Bob Tubbs
The Cattedrale San Martino in Lucca,

To Boost Italian Cuisine, Town in Italy Bans Foreign Eateries

February 26, 2009 07:32 AM
by Isabel Cowles
The small town of Lucca, Italy, recently passed a law prohibiting new ethnic restaurants from opening, a move that some critics call “gastronomic racism.”

Lucca Bans Foreign Food

The small Italian town of Lucca took a big stand when it banned the opening of eateries selling foreign foods in a campaign to protect Italian cuisine.

The walled, medieval town in Tuscany declared that no more kebab shops or Chinese restaurants will be allowed to open their doors in the town’s historic center—and, according to some, no fancy French restaurants will be permitted to open, either.

Luca Zaia, Italy’s agriculture minister and member of the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League, fully supports the measure, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Zaia recently told reporters, “This is not a battle against anything or anyone, but a defense of our culture and our agriculture.”

Critics of the ban point to the hypocrisy of the measure, noting that many of the ingredients used in Italian cuisine have international origins. Celebrity chef Vittorio Castellani asserted that many “Italian” dishes and ingredients have actually been imported, including the San Marzano tomato, which came from Peru, and pasta, which was allegedly brought from China by Marco Polo.

Castellani told the London Times, “There is no dish on Earth that does not come from mixing techniques, products and tastes from cultures that have met and mingled over time.”

Background: Italy Protects Food Culture

Some efforts to protect the uniqueness of Italian cuisine have been successful. One example is the (now international) organization “Slow Food,” founded in 1986 by Italian food journalist Carlo Petrini. According to the BBC, Petrini, was “haunted by the specter of fast food companies eroding Italy’s ancient culinary culture. The opening of McDonald’s on the Spanish Steps in Rome was the final straw.”

Petrini created Slow Food around local “convivia,” groups that gather to support and promote food in their area. Today the organization’s goal to protect cultural heritage and health through local and sustainably produced food has gained more than 80,000 supporters from 100 countries around the world.

However, the current president of Slow Food Italy, Roberto Burdese, has actually spoken out against the Lucca ban: “The enemy is not so much ethnic food, but food of poor quality. A bad Tuscan trattoria does more damage than a kebab shop.”

Reference: The Origins of Italian Food

The history of Italian cuisine varies widely from region to region. For more information on the origins and cultural traditions of certain Italian dishes, visit findingDulcinea’s Italian Food and Cuisine Web Guide.

Related Topic: Italian Nationalism

A more serious criticism of the Lucca ban is that it is yet another signal of a growing tendency toward xenophobia in Italy. Left-leaning lawmakers and chefs have criticized Lucca’s new decree as “gastronomic racism.”

Silvio Berlusconi, the center-right politician who won the national elections in April 2008, campaigned strongly against immigration. Since Berlusconi returned to power, there has been a rise in tension between Italians and Romas, or Gypsies, who have been blamed for a spike in crime—which, incidentally, is not supported by statistics—making them targets for exclusionary efforts both official and otherwise, leading some to warn of “echoes of Mussolini.”

Last spring, civilians torched Roma shantytowns in anticipation of police raids that expelled hundreds of Romas.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines