The term ‘authenticity’ is often hard to define, simply from the array of implication the term brings. People will absent-mindedly say they’re looking for ‘authentic’ when searching for ethnic restaurants or grocery stores. The reality is, authenticity is not always so black and white, and the subjectivity of being authentic can muddle what it means to different people. Restaurants like Cucina Locale claim authenticity through simplicity in cooking, while grocery stores such as Masellis advertise authenticity in their Italian labelled products. However, there is always something to counteract these claims with their own definition of authenticity. Bologna for example is a particular region of Italy, and despite Cucina Locale’s claim of simplicity as authenticity, Bologna’s dishes are known to be extravagant in their texture and combination of flavours. Similarly Masellis advocated for Italian products made in Ontario to be authentic because they are made the same, but others may find that authenticity only accounts for the food that are made and imported from Italy.
Cinotto’s book The Italian American Table discusses this very idea of authenticity and the cases of fraud and imitation that arises from this topic. Despite the book focusing heavily towards New York, the ideas that come out from here are very applicable anywhere in places selling the idea of authenticity, including Scarborough. One particular idea that causes for the attention when regarding anything as ‘authentic’ comes from the way people imitate authentic. In the early 1900s, New York and New Jersey experience numerous cases of fraudulent product that claim to be manufactured in Italy, when it was actually manufactured locally. As time went by, these companies were careful not to illegally claim they are made in Italy, but would manipulate their wording to sound as if they were products of Italy. For instance, the phrase “tomatoes of Italy” would be unlawful to claim, but “Italian tomatoes” would be acceptable due to the variety of Italian tomatoes grown in America. The subtle difference allowed for their authentic marketing to work on consumer despite being grown or manufactured in the states. Additionally, products would construct a certain visual in their product, illustrating their brand with the colours of Italy, including familiar characters like Michelangelo and advertising images associated with back home. The phase of imitating products to be authentic was significant because it constructed a new culture of authenticity for the first and second generation Italian immigrants. Despite false claims to authenticity in their name and colour, these product aimed at the symbolic needs of the immigrants through these images representing Italy. In the end, it was the idea that immigrants purchased these product because represented a common textual and visual language that other Italian American understood. By giving meaning to Italian food made in America, it no longer mattered where they were produced. These symbols and visual representation of Italy on food became a culture of its own that in turn gave rise to a new understanding of authentic.
This idea if further reinforced in Jenkin’s article What’s authentic? And Does it Really Even Matter? Here the author explores the changes that arise from immigration, and the ways Italian families had to adapt and integrate to the food available in their new home country. As a result, new dishes would arise from such circumstances. What is inauthentic now could easily become a standard element of Italian cuisine down the road.
The term ‘authenticity’ is very subjective. The fluidity of food poses question for the term authenticity since food choices and options are constantly in a cycle of adapting and evolving. Authenticity could refer to food being made in Italy, or food made outside of Italy created in the same fashion. It could mean being simple in the choices of ingredients like in the case of Florence, or it could mean being extravagant and flavourful like in the case of Bologna. Ultimately, we have to be very careful in the way we choose to define authenticity, while being aware of the variety of implication the term could possess.
Cinotto, S. (2013). The Italian American Table. Food, Family and Community in New York City. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Jenkins, S. (2012, February 24). In Italian Food, What’s Authentic and Does it Really Even Matter? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/02/in-italian-food-whats-authentic-and-does-it-really-even-matter/253346/