294.1 The acceptance and diffusion of Italian cuisine in the face of the xenophobic violence against Italian immigrants in post-war Switzerland

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 12:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Sabina BELLOFATTO , History, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Today, Italian immigrants and their descendants are fully accepted in Switzerland and their cultural heritage is seen as an appreciated “Mediterraneazation” of the Swiss lifestyle. This acceptance and appreciation is the result of a long process of integration: Initially the Italians were considered “racially” inferior and culturally deviant, among other things because of their food.

As studies about Italian cuisine point out, Italians apparently show an extraordinary persistence to culinary conservatism (Helstosky 2004, Dickie 2007). So it seems that especially Italian immigrants cling to their native dietary with great tenacity (Levenstein 1990). In the 1960’s this attitude wasn’t tolerated at all in Switzerland. Therefore the repression of Italian culinary habits was considered a major factor in the “adapation” process demanded of immigrants in the postwar period.

Yet, at the same time there was a striking increase of recipes of “Italian” dishes and advertisement of apparently “Italian” goods in cuisine magazines and housewife-journals, which mediate a touch of dolce vita. Eating “Italian” meant in that context an attachment to a hedonistic lifestyle, perceived as fine distinction (Bourdieu).

My thesis explores this ambivalent attitude towards the Italian culture, and examines how a xenophobic discourse could prevail in spite of a certain increasing degree of “Italophilia”. As an intermediate result my analysis shows that a native population constructs its identity through food differently from mobile persons, for example migrants. Nonetheless, both groups need these constructions to define their own memberships – be it to a culture or a lifestyle. Concretely my dissertation is fleshing out, how the concept of self and others, and hence of identity[1], is constructed through food.

[1] In this thesis, identity is understood as a shifting, dynamic and temporary construction. Hall Stuart, „Die Frage der kulturellen Identität“, in: Ders. (Hg.), Rassismus und kulturelle Identität, Berlin 1992, pp. 180-222.