Intellectually engaging and deliciously readable, a stereotype-defying history of how one of the most recognisable symbols of Italian cuisine and national identity is the product of centuries of encounters, dialogue, and exchange.
Is it possible to identify a starting point in history from which everything else unfolds—a single moment that can explain the present and reveal the essence of our identities? According to Massimo Montanari, this is just a myth: by themselves, origins explain very little and historical phenomena can only be understood dynamically—by looking at how events and identities develop and change as a result of encounters and combinations that are often unexpected.
As Montanari shows in this lively, brilliant, and surprising essay, all you need to debunk the “origins myth” is a plate of spaghetti. By tracing the history of the one of Italy’s “national dishes”—from Asia to America, from Africa to Europe; from the beginning of agriculture to the Middle Ages and up to the 20th century—he shows that in order to understand who we are (our identity) we almost always need to look beyond ourselves to other cultures, peoples, and traditions.
Massimo Montanari is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Bologna, where he also teaches History of Nutrition. One of the founders and editor of the Food & History journal, he is one of Europe’s foremost scholars of the evolution of agriculture, landscape, food, and nutrition since the Middle Ages.