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Black Milk: Colonial Foodways and Intimate Imperialism

April 6, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


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Part of Dishing: Food, Feminism, and the Way We Eat. Video now available on YouTube!

A talk by Diana Garvin, PhD in Italian Studies, Cornell University

This talk will use original Italian and Ethiopian sources to examine breastfeeding in the colonial marketplace as a key plank in the social construction of race and racism in the colonies.  Specifically, I will examine the Italian Fascist regime’s propagandistic newsreels and unpublished photographs of Ethiopian markets in Addis Ababa, Harrar, Quórum, and Asmara in relation with postcolonial oral histories and architectural studies of these spaces.

While breastfeeding represented a significant arena of political struggle over the care and nourishment of future generations in the colonies, contemporary historical studies rarely examine this practice as a primary component of imperial foodways. This stance builds on Kyla Wazana Tompkins’ assertion that food confuses physical borders between the self and racial others.  My talk contributes an intersectional approach to the discipline by using breastfeeding in the marketplace to investigate the Fascist regime’s twinned seizure of food and women’s bodies, a mode of cultural erasure that bell hooks refers to as “eating the other.”

Interweaving the voices of vendors, customers, architects, and government officials in this image-based study of Ethiopian marketplaces not only helps to untangle the filmic decisions and techniques that directors used to construct race and racism through mass media, but also offers a more cohesive portrait of women’s daily lives in Italian East Africa under Fascism.  Ultimately, I contend that the marketplace provided a powerful symbolic arena for forming, shaping, and perpetuating the racial thinking that defined Ethiopian and Italian people, markets, and foodways in terms of black and white.

Diana Garvin holds a PhD in Italian Studies from Cornell University. Her dissertation, “Feeding Fascism: Tabletop Politics in Italy and Italian East Africa, 1922-1945,” draws on Gender Studies, Colonial Studies, and Material Culture Studies and analyzes food as the physical evidence of power negotiations between individual women and the State in Italy and in former Italian East Africa (modern-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia). Garvin conducted her research at over 25 museums and archives, including the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale, the Biblioteca Gastronomica, the Archivio Barilla, and the Archivio Centrale dello Stato. Garvin’s work has been supported by the AAUW American Fellowship (2015), the Julia Child Foundation Scholarship (2014) and the AFS Sue Samuelson Award for Foodways Scholarship (2013). Thanks to the support of the CLIR Mellon Fellowship, she spent the 2015-2016 academic year conducting research in Italy for her second project on colonial foodways and East African women’s domestic work in Italian homesteads.

Garvin’s research has been published in Critical Inquiry and the edited volumes, Doing Research To Improve Teaching And Learning, Representing Italy through Food, Communicating Italian Food, and Food and Material Culture: Proceedings of the 2013 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. In addition to her publications, Garvin directed the conference, “The Language of Food: Exploring Representations of the Culinary in Culture,” at Cornell in 2012. Prior to her graduate work at Cornell, Garvin taught at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Associazione Italo-Americana in Bologna, Italy, and at the Université François Rabelais in Tours, France. In 2006, she received her A.B. in Romance Studies (Italian, French, Spanish) from Harvard University.

Her favorite Italian proverb is “O mangi questa minestra o salti dalla finestra,” – “Eat this soup or jump out the window.”


Co-sponsored by:

  • UCLA Division of Social Sciences
  • UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative
  • UCLA Department of History
  • UCLA Food Studies Graduate Certificate Program
  • UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies
  • Iris Cantor—UCLA Women’s Health Center
  • UCLA Department of Italian


April 6, 2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


UCLA Center for the Study of Women


Charles E Young Research Library Conference Room