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Feb '09

Chefs in Italy Fight Government Bans on Foreign Food

Flag of Italy and PeppersChefs throughout Italy are alarmed at growing pressure from the center-right Italian government to ban what they perceive as foreign influences in Italian cuisine; including ethnic ingredients and the creation of new foreign restaurants.

A few days ago, Lucca’s city council decided to actively ban any new ethnic food restaurants from being opened in the historic town.

As it says in this article about the food ban in the Chicago Sun Times:

“By ethnic cuisine we mean a different cuisine,” city spokesman Massimo Di Grazia said Thursday. “That means no new kebabs, Thai, or Lebanese restaurants.”

This turned out to be the opening salvo in a larger move to make Italians eat Italian, as Milan and the Lombardy region also joined the ban which was strongly endorsed by the anti-immigrant Northern League Party (also known as Lega Nord).

Surprisingly enough, many foods popularly used today in modern Italian cuisine were once considered foreign foods. China is widely credited with the invention of pasta. Corn and bell peppers were introduced from America via trade from Spain. Even the tomato is said to have been originally imported from Peru.

Prior to the Middle Ages, Greek bakers were commonly considered to make the best bread and it was a mark of status for a village to have one in residence. Today’s Sicilian food  bears the mark of many years of Moorish influence, which brought the use of rice, spinach, apricots, raisins, almonds, and citrus fruits to Italian culinary prominence in addition to such spices as black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and saffron.

Additionally, the culinary history of Italy has also been greatly inspired by influences from French, German, and Austrian cuisine.

Applauding the new measures to limit non-Italian food, Minister of Agriculture and member of Venice’s Northern League, Luca Zaia feels they will help safeguard traditional Italian culture whose values his party fears are eroding.

Additionally, he also believes that ethnic restaurants allowed to stay in business should be required to use only Italian ingredients instead of using imported goods.

In a Times Online article about the measures, Zaia says he prefers the dishes of his native Veneto, stating, “I even refuse to eat pineapple.”

Davide Boni of Milan’s Northern League concurs, adding that the long hours kebab shop owners work make for unfair competition in the culinary marketplace.

Di Grazia of Lucca is comfortable about welcoming the opening of French restaurants in the ancient town, but is unsure about a restaurant offering Sicilian dishes, which often include Middle Eastern ingredients.

Italian chefs such as cookbook author and TV chef, Vittorio Castellani, strongly oppose the measure, linking it to a kind of gastronomic racism.

“There is no dish on the face of the Earth that doesn’t come from mixing techniques, products and tastes from cultures that have met and mingled over time.”

Speaking to the Corriere della Sera daily, center-left councilman Alessandro Tambellini describes it as a discriminatory ban. “It’s a sign of closure toward different cultures.”

Hugging the Coast Blog Fast ForwardPlease join us tomorrow to read our new recipe for Creamy Chive Yellow Squash, as part of this week’s special Winter Comfort Foods Series.

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