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Of Migrants and Meanings

Italians and Their Food Businesses in Brussels, 1876–1914

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Olivier de Maret

The circulation of goods, ideas, and people has shaped a common European food culture. But practical questions pertaining to this process remain unanswered. How and why do changes in food habits occur and what are their implications? What are the social and cultural processes involved between hosts and migrants and how do they play out in the face of economic and political imperatives? This book addresses these questions through the combined study of food and migration in the past.
By building on studies in the fields of anthropology, geography, history, and sociology, the present monograph analyzes the public foodways of Italian migrants in Brussels at the turn of the twentieth century as a way of exploring how migrants used the business of food to construct meaning and articulate sentiments of belonging. It describes and discusses Italian neighborhoods, migratory patterns, occupations, and food businesses (i.e. cafés, restaurants, shops, and peddling activities) by applying quantitative and qualitative methods of interpretation to archival, business, journalistic, and photographic sources. The study bridges a gap in the historiography of Italian food and migration by providing a Western European counterpoint to Italian experiences in North and South America and a thorough discussion of the forging of Italianness outside of Italy at a crucial time in that nation’s history. This book ultimately underlines the creative and innovative role migrants play in the social and cultural processes that shape human societies.
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Acknowledgements

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The present monograph constitutes the revised version of my doctoral dissertation discussed on 23 June 2015 at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. In the process of transforming it into a book, I have made changes following comments I received and with the desire to render my work accessible to a wide audience. Besides content, structural, and stylistic revisions, the major difference has been the exclusion of the detailed statistical tables that formed the annexes in the original study and whose main results are discussed in the text. Nevertheless, I have chosen to publish in a single annex the database of Italian caterers and shopkeepers I drafted, as it offers essential information in a concise manner. I refer the readers who wish to consult all the statistical tables to my doctoral dissertation, Italian Food Businesses and the Construction of Italianness in Late-Nineteenth-Century Brussels: Enterprises, Migrants and Meanings, copies of which are held at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the City of Brussels Archives.

Over the years spent working and reflecting on this project, I have incurred many debts. I am especially grateful to my supervisor, Peter Scholliers, and my co-supervisor, Fabio Parasecoli, for believing in me and providing all the support needed to realize such a project. I have benefitted immensely from the precious advice and constructive comments of Michel Dumoulin, Yann Grappe, Marc Jacobs, Anne Morelli, Panikos Panayi, and Patricia Van den Eeckhout. I thank Thérèse Symons and the personnel of the City of Brussels...

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