Professor of Italian, chair of Romance Languages and Linguistics
- By Megan Morley Thomas
Cristina Mazzoni, Italian professor and chair of Romance Languages and Linguistics explains how she’s been fortunate to indulge in melding her personal, pedagogical and scholarly interests in cooking and Italian food culture as they relate to literature: “I see a connection between instructions on how to cook and the ways I teach my students how to read something,” she says. “I’m associating the act of reading that I do as a literary critic with subjects that are not necessarily traditional literature. Just as when somebody asks me for a recipe -- I don’t have it written down, I just say, ‘Oh, you know, you take a little of this, a little of that.’”
Bringing her varied cultural interests into the classroom -- from her early fascination with mystic women writers to her view of food as a prism through which societies can be observed -- makes her naturally more enthusiastic, Mazzoni says. And it’s clearly infectious. Second-year anthropology major Melissa Guzikowski, who took three courses with Mazzoni, calls her amazing. “She is the reason I decided to pursue Italian studies,” says Guzikowski, “minoring in Italian and studying abroad in Italy.”
Mazzoni's colleague Gayle Nunley, professor of Spanish, is quick to note that Mazzoni has been extremely successful and productive at UVM, publishing numerous books at some of the finest university presses. Of Mazzoni's recent appointment as a prestigious University Scholar Nunley says: “The honor recognizes her stature in the scholarly community as well as her embodiment of the teacher-scholar model that UVM prides itself on.”
“… taste metaphors shape and guide us in our understanding of the world around us and within us.” -- Mazzoni
In a recent talk, “How to Pick, Peel, and Eat Oranges Like an Italian: Recipes for Reading,” Mazzoni likens her graceful approach to revealing an orange’s juicy flesh to the way she cooks and to the way she teaches her students to approach a work of literature -- or the cinema or art for that matter. As themes simmer throughout Italian culture, ancient and new, Mazzoni follows where they take her. Her recipes, she makes clear, in both the kitchen and the classroom, are not carefully codified instructions that lead to uniform outcomes.
Taste, Mazzoni says, is considered the lowest of the human senses, well beneath sight and hearing. “Smell and taste are more animalistic,” she says. “Distinguishing between sweet and bitter is an experience that’s very primal to us and it makes sense that we should use it as a metaphor to try to understand something that is more than sensual. And it makes sense that language helps us do that.”