Italy and the Mediterranean Diet: Food Culture, Nutrition and the Question of Quality

Last Friday, I photographed a panel sponsored by the James Beard Foundation and the NYU Food Studies program at the Casa Italiana in the West Village. It was part of a 2 day international conference called Italy and the Mediterranean Diet: Food Culture, Nutrition and the Question of Quality.

One panel that really struck my interest was made up of Lidia Bastianach (Food Network personality and cookbook author), Maria Guarnaschelli (renowned cookbook editor), Anna Teresa Callan (Author, My Love for Naples), and Fabio Parasecoli, (Gambero Rosso Magazine). This group spoke about the authenticity of Italian food in America and how the translation of recipes from Italy to the U.S. by immigrants and fusion foodies defines what Italian food has become today.

If a family in Italy in the 1940s substituted lard in a recipe traditionally made with butter because that’s all they could afford, and that recipe got passed down through the generations, can it still be considered an authentic Italian dish? If a hot shot contemporary chef puts kiwi on a pizza at his Italian restaurant, can it still really be considered Italian?

Years ago when immigrants were bringing Italian food to the U.S., many essential ingredients needed for traditional dishes were not available so substitutions were made. Today, many of those ingredients are available, but recipes have been shifted so much throughout the years that it is perhaps hard to revert back to traditional recipes. When writing Italian cookbooks for an American audience, these elements must be considered. Americans have a certain expectation for Italian food and they are used to it being prepared in a certain way. My Californian mother could never get over the fish heads that kept reappearing on her plate every time she ordered seafood while visiting the Amalfi Coast. Does presentation, then, also determine the authenticity of an Italian dish?

An Italian wine tasting followed the panel.

For more information on this panel, please click here.

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