Mediterranean Food Culture and Identity

Erica D’AmicoInstructor: Dr Erica D’Amico

Summer School

University of Pisa/ Gambero Rosso Catania 2015

Main Goals:

The course aims to provide students with knowledge of the history of food of the Mediterranean territories, focusing in particular on the Italian peninsula and Sicily, attempting to demonstrate how similar food cultures are present in different epochs and territories, and to explain how dining habits and cooking techniques change. Sicily is arguably one of Europe’s top food destinations. The gastronomic culture on the island can be traced back to Magna Grecia times, and this strong link to the past makes for a unique, stimulating, place to study this discipline.

Furthermore, a major focus of the course will be to show students the unique characteristics of Sicily as compared to the broader Italian and Mediterranean contexts: by examining people’s dining habits in their daily life, we will discover the main basis and elements of the Italian cuisine. In order to achieve these goals we will address issues such as food trade and exchange, and the material culture evidence of vessels and cutlery present on the table.


This course will focus on food and food habits in human history, from early civilization through the Classical world, the Middle Ages and the Modern period. We will be treating themes such as the social function of banquets, dietary rules, food models, cultural identity and table manners. During the course we will look at evidence largely based on written sources, as well as archeological and artistic records.

In particular, students will compare and contrast the dining habits of different social groups across different historical periods (e.g. Romans and Barbarians/nobles and peasants/ lay and religious/ urban and rural). These elements are often portrayed very well by means of food models and table manners. This analysis of social, political, economic and cultural history can also be stressed by considering the spaces in which the people lived and ate, particularly for periods such the Classical (triclinia), the late Medieval and Renaissance (households, palaces and the interiors of monasteries).

Overview and key concepts:

  • Food through time: which food, how and why?
  • Food models and identity: nationalism (does Italian cuisine exist?), regionalism (northern and southern Italy/Italy and the Mediterranean environment/ mountain, sea and plain regions/urban and rural areas).
  • Past and present: food as an important and original element for understanding different social groups.
  • Analyses of interiors: dining halls.
  • Material culture, furniture and dining habits through time: how the table was set.