Farm and Factory

20 Sep 2005

The presentation of the Fiat Grande Punto, which is hoped to turn round the fortunes of the Turin carmaker, has certainly not passed unnoticed in Italy and Piedmont. I am not in a position to give any technical opinions, but wholeheartedly join the universal expressions of hope and optimism for this new car which, as many have pointed out, is an outstanding Piedmontese product.

Fiat, Turin and Piedmont. When I accompanied the then Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D’Alema, to meet Fiat Presdient, Giovanni Agnelli, who was doing the honors at Lingotto for the second Salone del Gusto in 1998, the Avvocato, referring to the signs of crisis already evident in the sector, joked: “Maybe we should be focusing our efforts on ham in the future!”

Later Mayor Chiamparino quipped that Piedmont would not only be saved by Bra sausage. It was a realistic comment however, showing the mayor’s determination to defend Turin’s industrial sector.

But, staying with sausage just for a moment, there is further food for thought. On the occasion of the Grande Punto’s presentation, the mayor stated that the Punto, just like a great wine, could not be produced in just any vineyard: it was the fruit of a solid Fiat tradition and should be launched on the market exactly like the top traditional products whose origins it shares.

As can be seen, the food and wine metaphors are not overblown—the sector has become a driving force for the Piedmontese regional economy.

I firmly believe that Piedmont must never abandon either of its two important traditions, agriculture and industry, which have one fundamental feature in common. The working class which helped to make Fiat so successful in the post-war period had its roots in the countryside and it was that world, with its gastronomic values and knowledge, which was brought to the big city.

I think that both sectors must continue to play their important role in this delicate phase, but above all they must be fully aware of their limits and need to focus on their quality strengths. They should remember not to overdo things or consume the environment: they should strive for sustainability both at a social and an ecological level.

They can coexist together, both of them generating wealth and wellbeing. We can welcome Gaja and Giugiaro, the Punto and Barolo, Zegna and Gorgonzola. That is the great thing about Piedmont, and it inspires us, for example, to defend all those small-scale products at risk of extinction, such as Montebore cheese, which continues to struggle against the lack of sensitivity of some windbags who seem to be confused by too much foie gras and caviar.

Here we are talking about a new gastronomy, marked by diversity, linkage to the local region and good agricultural practices. And new industry, which is more modern, focused on the local region and its inhabitants, their culture, and the environment.

These are two evolving forces which must stay with the characteristic Piedmontese virtues. They are values which, for all the clichés, embrace moderation and pragmatism, but also openness to new things and a spirit of acceptance. It is no coincidence that Turin was the city to host Terra Madre and its many participants: it is no coincidence either that it was Piedmontese small farmers who opened their homes to the ‘intellectuals of the earth’ who came from around the globe to attend the meeting.

This is a good way of bringing together different lives and cultures, of approaching the world in a modern way without abandoning any of your roots. I am sure that the Winter Olympics will also reveal important aspects of this attitude.

I am also sure that people making cars will never have to turn to making ham. Just as those making wine have clear ideas about their production limits and, without overdoing things or compromising their position, will keep their focus on a good quality product that expresses the great heritage they possess.

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