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Of Migrants and Meanings

Italians and Their Food Businesses in Brussels, 1876–1914


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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Chapter 3: Food Businesses



Food Businesses

In order to grasp the meanings of Italian food and constructions of Italianness (Chapter 5), it is fundamental to first present the empirical data on which the analysis is based. Therefore, Chapter 3 and 4 describe the extensive data I collected on the businesses and the migrants involved. I methodically gathered and pieced this information together in order to provide sharp and detailed surveys and inventories that are unique and original. This chapter is thus very factual. It relies on maps, graphs, and tables that allow me to detail the food businesses that Italians managed in Brussels. It begins with a discussion of the sources and how they were used. The chapter is then divided into three parts that cover catering, shopkeeping, and peddling activities. Each part locates and describes the businesses concerned before analyzing the images linked to the food sold and names associated. The fourth and final part discusses the overall trends.

3.1.   A Note on Sources1

The study of any type of business in Brussels starts with the conurbation’s business directories, the Annuaires/Almanachs du commerce et de l’industrie de Bruxelles et des communes limitrophes. The ancestors of our current phone books, these directories not only provide information on the state’s public institutions, but also list inhabitants according to address, name, and profession based on official documents collected by the administration. It seems that a fee could be paid in order to advertise or add a...

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