the heart of what was by then known as Little Italy.¹ The men were Federal Writers’ Project researchers working on a food guide to New York titledFeeding the City, and they had a lovely experience. The food was excellent, and the simple but fascinating atmosphere attracted a cheerful clientele. As they later wrote about the dinner, Moneta’s was “an effective stage for the rendezvous of brilliant judges, lawyers, writers, celebrities and beautiful women.”²

      The popularity of Moneta’s was not a passing fad. Ten...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 211-218)

    Third-generation Italian American writer Helen Barolini recently looked back at the values and ideals that in the 1950s guided the suburban life of her parents, the first in their families to join the professional middle class. Barolini recalled, “In adopting American ways and the modernity of the twenties, both my parents lost the old-world family cohesiveness and unity of their parents. They had discovered a whole world outside family—family was no longer the fortress one stayed immured in; there were other attractions like business and social success, a country club and Corinthian club, material possessions.” As clearly as Barolini...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 219-256)
  11. Index
    (pp. 257-266)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-270)