Aug 032011

Food is a more important part of national identity in Italy than in any other European country with the possible exception of France. Combine this with a willingness among Italian officials, local and national, to use protectionist measures and you have a ‘recipe’ for unusual food politics. The most extraordinary case known to the present author is the great kebab putsch of January 2009 in Lucca.
Lucca, for those who don’t know, is a beautiful Tuscan city – perhaps Italy’s most beautiful that is saying something – with a late Renaissance wall that you can ride a bike around. However, the local authorities became concerned about the rise of ‘ethnic’ restaurants within the city walls. The precise instructions were as follows: ‘to protect the [local] cooking tradition and the characteristic architecture, culture, structures, history and decor no new businesses are allowed whose activity come from a different ethnic tradition. [‘al fine di salvaguardare la tradizione culinaria e la tipicità architettonica, strutturale, culturale, storica e di arredo non è ammessa l'attivazione di esercizi di somministrazione, la cui attività svolta sia riconducibile ad etnie diverse’].
In other words Lucca’s four kebab joints in the centre will be allowed to sell their non-Italian wares continue, but woe betide any new kebab, French, Spanish, Indian or Chinese who tries to set up shop there. Would a Sicilian or a Milanese restaurant even be allowed given that there is an emphasis on Luccan traditions?
It would be interesting to know if there are any parallels to this kind of protectionism elsewhere in western Europe. SY

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