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Defending made in Italy

The beauty of our country is in the infinite variety of places, landscapes, monuments, foods and traditions that past generations have left us and that we would like to pass on to our children, with these words Minister Zaia answers two British newspapers.

In two letters published on the British Times and Guardian, the minister Luca Zaia has defended the excellent Italian agrifood products just like the historical and cultural heritage from which they are born.

We publish the two letters that appeared on both the daily papers.

Sir, I am sure you know the villas of Palladio, on the Brenta Riviera — Byron himself stayed in one of them — or the Towers of San Gimignano, in the small Tuscan town. These examples of architectonic excellence, concentrated in a relatively small territory, are mirrored in the rich variety of Italy’s wine and food heritage. The beauty of our country is in the infinite variety of places, landscapes, monuments, foods and traditions that past generations have left us and that we would like to pass on to our children. To renounce the variety and typicality that characterises our culinary tradition in order to blindly follow the principle of mixture and food contiguity at all costs means, in my opinion, to impoverish such heritage (“Take away all your foreign kebabs, say crusaders fighting to save spaghetti”, Jan 31).

I have become the spokesperson of a possible conciliation, suggesting the use of Italian products when preparing the dishes of other cuisines. For example, I suggest using our eggs, our ham and one of the many different types of rice that our country offers, to prepare a Cantonese rice.

It is obvious that, in this sector, Italy counts on a legacy of more than 4,500 typical products from the Italian agricultural atlas. All this is far from that “wine and food racism” of which I am accused. Without an identity to defend, however, there will be nothing left to mix. The risk is that a walk along Via Fillungo, in Lucca, will be like walking along any road in any other city: same signboards, same smells, same taste.

This is not food intolerance — or any other kind of intolerance — but it is intolerance towards any form of homologation; it is love of our culture, of which our agrifood heritage is only one of many expressions.

Dear Guardian,
I have readan article on Cif in which Matthew Fort wrote that foreign food upsets Italians, and that Italian cooking as it is now known and loved in the world is in fact a relatively recent product, which would date back to the 18th century.

First of all, I would like to reply to the latter statement, and deny it. Our agro-food traditions are rooted in the ancient past, long before the 18th century, in the Roman age. The evidence of this can be found in a treatise by Marcus Porcius Cato, which would be worth reading: the De Agri Cultura, in which he gave us many ancient cooking receipts. Those recipes show strong similarities with modern Italian culinary style and culture. It is undeniable that our food culture is also the product of a melting that settled throughout many centuries.

But what we are trying to safeguard is precisely the uniqueness of our culinary diversity, which is so appreciated all around the world. I think a nation should not sacrifice its identity – both a culinary and cultural identity – on the altar of welcoming, as it would risk to become an empty basket without anything to offer any more.

Italians are not upset for foreign cooking traditions, and you can trust me when I state that they have always had great curiosity in the food traditions of other people and cultures. For many months, we have been strongly supporting (and how it could be otherwise?) that hugely rich cultural mine that is Italian agro-food sector.

Our heritage is a universe of products –Italy is the first nation in Europe for certified and protected products – and cooking methods, as travelling across the Belpaese one will discover thousands of receipts, every of which different from one another.

I think that local products as rice or meat can be used to cook, for example, Cantonese rice or kebab, according to the same principle of culinary melting that brings to prepare a Baltic fish – the Baccalà – following the habits of Veneto or Sicily regions.

The question that closes your article grasps the core aspect of the issue: globalisation is not always a benign force, and when it becomes an agent of cultural and gastronomic impoverishment we have the duty to fight it. And to put all our efforts in this struggle.

by S. C.
19 february 2009, World News > Italy