A situated discourse on land care, collective food growing, cooking, and eating.

Nourishing conversations


Steffie De Gaetano, Francesca Gattello, Silvia Susanna

Modernity has subjected the rural world to the extensive exploitation of human and non-human resources through practices of oppression and violence. This modern approach has led to episodes of internal colonization through actions of invasive or destructive terraforming. In Italy, during the fascist regime, a bonifica integrale was executed starting from the ‘Serpieri laws’ in 1924. The introduction of allegedly more efficient and integrated ‘roads, mountain passes, waterways, and irrigation systems’ included the development of ‘rural centers for the purpose of settling farmers on the land’, has given birth to what now can be considered a ‘difficult heritage’. [1]

In this framework, the imperial enterprise designed Borgo Rizza as a controlling unit for the vast Sicilian latifundia, which – in opposition to the urban sphere – was considered an empty land to occupy. This emblematic site of oppression, which problematizes the colonial relationship between the countryside/environment, the food production policies, and the imposition of an abstract model of inhabiting a place, is the starting point and the first case study for our project. Borgo Rizza is the place which triggered the need to experiment with alternative practices of reappropriation and resignification of a space loaded with a difficult heritage and tied to a history of oppression. During “Nourishing Conversations” we have cherished and inhabited the borgo with collective practices of care, conviviality, and knowledge sharing.

‘Colonial power, agricultural production, and agrobiodiversity are inextricably linked.’ [2]

From production, through processing, packaging, distribution, and consumption, to waste, the modern/colonial food system has established unhealthy, socially unjust, environmentally destructive food supply chains. Made invisible within structures of liberal governmentality and the discourse of the State, the exploitative, oppressive, and dominative Western food complex controls immense global resources. It is intertwined with the development of capitalism and rooted in colonialism. This system has legalized and normalized conditions of alienation, land dispossession and multi-species abuses by disconnecting bodies from both land and foodways, provoking hunger and malnutrition on one hand, and diseases and overconsumption on the other. The industrialization process has produced uniformities of food as well as extensively shaping the formation of national food traditions through cultural constructions.

Gathering around the mobile kitchen designed and realized by Marginal Studio for the Difficult Heritage Summer School 2022, we hosted a series of cooking workshops, walks, and discussions on collective food preparation. These communal moments have opened up critical reflections on the background stories of capitalist food systems and policies, agroecology, social justice, and the built environment. Starting from Borgo Rizza, we looked beyond its urban perimeter into the surrounding landscape. Our interventions have touched upon the local network of farmers, their cultivation practices and relations to the land; the colonial histories behind products as well as the colonial structures upheld by farming through forms of contemporary slavery; the constructed Italian identities around food, including local and oral recipes passed on through generations; and alien/invasive plant species.

The experiences of Nourishing Conversations at Borgo Rizza prompted a methodology for investigating cultural assumptions, questioning the genealogy of our meals, and re-considering specific kitchen attitudes. Through the case of Borgo Rizza, we situated our research in a site-specific circumstance, which allowed us to develop Nourishing Conversations as a methodological approach to address the colonial and modern structures embedded in food. Simultaneously, we aimed to create a safer space for collectively re-elaborating the relationships between body, food, and landscape.

[1] Joshua Samuels, After Wheat: Revitalizing Sicilian Agriculture through Heritage Tourism, 10/12/2017, pag 92 https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cuag.12097; Decolonizing Architecture Advanced Studies – Difficult Heritage Summer School 2022

[2] Joshua Samuels, After Wheat: Revitalizing Sicilian Agriculture through Heritage Tourism, 10/12/2017 pag 90 https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cuag.12097