Made in Italy but not by Italians

27 Oct 2014

Fontina cheese made by Sikhs, Langhe wines made by Romanians, fruit and vegetables grown by Albanians and North Africans… What would happen to Italy’s local specialties without immigrants to keep them going?

“The Made in Italy mark distinguishes Italy from the rest of the world,” said Abderrahmane Amajou from Slow Food who chaired the Salone del Gusto conference on the topic last night. “It has given its best in recent years despite the crisis, but it’s not always Italian hands that make these products; the contribution from migrant communities is significant.”

“People talk about Made in Italy products but don’t understand that they are sustained by workers of non-Italian origin,” said Slow Food President Carlo Petrini.  “Barolo wine is produced thanks to many Macedonian immigrants who go to the vineyards every morning. Cows are reared by Indian farmhands who do jobs that Italians no longer do. These producers have become an integral part of the Italian community, but many of them are also entrepreneurs.”

It’s said that in the zone of Barolo you hear Macedonian being spoken more than Italian. Ivana Ilieva from the community of Macedonians in Monforte conducted a research project on the integration of the Macedonian immigrant population in the area. “It’s not a coincidence that Macedonians are so good at winemaking. The majority who come to this area are from a part of Macedonia that has historically grown rice and tobacco.”

However, for many productions, a dark side lurks behind the romantic images of rustic Italian foods and sun-drenched Mediterranean produce, one that was painted by Yvan Sagnet from the agro-industrial workers confederation FLAI CGIL Puglia, who talked of illegality, abuse and violation of rights by Italian enterprises against susceptible immigrant workers. “In Ragusa (Sicily), we are seeing a phenomenon of violence against Romanian women who have come to work in the fields. In Lazio, we see Indian workers who are given drugs just to keep working. Conditions have become unbearable.”

Sagnet also spoke of the vulnerability of immigrants who arrive in Italy without legal right to stay, which paves the way for exploitation, abuse and of the proliferation of ghettos, where thousands of immigrant workers live in cardboard and plastic shantytowns. “The food on our tables come from this system, so we are fostering illegality.”

According to Sagnet, the solution is not rocket science, but lies in creativity, innovation and research. “Seventy percent of a business’s costs is energy and 20% is labor. So why doesn’t the government bring about energy reform? …Watermelons harvested in Puglia are sold in England and Germany which then produce watermelon juice and sell it for three times the price! Why don’t we make the juice here to increase returns, instead of exploiting workers to save costs?”

Carlo Petrini finished his speech by paraphrasing the words of Pope Francis from just last week: “Before the market, there are people and communities. Where communities are suffering, we must resolve these problems independently of the market. The market should serve the community and not the contrary.”

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