Caption: Toto’ ‘Miseria e Nobiltà’- spaghetti scene.
Some could be skeptical enough to believe that the association between spaghetti and culture is quite hazardous. I don’t blame them for that. However, in the next lines I will explain how there might be a connection between spaghetti and Italian culture.
Welsh Professor Raymond Williams (1958, p.6) defined the word culture in two senses: ‘to mean a whole way of life the common meanings; to mean the arts and learning-the special processes of discovery and creative effort’. Both interpretations concern the system of meanings and practices that characterize the reality of selected groups of people.
Why, then, associate spaghetti to culture?
First of all, the famous Italian pasta includes a whole array of values and contexts. It represents the value of family and friends gathered around a table sharing a meal and a moment together. It symbolizes the healthy and pleasant Mediterranean life style. It also refers to the Italian iconic cinema of the 50’s, with a reference to ‘Miseria e Nobiltà’(1954). The film describes the misery of the post-war country with elegant irony and the unmemorable scene of Totò, a penniless young man who sees the spaghetti in front of him as a miracle.
On the other hand, from a culinary point of view, making spaghetti is an art. The simplicity of the method and the freshness of the ingredient conceal an innate quality and the uniqueness of the cooking process, which is the reason why, despite the attempts, it is impossible to reproduce it outside of Italy.
As a result, it shouldn’t be too hard now to understand why spaghetti is emblematic of the authentic Italian culture.
How could this apply to the general definition of culture is revealed by Williams. In ‘The Analysis of culture’ (1998, p.50) he suggested that meanings and values peculiar of a specific society, nourished by social heritage and manifestation, have demonstrated to be universal. In the moment when they are absorbed they consistently help the man evolving into the society and ameliorate his life.
Totò is the living example in Italian culture, and consequently, this assumption may become universal if we start thinking that every country has a typical food and images associated to it, which defines its traditions and way of life.
Williams,R. (1958) Moving from High Culture to Ordinary Culture. Originally published in N. McKenzie (ed.), Convictions.
Williams, R. (1998) The Analysis of culture. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press.
Williams, R ( 1986) Keywords A vocabulary of culture and society. New York: Oxford University Press.