Food history professor Alberto Grandi made some polarizing claims in a recent interview, saying many Italian dishes are actually more American in heritage.
Grandi, who teaches at the University of Parma in Italy, told the Financial Times that he had been questioning the authenticity of certain “Made in Italy” dishes for years, specifically naming pizza, carbonara and parmesan cheese.
“When a community finds itself deprived of its sense of identity, because of whatever historical shock or fracture with its past, it invents traditions to act as founding myths,” he said, implying Italy’s food history could be more fiction than fact.
“Italian cuisine really is more American than it is Italian,” Grandi stated in the interview.
The assertions have struck a chord with the Italian government. The same day the article was published, Italy’s ministers of Culture and Agriculture made a formal submission of entering Italian cuisine into candidacy for “World Heritage Site” status with UNESCO.
That won’t be decided until 2025, but the ministries also applied to have UNESCO recognize Italian cuisine on the 2023 “Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is a specialized agency of the United Nations that describes part of its mission on its website as encouraging “the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.”
But now the debate for whose culture belongs to whom is heating up. Grandi reacted to the government’s attempt, telling La Repubblica that there’s “a lot of bulls–t” in the UNESCO application they submitted.
In a separate statement to CNN, Grandi explained his emotion around the controversy, saying part of the idea that Italians emigrated to the U.S. and taught people how to cook is offensive.
“They emigrated because they had nothing to eat here, they were poor,” he said. “They left because they were starving. It’s offensive to our grandparents to paint it differently.”