Sunday, July 19, 2009

International and Food: Italian Province Bans Non-Italian Ethnic Food

GlobalPost has a story up today on a ban instituted in the Italian province of Lucca, against all ethnic restaurants and shops that sell goods using non-provincial or non-Italian ingredients. Here's an excerpt:

The law banned the opening of any new ethnic restaurants, “with a view to safeguarding culinary traditions and the authenticity of structure, architecture, culture.” It also prohibited the opening of any commercial premises serving food and drink “whose business is related to different ethnic groups. If an established restaurant owner decided to produce a non-Italian menu, it must include “at least one traditional Lucca dish made exclusively from ingredients commonly acknowledged as being typical of the province.”

On one hand, I understand the desire to keep traditions alive, but on the other, I find it a bizarre and dictatorial thing to do. It's also pretty confounding. Requiring at least one dish per restaurant menu to be made from local ingredients is one thing, but to both give favoritism to established restaurants and to expect locals to only cook and eat in a certain style and method is a rather clear affront to basic freedoms. And, with the allowance of a French restaurant yet not a Sicilian one, could be targeting Middle Eastern cuisine in particular. There have been few concessions, so there's not a lot of ammunition on that front to go by.

Plus, it disregards the human inclination to not want to eat the same thing every day and to resist unnecessary bans. It's not as if the entire province was going to stop eating Italian food.

As a foodie and some time cultural analyst, I also find it interesting, though, how Lucca's governmental leaders have caught on to the idea of food as a gateway to a culture. It makes sense, in a way, with Italian history, culture and identity steeped in the art of joining gastronomic delights and the foundation of a life well-lived.

Then there is the use of "local food" as a cultural cuisine-specific phrase, as opposed to the "grown-here" ideal making the rounds here in the United States. I'd never thought of it like that. And I'm glad that such a ban would never fly in the America I know, thanks to American's wide-ranging palate, diverse backgrounds, and recognition that food of all spices and origins is a huge business. And after all, our country is a melting pot, in both a social and gastronomic sense.

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