Cultural symbols, icons, and elements make up the national identity of countries. Italy’s national identity, for instance, is identifiable because of its flag, national emblem, and currency. Moreover, the country’s national identity also relates sites and monuments that can only be found in Italy, and the distinct culture shared by the Italian people. Other cultural symbols and elements include the Italian people’s love for food, and food, becoming an instrument in developing social meaning and identity in the country. The role of pasta in (a) defining the geographical boundaries of Italy, (b) developing social meaning in Italian society, (c) defining class structures and social stratification, (d) identifying economic profitability in Italy, and (e) illustrating events in Italian history, will be explored in the succeeding discussion.
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Alexander (553) conducted a study about Italian pasta, focusing on how the food defines geography and culture in Italy. In the study, Alexander discovered the important role of pasta in defining inherent social practices or factors, diffusion, and even climate in different areas or regions of Italy. The preparation of pasta, for instance, is different from one region to another. While strozzapreti, pasta cut into thick strips and mixed with Emilian ragu, is popular in Urbino, pasta in the Northern regions in Italy, such as Mantovani, Modenisi, and Reggiani, are prepared differently using pumpkin paste as pasta stuffing. Hence, the preparation of pasta and the kind of pasta dishes commonly served identifies the different regions in Italy. Aside from the preparation of pasta, the different kinds and quality of pasta also indicates the climate and environmental conditions in various Italian regions. One can only obtain Mezzogiorni durum semolina, for instance, from the southern region because the wheat from which this type of pasta should be obtained cannot live in the humid climate in North Italy (Alexander, 557). The climate in different regions of Italy determines the kind and quality of pasta produced, and therefore, the kind of industry that is profitable in these regions.
Pasta indicates profitable industries in Italy
During 70 B.C., for instance, the rise of pasta as a staple food in the country was marked by the high production of wheat in Sicily. Wheat became a viable driver for the local economy when Sicily began exporting wheat to other regions in the country, including Rome. Since wheat contained in storage spaces were easily infested by external contaminants, the Italians adopted a novel way of storing and preparing pasta. Therefore, Italians add water to wheat and dry the resulting dough (Alexander, 554). This illustrates how the production and preparation of pasta determines the economic conditions and viable industries in the country. Similarly, it also illustrates how the preparation of pasta evolves based on the impact of climate and environmental factors in Italy.
Pasta creates social meaning in Italy because it illustrates social equity during ancient times as it is considered the “food of the common man” in the country. However, as Italy’s economy grew, the varied ways through which pasta is prepared and cooked became an identifier of social status. During the Industrial Revolution, while poor people ate cornmeal because it was the only ingredient they could afford, affluent families, on the other hand, consumed wheat flour products, including pasta, tomatoes, and meat sauce prepared and served together as one meal. Since then, families preparing pasta dishes at home are known as wealthy families, while those who cannot afford pasta belong to poor families. Spaghetti is only served once in a while among poor families, but for rich families, spaghetti is served regularly, especially in Naples and other regions in South Italy. Hence, pasta became an indicator of social status, a symbol that defines the gap, for a time, between rich and poor in Italy.
The preparation of pasta in Italy illustrates the country’s history
Tomato and tomato paste as necessary ingredients in making pasta were introduced by the Spaniards. Hence, the preparation of pasta with tomato sauce signals the influence of Spanish explorers who came to Italy during. The different kinds of pasta and pasta dishes that Italians perfected throughout the years and recipes passed down to younger generations, were also influenced by other cultures, namely Greek and Arab food and culture (Serventi & Sabban, 230). Pasta also played an important role in unifying the masses during the 1800s. When Garibaldi freed Naples – an important part of Italian history – pasta was used as a valuable force to unify the masses. The proper preparation of pasta influenced what type of pasta was used to unify the people. Instead of maccheroni, Garibaldi introduced spaghetti because it was easier to produce, and thus, prepare and feed the large population.
Overall, pasta plays an important role in defining national identity in Italy because it can be tied to Italy’s history, culture, agriculture and industry, economy, and social conditions. The preparation of pasta also illustrates the quality of Italians as a nation. Preparing pasta takes time and a delicate touch and cooking pasta also takes expertise that only Italians can perfect. Connoisseurs of Italian food and culture often describe the major differences between cooked pasta in Italy and those prepared in other countries. From harvesting wheat to transforming it to dough, from shaping and cutting pasta to preparing pasta dishes, Italians exhibit meticulousness, which illustrates the delicate, dedicated, and hard-working nature of the Italian people.