Imperial Coffee, Fascist Bananas: Food in Italian East Africa, 1935-1941.

Simone Cinotto

October 28, 2019 - 14:00 to 16:00

U of T St George campus, Jackman Humanities Building, room JHB318

Food stood at the center of the Fascist project of occupation of Ethiopia and construction of the Italian Empire in East Africa (1935-1941). According to Fascist bio-political plans, surplus of Italian rural labor should have been redirected from migration overseas to the Empire, and Italian colonists should have transformed Ethiopia into Italy’s granary, fueling the regime’s policy of food self-sufficiency (autarchy) and further demographic expansion. Animated by racism and modernization of a backward land, agriculture, and nation, the project of excavation of food resources from Ethiopia prioritized mobility—from the construction of the infrastructure necessary to transport food to the ports on the Red Sea and from there to Italy, to the investment on products like bananas, which the introduction of mechanical refrigeration made possible to deliver on Italian tables as a “fresh” product of the Empire, and coffee, which was easier to mobilize and appeared to be the most valuable commodity for international trade. By and large, though, the Empire actually absorbed food rather than producing it, as Italian colonials to Ethiopia stuck to their foodways, generating much higher volumes of food imports. Notwithstanding Italian food conservatism and the strict segregation imposed by Fascist racism, there were instances of culinary exchange, hybridization, and invention between Ethiopian and Italian food cultures, even if they fell short of producing a full-fledged Ethiopian-Italian cuisine. However, East African “colonial food” widely traveled in the imaginary, being widely represented in 1930s-1940s Italian cookbooks, advertising, and propaganda newsreels like the quintessential principle and reward that motivated the whole imperialist venture. Regardless of the singularity of the experience, the case of the short-lived Italian Empire in East Africa contributes significantly to our understanding of the workings of empire in the circulation of bodies, foodways, and global practices of dependence and colonialism.

Simone Cinotto is Associate Professor of Modern History at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, the University founded in 2004 by the Slow Food Association. His research and teaching interests include Food History and Culture, Migration History, U.S. and Transatlantic History, Modern Italian History, Italian American History, and the History of Consumer Culture.

He is the author of The Italian American Table: Food, Family, and Community in New York City (University of Illinois Press, 2013) and Soft Soil Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California (New York University Press, 2012); the editor of Making Italian America: Consumer Culture and the Production of Ethnic Identities (Fordham University Press, 2014)

To Students in the Collaborative Specialization program: This seminar is part of the Culinaria Seminar Series SRM 3333H.