Posted by: oysterculture | January 31, 2009

Lucca Italy continued

I spent the past few days mulling about the banned ethnic food in Lucca, Italy, and felt compelled to add to my previous post.  When I first identified this issue of Lucca banning what city leaders deemed ethnic food from the city center, I did so as an immediate response to the news, and because I also thought it would be a good segue to compare France’s desire to have their cuisine listed with UNESCO.  I participate in several food and culture related groups, and this topic prompted great discussions where issues and opinions were raised that I never considered.

My background includes international business, so my instinct is to look at these decisions through the lense of my experience and education.  My fellow groupies include chefs, food historians, anthropologists, with several living as expats in other countries, consequently they bring very different opinions – so I was intrigued as they shared their thoughts. 

One woman stated the ban is akin to farmers markets requiring vendor’s to only sell food they grow, or cities banning chain restaurants and allowing only locally owned businesses.  Living in San Francisco, I’ve witnessed the desire to keep fastfood restaurants out of neighborhoods. 

picketers in front of Burger Kin in Sunset District (SF)

picketers in front of Burger King in Sunset District (SF)

An ethics professor asked if the reaction would have been as strong if the ban was against McDonalds as opposed to a kabob vendor?   She further suggested we might have created a Disney-like scenario where the good guys and bad guys are easily identified, when, in truth, it might not be so clean cut.

Another contributor, a writer living abroad, asked – Do you eat the local cuisine of your new home and lose your cultural identify, or do you hang on to your cultural identify and import food from abroad?

 Seeing these questions made me pinpoint what really captured my attention with this issue.  What struck me was the fact that Lucca’s city elders considered the culture static.  Why did they select only one period to represent the food of Lucca?  I suspect that the make up of the people of Lucca is different now than when the cuisine they seek to preserve was created. 

Similar arguments could probably be made for every country.  Is mole representative of Mexican cuisine?  I would give it a resounding “yes” as that would be my first example of Oaxacan cooking, yet the Spanish are credited for bringing Moorish influence to Mexican food with their sauces, and before that came the influence of Persian food on the Moors.  So is mole truly Mexican?   The more I think about it, the more convoluted it becomes. 

This situation reminded me of my recent trip to Omaha, Nebraska.  I had not been back in awhile, and when I drove, I followed the interstate as much as possible.  But on this last visit, my father shuttled us around the neighborhoods of his youth, and while I recognized the structures, little else remained the same.  The runza restaurants, Polish and Czech butchers and Bohemian cafes common in my youth, were replaced by brightly colored tacquerias and Mercados.  New culture had supplanted old. 

Taco Bell

Taco Bell

I strongly believe preserving culture is critical and something that is commonly overlooked in our fast paced world.  I am not convince the the city elders of Lucca are on the right path, but we need to maintain our identify; to learn what makes us unique as Americans, French, or Filipinos.  I struggle with determining where the line should be drawn to define what represents a culture for a locality?  I think this is a problem of globalization, as we grow more mobile do we break our ties with where we are from and embrace where we are?  How do we define who we are, if we cannot define where we came from?

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Responses

  1. There are many comments I want to do, sorry if I write too much.

    First of all about Lucca and Italy, the real problem is that this ban is just a way to hide racism. Some towns started trying to ban some shops typically run by foreigners (guess what? the “bad” ones, coming from North Africa, East Europe, etc, not from Switzerland or USA!!!) or giving financial bonus (for instance for first born child) to Italians only. As all this stuff was rejected as illegal (making a long story short, if you want to, I can give you details), those towns are trying to find another way, saying that they want to ban ethnic food to protect Italian food tradition and to preserve the decency of historic centre. I agree that a huge yellow sign with red words on it looks bad, so let’s give some architectural guidelines to follow for restaurants/shops, etc in historic centres, no matter what they sell and which food they propose.
    But as I was saying, this is a bad time for Italy with a strong wave of control; do you know that in some Italian towns you can get a ticket (about 130 euros) if you drink or eat in a public park?!?!?

    Regarding the general issue on how to preserve a country food and traditions, this is the worse way in my opinion! As you said, cuisine and food are not static and they are always influenced and enriched by different cultures. What would be Sicilian cuisine without Arab influence? Or Italian food itself without potato/tomato/cocoa/etc (all coming from America)? I think the only way is to guarantee high quality. I’d rather prefer to have a high quality perfectly cooked kebab instead of a touristy trap poisoning bad cooked coniglio alla cacciatora in the centre of Lucca.

    If you can understand Italian, have a look at http://blog.paperogiallo.net/2009/01/chi_ha_paura_del_kebab.html.
    There is an interesting debate.
    ciao
    Simona

  2. Simona,

    Thank you for taking the time to give me your perspective. Most of the comments have been from people like myself, who are only looking in on the situation from the outside. Having the perspective of someone living in the country is invaluable. I greatly appreciate the time you took to reply, and will certainly look at the link you provided.

  3. Dear Friend!
    Greetings!
    Keep me notified of your new postings, pleeaaasssee! (Foodbuzz!!!)
    Brilliant continuation of your first article!
    I totally agree.
    Incidentally Omaha is the sister city of Shizuoka City! Small world, ain’t it?
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  4. Bon Jour Robert-Gilles,

    Glad you liked the post, I found the topic very interesting and look forward to seeing how it pans out.
    I still need to add a reader so you can subcribe to my post that way. It was causing me a bit of trouble, but I do have the option to sign up for an email update so you can get notified as soon as I post. The email option is in the right hand column towards the bottom.

    Very funny that Omaha is the sister city, and how appropriate too! The world seems to be shrinking all the time.

    LouAnn

  5. Dear Lou Ann!
    Greetings!
    Thanks for notifying me on Foodbuzz!
    I’ll sign up for an e-mail update!
    Small world, yes, and I’m the gladder for it!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  6. Last news: Mr Matteo Rizzo, mayor of village San Vito Lo Capo in Sicily, invited Mr Mauro Favilla, mayor of Lucca, to partcipate to next Cous Cous Fest, the gourmet festival dedicated to cous cous and Mediterranean cuisine, to experience “melting pot” food.
    Have a look at http://www.couscousfest.it 🙂
    Simona

    http://www.cellartours.com/blog

  7. Simona, thanks for taking the time to share, you’ve be a great source of information, especially someone so close to the issues.


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