Preface to “The Myth of Good Italian Food”

21 Dec 2012

“It is not enough to simply explain to the people who label you nostalgic for the good old days or a ruralist who lives in a dream world that a fresh, local product is better than the artificial food they promote or, at least, that they consider as the lesser evil if not indeed the top in “modern” comfort. Even though, in my opinion, good sense should be enough to understand it, complicated discussions are necessary because the global agro-industrial system has now become so pervasive and embedded in our everyday lives. In many aspects it is also mysterious and impenetrable, to the extent that it is not easy to raise documented, wide-ranging objections.

Doing so takes patience, curiosity, time, resources and a very open-mind. The book The Myth of Good Italian Food is an excellent example of this type of work. Collecting and gathering a scattered assortment of information and evidence by combining everyday experiences with serious investigative journalism and a good dose of historical perspective, this work hits the nail on the head. It is one of the few books in recent years that truly succeeds in what is sets out to do.

The battle between technofood and ecofood that the author presents us is a battle of global dimensions, but it concerns all of us individually. We all play our parts in it every single day when we sit down at our dinner tables and therefore, our food choices can end up being the key to tipping the scales in favor of one or the other.

“Eating is an agricultural act,” claims the great poet-farmer from Kentucky, Wendell Berry. When we eat we determine the type of agriculture that is goes on in the world and, in turn, the type of agriculture influences and is influenced by the way our food is processed and then brought to our tables. All of this can have significant repercussions on our quality of life, our health, our beautiful landscapes, on the well-being of animals, on biodiversity, on the condition of the Earth’s ecosystem and on our future.

“Eating is a political act,” I would add. We must reveal the full extent of complicated interests, operations of purely shortsighted speculation, of the fallout on agricultural economies and on our own wallets that succumb to the simple and apparently harmless “ready meals” on the supermarket shelf. This makes up part of a global system that must be reintroduced to the use common sense. That same common sense that has always guided farmers, who, knowing the origins and roots of their food inside out, that is to say Nature, have never attempted to disrupt this balance, at least not until some “modern” agronomist managed to persuade them otherwise.

By this I do not mean to imply that there must be conflict between newer systems and older ones, indeed I would prefer if we did not speak of battles and wars at all. A middle road does exist, it is practicable and combines marvelous traditions, ancient wisdom, advanced technologies and research that does not care about its own independence. The author of this book provides very important examples in this regard and, fortunately, never falls into an alarmist or catastrophic tone. Instead, he suggests solutions that are suitable for all of us, even for our governments.

From his point of view, Italy is a unique case in this global situation. We see how many opportunities we have already lost to be as the country of choice when it comes to ecofood. However, all is not lost, thanks to producers at the local level of remarkable quality that have managed to survive and who have a great respect for the environment and the health of those of us who eat their products. Here in Italy, like everywhere in the world, we need to insist on and share these riches, and understand that this is what we do in fact have at hand: riches, a most precious patrimony. Often, during the race to modernize our food systems, the most interesting peculiarities of our farming and food production have considered pockets of backwardness with no future, to be marginalized or eliminated. But it is precisely these “peculiarities” that are the key to creating a brighter (and tastier) future for ourselves: we need to re-localize farming and food production, giving preference to zero impact (or almost zero) local systems with the advantage of very modern inspections on quality, but also the possibility of avoiding waste, adulteration and excessive, polluting transport. We must encourage the development of many local economies, but make sure they are not self-sufficient or isolated, but rather areas where the principle of subsidiarity is applied to the neighboring communities, where food sovereignty for the local people, with clear economic advantages for both producers and consumers . […] What I envision is a scenario where traditions, local identity and diversity are respected and “used” in order to make progress.

[…] I do not believe it is utopian to imagine a system like this in the future, made up of many local economies with a network established among them, thus not at all closed off and not necessarily self-sufficient, but completely open to exchange and innovation. If more people learn to become more familiar with food culture they will come to a greater understanding of the profound, irreplaceable value that food has, through the myriad of unseen interconnections between man and the land, and then the change will come almost spontaneously, because this is a common sense solution.

No change has ever been so easily within our reach to accomplish as that which we are asking of the global food system: it just depends on us and on the choices we make every day.”

To purchase the e-book in English, click here.

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