Food is an integral part of tradition and heritage. Italian food traditions, especially, have progressively influenced cultural norms in Canada.
On June 15, City of Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua welcomed guests to city hall to spark interest on the topic of shifting traditions and new experiences regarding Italian food experiences in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Participants discussed the notions of “authenticity” as related to “traditional” Italian cuisine, Italian-Canadian restaurants, home cooking, new recipes and keeping old traditions alive.
Professor Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano, from the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), initiated this Community Conversation, titled Tutti à Tavola! All to the table! The event focused on Italian food and culture. Community members were treated to traditional Italian pastries alongside conversations about the Italianization of North American products and cultural appropriation. A reoccurring theme that echoed throughout the evening referenced the upholding of traditions against the influence of cultural perspectives.
“This event was engaging and allowed for constructive dialogue on food and its role in Italian-Canadian cultural identity politics,” said anthropologist and writer Christopher Sisca. “I look forward to more great events like these in the future.”
The conversation attracted those of Italian heritage and those drawn to Italian culture, including elders, local politicians and university students.
“It’s great to see a culturally adaptive and inclusive space that allows community members to talk about some of the misconceptions that are associated with Italian authenticity,” said York University student Shaieree Cottar. “Bridging the topics of food and cultural awareness in a Community Conversation is a great – and delicious – collaborative learning tool.”
Fables and Focaccia food blogger and recipe developer, Jenny Arena, was on hand to sample the menu and comment on the issues close to the heart of the Italian community.
“Food plays such a tremendous role culturally as does gathering around the table for discussion,” she said. “It was this experience of coming together for an enlightening conversation that enabled the community, Italian and otherwise, to learn or further enhance learning on the subject of food tradition and heritage.”
The Global and Community Engagement unit housed within LA&PS, launched the Community Conversation initiative, which aims to strengthen and establish local and global collaborative networks and make community spaces accessible to promote critical dialogue among local community members across the GTA.
Faculty members and community partners are encouraged to apply to host future Community Conversations and moderators are welcome to share their creative ideas.
The next community conversation, titled Cuba, XXI Century: Culture and Identity in Motion, will be held on July 7 at the Lillian H. Smith Library, 239 College St. For more information, visit the LA&PS Event Hub.