Date Awarded

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Charles McGovern

Committee Member

Jeffrey Pilcher

Committee Member

Andrew Fisher

Committee Member

Frederick Corney


Pasta gained international popularity simultaneously as both a banal and a culturally symbolic food in the 20th century. This dissertation contends that as pasta emerged in US and Italian consumer culture, negotiation of its dual meanings unfolded in the market as discourses of national and regional identity. This study tracks the role of governments, science professionals, cultural elites, manufacturers, and advertisers in articulating the meaning of commodities and juxtaposes these voices to the experience and contributions of consumers. Between 1900 and 1930, US Government officials, home economists, and advertisers recast pasta from a food synonymous with negative stereotypes of an immigrant population, into a commodity of no definite ethnicity. its raw ingredient, durum wheat, promised growth for the Depression’s flagging agriculture and deprived diets. Cookbooks and marketing for national, American-owned pasta brands disassociated the food from Italians in the minds of consumers and linked it to an American way of eating. After World War II, advertising reintroduced pasta to the American public as Italian, an old-world dish evoking cosmopolitan living for postwar modernity. The commodity appeared to democratize cultural capital but devalued the culinary creativity of immigrants. Italian businesses felt the postwar pressures of adapting to a consumer economy as US economic aid and competition legislated reforms in pasta manufacture. The goals of high volume and uniformity clashed with residual modes of production that supported a highly stratified market and artisanal variety. Under the banner of ending fraud and improving quality pasta for all Italians, large firms gained market dominance by offering a limited range of products. After 1950, private culinary organizations used tourism to resist the onslaught of homogenized taste they saw as resulting from American-style business models. Through guidebooks, events celebrating “traditional” local foods, and sanctioned recipes, they countered Italians’ weakened grasp of their own food culture while educating foreigners on the deep varieties of the country’s region’s food. Rather than simply limiting “American” influence, government and private authorities promoting a multi-regional Italian identity through food, I contend, revealed their endorsement of one of consumer culture’s ideological pillars: the market served as a prime site for negotiating ethno-national identity. Pasta emerged from the 1970s a food of contrasting identities, a pantry staple and a vessel of local identity representing a critique of standardizing consumer culture. Tracing the source and evolution of each of these discourses reveals the potential of consumer culture to support diverse identities but circumscribe the ability of consumers to control them.



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