Slow Food’s concept of a “narrative label” has been around for a few years now, sparked by the observation that too often the labels of products do not contain enough information for consumers who want a more detailed understanding of the products they are buying.
Even when food labels meet legal requirements they often do not answer many of our questions – like whether a food has been produced in a way that respects ecosystems and the environment, or whether social justice and workers’ rights have been respected in the process. At present very few labels provide real information and communication is often deliberately misleading, vaguely conjuring up rural worlds full of poetry and supposedly authentic techniques, with vague references to old flavors.
So Slow Food launched the idea of a label that goes beyond the detailing the legally required information, and tells the story behind the product. Slow Food first talked about the narrative label at Cheese 2011, and in 2012 the first 70 labels for Italian and international Presidia were created.
Fortunately the introduction of clearer and more comprehensible labeling to protect consumer interests and health is also being considered at the European level. Slow Food has therefore welcomed Regulation (EU) n. 1169/2011 which will be applied in all EU member states from December 13, 2014, and introduces some important new elements to the previous regulation. For example, there is now an expanded requirement to also indicate product origin for sheep, pig, goat and poultry meat. There is still, however, a lack of more detailed information which would help us to know the real background to the products we eat.
Reading a product’s narrative label enables us to discover the story behind a product. For example the label on Provola delle Madonie from Sicily not only tells us that this is a raw cow’s milk cheese, but also that producer Grazia Invidiata has around eighty cows raised in a semi-wild state with full respect for their welfare. We find out that these cows feed on pasture during the summer and are given local hay during the winter, and furthermore, the grass and the hay are supplemented with a mixture of cereal flours produced according to organic farming principles. We know that neither corn silage nor GMOs are included their diet. And we will have information on processing methods, aging and proper storage.
Slow Food is not only pursuing fully transparent labeling for Presidia products but is also working with Alce Nero, a brand identifying more than a thousand farmers and beekeepers around Italy who are committed to producing good, healthy and nutritious food. In Alce Nero we have found an important partner in this area and we are working together to also provide a narrative label for their products—rice, tomato puree, honey, etc.
We strongly believe that a narrative label makes a difference, for the consumer, who will see their health safeguarded and their questions answered, and also for the producer, who can tell their story and see it properly recognized.
To find out more, read Slow Food’s Position Paper on labeling.