Why do proprietors of Italian-Canadian restaurants and grocery stores evoke authenticity to advertise their products?
The ethnic revival of the 1970s saw individuals reclaiming ethnic identities that their ancestors had given up in the prior decades due to the negative implications of evoking, for instance, one’s Italian heritage during the Second World War. Reclamation took various forms. One of the most prominent ways of doing this was – and still is – consuming products. Individuals wishing to celebrate their ethnicities became one of the major factors that influenced the increased demand for ethnic products. The other part of the demand came from non-ethnics, meaning people purchasing and consuming ethnic products representative of different ethnicities.
There was a particular demand for ethnic foods because as Marilyn Halter eloquently puts it, food is a universal and accessible way to express identity. People wanted to experiment with these new ethnic foods even if a particular food held no cultural connection for them because it was a taste of the exotic, and a way of becoming a tourist without leaving one’s country. There was an increasing demand for fare that adhered to the represented culture. In other words, people wanted authenticity.
The quest for ethnic foods is largely reflected in foodie sentiment, which emerged in the 1990s. It is important to note that the definition for “foodie” is highly contested; this could mean somebody who thinks and talks about food, or somebody who is knowledgeable about food, or simply someone who loves food. In any case, foodie sentiment spread across the nation. Foodies evaluate food based on two central criteria: authenticity and exoticism. Authenticity in and of itself has numerous sub-categories, three of which are significant to our project on Italian-Canadian cuisine. Geographic specificity establishes a connection between a food and a specific place. History and tradition relates to how a food “should be” cooked, how it has been prepared historically. Lastly, simplicity emphasizes a food’s distance from mass-production and connects to small-scale production. All three of these factors call forth authenticity, and owners of food-related businesses evoke these – alongside exoticism – to advertise their products more effectively.
Halter, Marilyn. Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity. New York: Shocken Books, 2000.
Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. New York: Routledge, 2010.
Long, Lucy M. Culinary Tourism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.
Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Food in World History. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006.