Tuesday, May 19, 2009

food and fascism

i found an article today that combines--albeit bizarrely--two of my favorite topics: food and culture. it's archived from the UK paper times online. the surprising, almost humorous, phrase "italy bans kebabs" in the article's title caught my eye, as did the accompanying photo of a fork of enticing pasta. but reading the article neither left me all that humored nor enticed.

the article informs the reader that, in seemingly musollini-esque fashion, there is now a push by the berlosconi government to ban all foreign foods in italian cities. specifically, the "kebab" and its purveyors have been targeted in the town of lucca. officials say the move is meant to protect italian culture through promoting italian food, but critics say: not so fast food fascistas. the motivation, detractors insist, goes beyond the love of italian gastronomy into the territory of "food racism" and even amounts to "culinary ethnic cleansing."

that seems way over the top, but at the very least the controversy shows how seriously italians take their food and that's something to admire. as an american raised in the era of the golden arches, i appreciate the italian food sensibility; for example the slow food movement, which began in rome about 10 years ago when locals successfully blocked the coming of mac donald's to st. peter's square and thereby sent a powerful signal to the world about their disdain for fast food culture. but, i must say i smell an overcooked paella here.

the banning of kebabs and other "foreign foods" in lucca seems to have as much to do with socialist laziness (the kebab vendors will work longer hours and it will be "unfair" to other food outlets), selective xenophobia (notice they're not protesting schnitzel), and food snobbery (do they think they invented gastronomy?), as it does about concern for preserving food culture. besides, do backers really think italians will completely abandon bisteca alle florentina for a kebab?

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