Dr. James McMenamin, Italian
Food and Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Italy
I participated in the Valley and Ridge program to improve an existing Italian topics course taught in English entitled “Food and Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Italy” with the goal of integrating questions pertaining to sustainability. In my course, students are initiated into the discipline of Food Studies where we examine the role played by food in the shaping of Italian culture from Roman times through the Renaissance. We consider which ingredients are at the basis of the Italian diet and how they have evolved throughout the centuries. We observe how they were grown, prepared, consumed and described, and how taste and eating practices changed with the introduction of new ingredients after the discovery of the Americas. While this course aims to provide a strong general foundation in the history of food, we study food and culinary transformations from a variety of perspectives often analyzing specific cultural texts with the goal of deepening our knowledge of Italian culture.
Since I had no official training in sustainability studies, I always felt that sustainability remained an objective that was confronted sparingly and without much focus in my course. Therefore, I wanted to use this workshop to explore how we can bring sustainability to the fore of our discussions with greater meaning and purpose. As a result of the workshop, I was able to prepare a list of core concepts and topics along with a course outline that highlights some of the key questions we intend to explore. One of the challenges I initially had teaching this course was to make it intellectually challenging through the analysis of primary and secondary sources so that our discussions were not limited to historical descriptions of past culinary experiences. One way, for example, was to incorporate readings concerning science, philosophy, and theology, but at times students seemed a bit disoriented. This is where matters concerning sustainability enter the picture: by providing students with a blueprint focusing on sustainability, my students will benefit by grounding themselves within an ideological framework so that they can better appreciate readings that can occasionally seem unrelated to food studies.