Bitter Greens

Essays on Food, Politics, and Ethnicity from the Imperial Kitchen

By Anthony Di Renzo

Subjects: Food, Italian American Studies, Memoir, American Culture
Series: SUNY series in Italian/American Culture, Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438433189, 218 pages, March 2014
Hardcover : 9781438433172, 218 pages, August 2010

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Table of contents


Lucullan Feasts

Abruzzese Soppressata, Mozzarella, and Olives
Exiles from Cockaigne

Calabrian Onion Soup
Tears and Onions

Tripe Alla Romana
A Load of Tripe

Apulian Broccoli Rabe Salad
Bitter Greens

Sicilian Chocolate Cake
Dark Chocolate

Neapolitan Espresso
Coffeehouse Philosophy

After-Dinner Speech
Lunch with Trimalchio

Top of the World


Food-based reflections on Italian food, American culture, and globalization.


Despite the inclusion of six classic recipes, Bitter Greens is not an ethnic cookbook but a Roman banquet of political satire, cultural criticism, and culinary memoir. Set primarily in the Empire State and arranged like the courses of a traditional Italian meal, Anthony Di Renzo's wide-ranging essays meditate on Italian food at the noon of American imperialism and the twilight of ethnicity, exploring such issues as the Wegmans supermarket chain's conquest of Sicily; assembly-line sausages; the fabled onion fields of Canastota, New York; the tripe shops of postwar Brooklyn; Hunts Point Market and Andy Boy broccoli rabe; and the fatal lure of Sicilian chocolate. Is the new global supermarket a democratic feast, Di Renzo asks, or a cannibal potluck where consumers are themselves consumed? Sip an aperitif, toast Horace and Juvenal, and enjoy Chef Di Renzo's catered symposium. It will feed your mind, tickle your ribs, and heal your spleen.

Anthony Di Renzo, a fugitive from advertising, teaches classical rhetoric and professional writing at Ithaca College. Cited in Best American Essays, his work has appeared in Alimentum, Il Caffé,, Cottonwood Magazine, Feile-Festa, The Normal School, River Styx, Syracuse Scholar, and Voices in Italian Americana, and he is the author of American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque and editor of If I Were Boss: The Early Business Stories of Sinclair Lewis. He lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife and cats, and buys his broccoli rabe at the local farmers market.


"…an engaging, instructional, illuminating, entertaining and highly informative book that anyone interested in food, politics, and stylistic writing should read … beautifully written … by a devoted gourmet, and deserves a prominent place in any public and private library. " — Winesworld's Magazine

"Italian food epitomizes pleasurable eating. Not just the kind that satisfies hunger. It certainly does that, but it also awakens the palate, soothes the soul, stimulates the mind, and offers occasions for—even requires—companionable socializing. In keeping with its topic, so does this delightful and erudite book … [it] is a book to savor slowly and by chapter—much like courses in a meal—in which events and people, politics and ethnicity are shown to be connected in surprising ways through food. " — Italian American Review

"Anthony Di Renzo's essays do exactly what Dr. Johnson said literature should do: entertain and instruct. But they also flay, skin, skewer, grill, boil, and toast their subject, be it food, family, history, ethnicity, politics, or the self. At their best, and in faultless prose, they reveal the workings of an examined life with deft wit and pathos. " — Gastronomica

"…Di Renzo's work is a passionate and broad canvas of history, globalization, gastronomy, racism, immigration, and the stratification within 'classless' American society through scholarship and his own ethnic experiences. " — Maria Lisella, Feile-Festa

"With much dash, artistry, originality, keen politics, and classic erudition, Di Renzo takes the reader on a witty and heartfelt romp through history, gastronomy, and the ethnic experience. You don't have to be Italian to enjoy this appetizing and engaging book. Bravo, Antonio!" — Michael Parenti, author of God and His Demons and Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader

"What a treat this book is! Shaped by extraordinary scholarship and simmered in cosmopolitan wisdom, Bitter Greens is at once a memoir, a culinary history, and a social commentary. And Anthony Di Renzo's prose is mouth-wateringly delicious, his stories both savory and bittersweet. " — Sandra M. Gilbert, coauthor of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Second Edition

"Part history of food, part personal essay, part tour of Italy (both ancient and modern) as well as New York, Di Renzo's Bitter Greens is a delightful, entertaining book that takes the form of a delectable multicourse meal. It is a smart and engaging work you'll be sure to talk about; a pleasure you'll want to share with family and friends. " — Tony Ardizzone, author of In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu: A Novel

"Given the many cartoonish depictions of Italian American culture (and no aspect of that culture is more lampooned than its relationship to food), Bitter Greens is a welcome tonic. Di Renzo's essays, with their wide-ranging erudition, make food the launching pad for his explorations of the big questions of family, memory, and self. And they show how the answers to so many of these questions lie at the bottom of a bowl of macaroni or inside the casing of a salame. " — Lucia Perillo, author of Inseminating the Elephant and I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature

"Anthony Di Renzo has written a scrumptious book: part history, part memoir, part travel guide, part cookbook, in prose as savory and chewy as a serving of Puntarelle con Salsa di Alici. But Bitter Greens is more than a side dish: it's a multiple-course feast of erudition. " — Peter Selgin, author of Life Goes to the Movies: A Novel