Italian Food Bibliography

Ades, John I. ‘Vergil (Or Aeneas) et Pizza’, The Classical Journal 64 (1969), 268. A jocular one-page attempt to find the origins of pizza in book VII of the Aeneid where Aeneas and his men eat their ‘tables’ – food had been spread out on pastry bases. ‘There you have it: wheaten base – slender cakes – fateful circles of crust crowned with a mixture of food – in this case, fruit, but the dearth of pepperoni in those innocent years can easily account for this culinary felicity’. SY

Andrews, Alfred ‘Acclimatization of Citrus Fruits in the Mediterranean Region’, Agricultural History 35 (1961), 35-46. The author essentially offers a corrective to Samuel Tolkowsky’s classic study of citrus fruits: Hesperides. Andrews covers the arrival of citrus fruits in the Levant, in Greece, in Egypt and in Italy. For the last he makes an overwhelming case that citrus trees were already being grown in the peninsula by the first century AD, leaving their traditional carriers, the Sicilian Arabs, somewhat out in the cold. SY

Barilla Company Pasta: History, Technologies and Secrets of Italian Tradition – Don’t expect a straightforward hard-sell of Barilla pasta products, as this book is well-researched and full of period photos and literary citations about pasta. Though most of the book is dedicated to the modern methods of pasta production, as well as its nutritional content, there is a thorough section at the beginning that discusses pasta’s origins and history (including, interestingly enough, accounts of workers rebellions against industrialization). (Barilla Alimentare s.p.a., 2001)  ZN

Bober, Phyllis Pray Art, Culture and Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy. Bober’s overriding theory – that there is a link between cooking and more generalised cultural trends – can politely go stew. It is presumably right though it is difficult to demonstrate for many of the periods that the author is dealing with. However, this book, which brings together her musings on food from prehistory to the late Gothic style, makes for one of the best general introductions  to food history: and all written by a wise, opinionated and witty scholar whose love affair with food began in her mother’s kitchen in the entre-duex-guerres and continued in the 1960s at NYU with her food recreation workshops. Italian content includes a remarkable rant on the origins of pasta and the question of continuity from Roman to modern Italian cooking. Her final promise to write ‘in a subsequent volume…’ was not, unfortunately, kept. Death intervened in 2002. (University of Chicago 2002). SY

Bongarzoni, Oretta Pranzi d’autore: Le migliori ricette nei capolavori della letteratura [Authored Meals: The Best Recipes from the Classics of Literature]. Bongarzoni begins with a quotation from Joseph Conrad that, in a very real sense, she spends the rest of the book undermining:  ‘Of all the books produced since the most remote age by human talents and industry those only that treat of cooking are, from a moral point of view, above suspicion.’ Certainly she has brought together a curious and potent series of recipes for dishes mentioned by great authors from Tolstoy (raspberry icecream) to ‘Moses’ (manna!). The detective work behind this slim volume (145 pp.) stands in her having sought out credible ingredients and procedures to substantiate fleeting allusions. Italian content low – four authors out of thirty four – and surprising. So there is Lampedusa but also Comisso, Nievo and Tabucchi. (Riuniti 1994). SY

Buford, Bill Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany —Journalist-turned-soux chef Bill Buford describes his “sabbatical year” working with two of the world’s most famous chefs: Mario Battelli and Dario Cecchini (Tuscany’s co-called “poet-butcher”). The interest in the book lies in the descriptions of “Italian food”: early on, describing the work at Battelli’s Babbo, Buford has Battelli recount his own pilgrimage to Italy to find the Italian cuisine…a cuisine which resembles only vaguely what Battelli puts on the table in his restaurant. Buford’s own trip to Tuscany, and his subsequent apprenticeships with Cecchini, occupy the second half of the book. While his portrait of Cecchini is exaggerated, written to make the already larger-than-life butcher look histrionic, the discussion of the (for Cecchini, only relative) importance of the race of a cow to the taste of its meat is interesting. (Vintage, 2006) ZN

Buglione, Daniela  “Il processo d’internazionalizzazione dell’impresa: Il caso McDonald’s una strategia glocale” (The process of the internationalization of the firm: The glocal strategy of McDonald’s) –  In her as yet unpublished thesis, Daniela Buglione discusses the evolution of a multinational towards a more “glocal” strategy. The abstract of the paper translated into English is available in the main section of the blog. ZN

Camporesi, Piero  Bread of Dreams – A rambling, at times intriguing account of peasant life in Europe. Camporesi’s uses contemporary accounts to suggest that the combination of hunger (or its constant shadow) and food that was either intentionally or unintentionally full of psychoactive substances (from wild herbs to ergot rust in rye) left the pre-industrial population in an almost constant state of hallucination. While the premise is interesting, Camporesi’s repetition and extremely long citations cause the reader’s interest to lag. Translated by David Gentilcore. (University of Chicago Press, 1996)  ZN

Canavari, Maurizio. Sergio Rivaroli and Roberta Spadoni ‘Positioning and Competitiveness of Producers of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena’, Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing 18 (2006), 119-138. A description of the balsamic vinegar trade that in 2006 managed to sell forty two million liters of their product world-wide. The authors examine competitiveness in the market place with a series of highly technical cluster analyses. SY

Crosby, Jr., Alfred W.  The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 It’s not often that an author coins a term that is then used thereafter. Alfred Crosby Jr. did just that in 1972 when his book was published. Crosby knits together the then-overlooked consequences of the biological reuniting of the East and West hemispheres. Though there are chapters on disease (including a fascinating one on the possible American origins os syphilis), the interest for scholars of Italian food lies in the part of the book that discusses the New World products taken back to Europe, the most important being potatoes, mais, and tomatoes. Incidentally it’s worth it to get the new, 30th anniversary edition of the book, in which Crosby reviews his mistakes as well as the parts of the book that have stood up to thirty years of research since its publication.  (Prager, 2003) ZN

Crotty, Patricia ‘The Mediterranean Diet as a Food Guide: The Problem of Culture and History’, Nutrition Today 33 (1998), 227-232. Crotty, an Australian nutritionist, describes the Mediterranean Diet as ‘an ersatz consumption pattern’ – the horror! She makes the obvious but important point that there are many Mediterranean diets, not least within Italy itself. She also makes the case that national diets are rooted in social realities and that they cannot easily be uprooted and planted elsewhere. A readable, sceptical overview with many references to the author’s native land. SY

Dickie, John Delizia! The Epic History of Italians and their Food – Don’t make the present reviewer’s initial mistake of taking this for a shallow popularisation. The fact is that Dickie’s book comes with attitude. First, Italian food history begins not with the Romans et alii but with the city states in the Middle Ages. Second, Italian food is urban and has little or nothing to do with idealised Italian contadini tilling the land. Dickie jumps through the centuries with alarming ease: from the possibly Arab origins of pasta to modern myth-making with a final ambivalent nod to Slow Food. And against the odds it all somehow hangs together… The only reliable AND readable narrative of Italian food history in English. (Sceptre 2008) SY

Diner, Hasia  Hungering For America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration –Nature abhors a vacuum, and pop culture loves a good story. As an explanation for the pasta&pizza-dominated Italian-American cuisine, pop food historians have hypothesized a link between it and the waves of southern Italians who left Italy after unification. The thesis is that these peasants brought with them their culinary traditions—pizza, spaghetti, and dishes made from game (Chicken Cacciatore)—which then became the basis, albeit today somewhat corrupted, of Italian-American food. In her book Diner dedicates two chapters to the foodways of Italians both before and after they left for America. These chapters demolish the hypothesis that Italian-American food was simply typical dishes of these peasants, carried across the Atlantic like so much baggage. As Diner shows, Italian peasants had a miserable diet based on dark bread made from inferior grains, vegetables, and a diet extremely poor in meat and fats. The second of the two chapters that deals with Italian immigrants in the United States details the processes that contributed to this creation of this new cuisine. The cuisine that the Italians created in the United States was a combination of what they had seen nobles eat (indeed, what they had labored to produce for the middle and upper class) and the relative food abundance in the United States.  (Harvard University Press, 2003)  ZN

Franconie, Hélène, ‘Things from the New World in the European Dialects’, Food and Foodways 9 (2000), 21-58. Desperately impressive linguistic study looking principally at the various European names for maize with an attempt to establish priority and origins for these words. Franconie then attempts to apply this model to other American foods including potatoes and the turkey. Italy naturally figures. SY

Gabaccia, Donna We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans – Eschewing the convenient “melting pot” metaphor, Gabaccia chronicles the evolution of American cuisine that despite culinary conservatism from both sides – the “natives”, themselves relatively recent arrivals, and the newest immigrants—was marked by a tendency towards innovation. American food is, as Gabbaccia carefully shows, not simply a sum of national (mostly European) cuisines, but rather a kaleidoscope of dishes that were half-American and half-European. The parts of the book that deal with Italian immigrants underlines this thesis: the reader understands spaghetti with meatballs as a construction of immigrants who only rarely ate pasta and almost never ate meat, the meatballs a symbol of having “made it” in the New World. (Harvard University Press, 1998) ZN

Gentilcore, David Pomodoro! The History of the Tomato in Italy – Taking a page from Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A World History, Gentilcore follows the wandering path of Solanum lycopersicum from its introduction to Europe as part of the “Columbian Exchange” to its central place as the protagonist of Italian cuisine. Given the tomato’s current importance to Italian foodways, one would guess that it was eagerly accepted soon after arriving via the Spanish from South America: Gentilcore’s book shows otherwise, explaining that it took century’s for the “love apple” to move from its “botanical” to its cultural stage, with industrialization and new preservation techniques fundamental to the process. (Columbia University Press, 2010) ZN

Grieco, Allen J. “Olive Cultivation and the Alimentary Use of Olive Oil in Late Medieval Italy (ca. 1300-1500).” In “Oil and Wine Production in the Mediterranean Area,” ed. M.C. Amouretti and J.P. Brun, Bulletin de Correspondence Hellenique (Supplement 26). This hard-to-find article’s full title is “Olive Tree Cultivation and the Alimentary Use of Olive Oil in Late Medieval Italy (ca. 1300-1500). It’s most important finding is that the projection of present-day alimentary geography (i.e. where a food product is used presently) is problematic for a number of reasons. Grieco also discusses, in a second, smaller section, the use of olive oil as a food product, and he finds that while there does not seem to be much truth to the much-popularized “butter line,” there is a general correlation with the amount of olive oil used and income.  ZN

Gvion, Liora ‘What’s Cooking in America? Cookbooks Narrate Ethnicity’, Food, Culture and Society, 12 (2009), 53-76 : ‘This paper rests on an analysis of 1,309 cookbooks, published in the United States from 1850 though 1990.’ Exploration of American identity with – naturally given the importance of Italian immigration to the ‘Short America’ – high Italian content. SY

Kertzer, David ‘Politics and Ritual: The Communist Festa in Italy’, Anthropological Quarterly 47, (1974), 374-389. Examination of how the Communist party managed, in its central Italian heartlands, to replace the church, in the post-war period, as the arbiter of feste. This particular study focuses on Albora on the edges of Bologna. Food making and food serving both feature prominently as befits an Italian sagra and there is also an unpleasant game involving pulling a goose’s head off – those with Anglo-Saxon sensitivities will be glad to know that in later years the goose was first killed… SY

Kurlansky, Mark Salt: A World History – it’s not surprising that Kurlansky (author of Cod and The Big Oyster) can make the study of a single food commodity so gripping. With Simon Winchester-like prose, the author follows the history of salt and its use from classical times to present, using the vicissitudes of “the only rock we eat” to underline the structural changes in the European economy (especially after the “discovery” of the Americas). My only regret (and this a rather parochial one) is that while there are various mentions of salt in Italy, the Salt War of 1540 (between the city of Perugia and Pope Paul III) is not treated. I suppose if that’s my worst complaint, I can wholeheartedly endorse the book. (Penguin, 2002) ZN

La Cecla, Franco Pasta and Pizza – In this charming little volume, originally published in Italian, La Cecla traces how pasta and pizza—two foods not widely eaten until the twentieth century in Italy—came to embody national identity. Both pasta and pizza are treated individually, and both are followed from the Risorgimento through the exodus of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Especially interesting is the discussion of the “creation” of Italian cuisine outside of Italy’s borders. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007) ZN

Leitch, Alison ‘Slow Food and the Politics of Pork Fat: Italian Food and European Identity’, Ethnos 68 (2003), 437-362. The author returns to the site of her doctoral thesis, Carrara, changing focus though from the local quarries to the local food speciality, lardo di Colonnata – pork fat… She follows particularly the efforts of Slow Food to defend lardo from EU legislation in 1996 and the re-remembering of food traditions in the town as lardo production is threatened. The work veers from the frankly bibliographical to the unrestrainedly theoretical and includes a good summary of the leftist background and early history of Slow Food. SY

Luconi, Stefano ‘Becoming Italian in the US: Through the Lens of Life Narratives’, Melus 29 (2004), 152-164. Useful overview of how it was that immigrants to the United States from a non-existent or barely existing country became Italo-Americans as opposed to, say, Lombard-Americans. Answers include ‘being called a wop’, ‘admiring Mussolini’ and, of course, food – ‘[even her mother] found her way back to her heritage… starting in her kitchen’. SY

Minervini, Roberto  Storia della Pizza It’s frustrating to be researching a topic, find a bibliographic reference that seems promising, but not be able to find a review of the book in question. Amazon and Google have done much to resolve this situation but it is still a problem. Those who find Roberto Minervini’s Storia della pizza listed in food bibliographies should beware. The book is very nicely printed: beautiful paper with a sepia-colored ink and delightful pen-drawn illustrations. What the book makes up in charm, it lacks in content. The same old tales about pizza’s origins are recycled, with little or nothing added. To be fair, it doesn’t seem like Roberto Minervini had accademic pretenses, but one still has to think hard while pondering how this book appears in the Works Cited sections of food histories. The book is in Italian, has been out of print for years, and is difficult to come by.  (Società Editrice Napoletana, 1973)  ZN

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History Sugar, like many spices that we now use as condiments, began its cultural life in the West on the apothecary’s shelf. Mintz traces its origins in the Far East but places most of the book’s emphasis on the European colonial period. Sugar, one of the main colonial products, was essential to the proper enjoyment of the “hot beverage revolution”: coffee, tea, and chocolate, and its industrial history (sordid as it is, as Mintz points out) is one of auto-catalytic loops between sugar and capitalism. The author’s long experience with Caribbean colonization allows him to shift to the other side of the master-slave relationship. (Penguin, 1986) ZN

Montanari, Massimo Cheese, Pears, and History in a Proverb – This book takes the classic approach of the Annales school in France and applies it to a single proverb: “Al contadino non devi far sapere quanto è buon il formaggio con le pere” (“Don’t tell the farmer how good cheese is with pears”). Montanari, drawing on a wide range of popular sources, attempts to explain the evolution of the social meaning of this proverb in different historical epochs, showing how this short sentence divided classes and reflected medieval and Renaissance thought on “good to eat”. The book is a gem, not only for its analysis but for its use of historical inference applied to popular culture. Translated by Beth A. Brombert. (Columbia University Press, 2010) ZN

Montanari, Massimo Il riposo della polpetta e altre storie intorno al cibo – For those of you who just couldn’t muddle through other books by Montanari (I’m thinking of L’azienda curtense in Italia), sit down with a cup of Joe and think of this as your chocolate-filled croissant. The book is made up of a number of Montanari’s reflections about food, and often these reflections take the form of a link between the past and the present. Less dense than other Montanari books but backed up by the same impeccable research and great inductions, Il riposo is aimed at an intelligent public but one that doesn’t necessarily know much about food history. An excellent first book in food history (surpassed only by John Dickie’s Delizia), it’s also unfortunately only available in Italian for the moment. (Laterza, 2009).  ZN

Montanari, Massimo The Culture of Food – The publisher’s choice of title for this book is unfortunate, in that Montarnari has also published Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History, Food: A Culinary History, and Food Is Culture. One has to wonder why the original title—La fama e l’abbondanza, easily rendered in English as “Hunger and Abundance”—was not used, given the potential confusion. The book is, in any case, an excellent introduction to European food history from Roman times until the eighteenth century. While Montanari leans heavily on Italian examples, he makes an effort to extend his inquiry to all of Europe. The books lacks the dense, heavily footnoted texts of Montanari’s earlier books and is an easy read. Too bad that Montanari, a medievalist, didn’t bring the book up to the present. Translated by Carl Ipsen. (Blackwell, 1996) ZN

Moss, Sarah and Alexander Badenoch, Chocolate: A Global History. Another in the Reaktion series of food books, this work by Sarah Moss and Alexander Badenoch looks at chocolate from Meso-American origins to twenty-first-century eating habits. Italy is only touched on very briefly – a chocolate sorbet recipe from seventeenth-century Naples – but the European panorama is impressive. The authors have no fear of wading into disputes and wielding common sense to cut through scholarly Gordian knots and highlights include Nietzche and, the demystification of the Marquis de Sade’s chocolate obsession! (Reaktion 2009) SY

Nash, Alan ‘‘From Spaghetti to Sushi’: An Investigation of the Growth of Ethnic Restaurants in Montreal, 1951-2001’ , Food, Culture and Society 12 (2009), 5-24. How do you measure the presence of ethnic restaurants in an important cosmopolitan centre? Why turn to the yellow pages, of course! The author, in any case, employs – after requisite methodological hand-wringing – the old telephone directories of Montreal to measure ethnic cuisine in 1951, 1971 and 2001. It is a fascinating exercise and one that nicely traces the rise of Italian cuisine in North America in the post-war period.   SY

Nestle, Marion ‘Mediterranean diets: historical and research overview’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 61 (1995), 1313-1320. Efficient general overview of the Mediterranean Diet – as Nestle takes it the Cretan peasant diet c. 1960 – from the earliest times through EURATOM. Final pages consider consequences of the MD for public health both in the Mediterranean heartlands and in the United States. SY

Pelucchi, Claudio, Cristina Bosetti, Marta Rossi, Eva Negri and Carlo La Vecchia ‘Selected Aspects of Mediterranean Diet and Cancer Risk’, Nutrition and Cancer 61 (2009), 756-766. The Mediterranean diet soldiers on. This 2009 study  from    out of Milan with 10,000 subjects gives strong support to the idea that we might be all better off eating more olive oil, vegetables, fruit etc etc. SY

Petrone, Petronio (Ed.) Curiosa historia della forchetta.  This little volume (the title in English would be “Curious History of the Fork”) brings together a number of essays on the history of the fork, a sort of anthology with a collection of photos of forks from European museums. The level of writing is up and down–there’s a short excerpt from Wikipedia, as well as an essay on the origin of pasta that uses etymology to prove the Arab origins of pasta instead of the more obvious (and reliable) historical sources–but it’s a useful little anthology of a subject not often treated. Shame it’s only in Italian.  (Alfredo Guida Editore, 2007)  ZN

Plotkin, Fred Italy for the Gourmet Traveller (2010). Plotkin’s Gourmet Traveller has become, since the first edition in 1996, the Bible for the foot-loose hedonist in Italy. As well as seventy odd general pages on eating, drinking and generally having fun in the peninsula the author has put together another six hundred on the best gelaterie, enoteche and ristoranti from the Alps to Palermo. There is something a little obsessive about Plotkin’s work – do we really want to know that the best coffee to be had at Leonardo Da Vinci airport is between gates nine and ten? But there is no other book that comes close to his achievement. And he writes on opera and healthy babies too… SY

Purcell, Nicholas ‘The way we used to eat: diet, community and history at Rome’, American Journal of Philology 124 (2003), 329-358. The author looks not at Roman foodways but rather at Romans in the late Republic and early Empire looking back at their own historical (and more often legendary) foodways: boxes within boxes, fleas upon fleas… Enjoy Roman writers – including Pliny and most prominently Varro – musing on pre-imperial Roman simplicity, where acorn-belching Romans (glandem ructante marito Juv vi) feasted on pork and roasted turnips. SY

Rebora, Giovanni Culture of The Fork – Rebora explores the explosion ignited by the modern era (especially the “discovery” of the Americas) by exploring the changes in various food products in Italy from late medieval times to the eighteenth century. Despite treating these products individually (e.g. grain & bread, pasta, cheese, meat, spices), Rebora makes an effort to link them and ultimately the reader finishes the book with a more or less organic picture of food culture in Italy in specific and Europe in general.  Translated by Albert Sonnenfeld. (Columbia University Press, 2001) ZN

Redon, Odiel, Françoise Sabban, Silvano Serventi The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy – Recipe books purporting to recreate medieval or Renaissance cooking for the reader are usually lacking in one or more or the following categories: a reasonable historical introduction and academic commentary, a discussion of class and meals (i.e. that recipes were usually for the rich), and an acknowledgement of the inevitable clash of tastes between a medieval food sensibility and our modern one. Luckily The Medieval Kitchen avoid all three of these traps, with its winning combination of recipes from various medieval sources (Maestro Martino appears frequently) and commentary from food scholars. A glance at the entry for “blancmange in Catalan style” shows the authors’ skill at adapting an ancient recipe to modern tastes while explaining that there was no canonical blancmange. (University of Chicago Press, 2000) ZN

Scarpellini, Emanuela ‘Shopping American-Style: The Arrival of the Supermarket in Italy’, Enterprise and Society Vol.5 no.4 (2004), 625-668. The first supermarkets in Italy were the product of a combination of American know-how and Italian improvisation. In her fascinating history of the Italian supermarket chain now known as Esselunga, Emanuela Scarpellini shows how the modern food retailer par excellance, the supermarket, was adapted to Italian social and political conditions in the 1960s.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang  Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants – This book by cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch has a subtitle “A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants” that says it all. Schivelbusch, concentrating on the modern era, traces the life histories of Europe’s favorite intoxicants (spices, coffee, hot chocolate, alcohol, and tobacco) and shows that their popularity was not universal but rather a function of both social class and economic realities. Particularly relevant to Italy is the story of coffee’s arrival through Venetian pharmacies and its sanctioning by papal bull after a brief controversy about it being the “wine of the heretics.” An excellent read, the text is supplemented by a large number of period images. Translated by David Jacobson. (Vintage, 1993). ZN

Steel, Carolyn Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives – This excellent book discusses a relatively overlooked aspect of the wider food sphere: how supplying cities with food affects urban planning and the shape of cities. This summation is an oversimplification of the books content, as Steel discusses many of the contemporary, “hot-button” issues like organic food, supermarket vs. mom&pop stores, and obesity. For students of Italian food history, the discussion of the Roman conception of civilized vs. wild (the cultivated areas around a city, or ager, as opposed to the uncultivated wilderness, the saltus) and how it changed with the “barbarian” invasions is particularly valuable. (Vintage, 2009) ZN

Ventura, Valeria  Agricoltura e condizione contadina in Umbria durante il fascismo (Agriculture and the Condition of the Farmer in Umbria during Fascism) – This short monograph, unfortunately published only in Italian, discusses the the plight of the small farmer in the Italian region of Umbria during Fascism (1921-1943). The title belies an attention to more than simply the state of agriculture. Ventura explores how fasciscm sought to reverse the gains of the so-called Red Biennio of 1919-1920. Absentee landlords of large tracts of Umbrian land were among the most fervent supporters of the Fascist regime, which turned back the clock on the reforms in sharcropping contracts won during that period. Ventura also discusses the intentional cultivation by the Fascist regime of the “green Umbria” identity. The extension of cultivation into relatively marginal areas (the sides of the Umbrian Apennines, marshland) was a testament not to the region’s fertility, but rather to a “long, slow, tenacious centuries-old struggle to win land to cultivate from the swamps and forests.” Ventura concludes that the sharecropping system disappeared not so much because of reform but because of technological advances (the tractor) and industrialization in the post-war period.  (Gli Annali della Università per Stranieri, 1991)  ZN

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Posted October 20, 2010 by zachmon

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