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Jan 30, 2009 03:40 AM

"Tuscan city says basta to ethnic food"

From the NZ Herald:

I realize that Italian cuisine is an integral part of Italy's culture & identity, but taking steps to ban "ethnic" foods from this city's historical center is outrageous.

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  1. To be clean it's not a total ban of "ethnic food", only new restaurants and only in the historical center (or is the whole city the "historical center"?). And I'm sure that there are those here that like the of banning fast food restaurants in the same area. Why not try to preserve the "authenticity" of the city and Tuscan cuisine?

    1 Reply
    1. re: viperlush

      Having governments involved in what types of "food ethnicities" ( to give it a name ) are allowed to be served is, to say the least, a very slippery slope. Hey, didn't pasta originate in China? Or tomatoes in America? Therefore pasta and tomato sauce are banned?

    2. to me its not any different from architectural zoning controls., creation of historic districts etc. If the city wants to maintain a certain cultural ambience in its historic center, so be it. There is plenty of space outside the walls of historic Lucca for additional ethnic restarants and fast food for those who want it. And if the Lucca city fathers are not successful in maintaining the current tourist flow or drawing even more Im sure they will adjust the policy.

      12 Replies
      1. re: jen kalb

        I would agree with you except that the article states that a French restaurant would be permitted. If the goal is to preserve Tuscan culture and atmosphere French cuisine should not be allowed either. The way the rule is being implemented makes it no more than an excuse to discriminate against immigrants.

        1. re: jen kalb

          Boy, this is a very slippery slope, and a move most Italians would and should resist. Tuscan only? What about a Sicilian place serving cuscus alla trapanese? Or a Sardinian one? Or a faux Irish pub? Lucca is perhaps a special case (it's been a rich, self-contained walled city state, and not a little smug about it, for many centuries), but I have to disagree with jen on the architectural zoning analogy, and about public vs private space. Even with architecture, what's to keep, given the age and diversity of the built environment, and the ways in which taste, and agreements about "authenticity" change? And finally, what about the marketplace itself--why not support traditions to the extent that people want them, rather than prevent (a priori) options some, or many, would be willing to support? Italians are seriously struggling with a changing society; this law makes a mockery of that effort, and is an insult to Italian's generally good and decent sense.

          1. re: bob96

            The article says at the end that the city spokesman was hesitant about whether a Sicilian restaurant would be allowed. But it's not a direct quote, and it's just one AP story. Here's an article (in English) from the Corriere della Sera, and one in Italian from La Repubblica (which you can run through your favorite automatic translator):



            The part about "ethnic groups" is disturbing (but very vague) and apparently every restaurant will have to serve at least one Luccan dish, made from local products. But then the rule also says that the staff should have a knowledge of English.

            Also banned: sex shops, pizza by the slice, supermarkets, and stores selling sea and sailing equipment. Maybe they mean surf shops? And shop owners are required to prevent eating in the street, loitering, sitting on monument steps, etc., and this has been interpreted as an anti-youth measure.

            1. re: DeppityDawg

              I can think of a gorgeous Emilian town where 2/3 of the restaurants within the city walls are awful kebab shops, men in their early 20s loiter on every corner, graffiti covers many old stones, and all the decent local restaurants have relocated outside the walls. Despite being the titular epicenter of one of the world's great cuisines, the experience of the town is dreadful.

              1. re: condiment

                And your point? If non-immigrant locals had chosen to remain in the centre and support those classic trattorie emiliane, the story would have been different. Sometimes, much as it may be a surprise to this board, life is more than about food. Netx time you can, have a look and see who's in back the kitchens in Rome or Milan. You'd be surprised how many do not have Italian as a native tongue.

                1. re: bob96

                  Unfortunately, bigotry is becoming more and more prevalent. Both sides of the pond, I'm afraid.

                  1. re: RicRios

                    I think that national cultural identity is a valid concern in any country - culinary or otherwise. Italy has a low birthrate and is experiencing high immigration, so the percentage of newcomers in the population will grow.. the extent to which new immigrants will continue to assimilate/become integrated in some form into the culture (for example by cooking the food or speaking italian as their primary language) or remain outside is an open question. We talk about Italy on this board because Italian food and culture is worthy of care and discussion. Its not always a question of bigotry (tho sometimes obviously it is) to want to preserve something that exists.
                    Lucca's idea may not be be the best but if they have chosen to have their very beautiful but crowded centro not be overrun by tourists, youths, whatever, there ought to be room for them to try.

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      Yes, national identity is always a concern, and an outcome of democratic politics, traditions, innovations, and pressures. Italy is facing serious issues along these lines, and is dealing with them on all levels. What the next Italy will be like remains to be seen--my Calabrian cousin in a small town dates a Russian immigrant woman; Moroccan families live across from his alley. And on and on. I hope Italy will strike a decent balance between change and tradition, and there are many movements of young people who protest the exploitation of extra-communitari andt what Lucca is doing is not only hurtful but also silly and stupid. If it wishes to put controls on traffic flow, or limit hours for tourist buses (as did San Gimigiano), fine--these are behavioral controls based not on cultural differences but on urban logistics. Singling out a Tunisian kebab shop owner) who might have worked his way up from a kitchen job in Sicily, say), is an entirely different principle, and one that can threaten the fabric of individual liberty Italians cherish. I love an Italy of my own imagining, but it's up to the Italians themselves to decide as a people what their society culture will look and feel and taste like--and these things change all the time.

                      1. re: bob96

                        I did not notice any anti-tourist or tourist-control measures in the provisions of this particular ruling (that is more in response to jenkalb's last sentence above). On the contrary, as I mentioned earlier, they say that restaurant staff have to be able to communicate in English.

                        Also there is nothing about "singling out" any shop owners. It's a rule about what kinds of _new_ businesses are allowed to open. Existing kebab shops are not targeted, except that they cannot change hands (because a change in ownership will apparently be subject to the same rules as the opening of a new restaurant).

                      2. re: jen kalb

                        sure. and iof they then decide that hiring people who's skin color isn;t that of "national cultural identity" or their religion isn't that of italy, or they will not hire people who sexual orientation doesn't match their perceived identity - ought there be room for them to try those also?

                  2. re: condiment

                    Im curious about which Emilian town you are referring to - none of the towns we visited last summer - Reggio, Parma, Fidenza, Busseto, Modena, Carpi - met this desciption. One of the challenges in a wealthy area like Emilia is that these older town areas are likely to be cheap housing - as Italians move into suburban air conditioned villas with driveways, the less desirable areas of the central cities become the logical homes for less-affluant incomers, such as the men hanging on streetcorners. In many of the historic centros, there are numbers of long- vacant buildings. Shopping activity also moves, from the central market areas to suburban supermarkets, with less emphasis on local sourcing and more on the large scale producers (who could be anywhere). And the old farm buildings moulder as families move off the land, the farms grow ever larger and their owners live in modern villas. The highways are choked with truck traffic from Turkey, Poland, Sweden and France as well as other italian regions. And the singular national and regional culture of Italy bit by bit becomes less distinct and more international. These are trends that cant be denied. Dealing with national and cultural identy issues is a challenge for all the Euro countries right now. Personally I hope that the Italians manage these challenges with grace and that there is still a vital Italian culture and nation 50 years hence..

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      My guess is Bologna. La dotta, la grassa, la rossa. Especially in the university district graffiti and dreadlocked spiky-collared loiterers with big scary (also spiky-collared) dogs are rampant. But I ate very well when I lived there and I was especially glad for those kebab shops - if you find yourself caught with an empty larder on a Sunday there's nothing else open.

            2. I would be interested to know what Slow Food's take is on this issue. Carlo Petrini launched the movement while boycotting the opening of a McDonald's in Rome in 1986. Slow Food advocates the preservation of food heritage, and promotes "good, clean, fair" food, but at the same time claims to have no cultural, racial, or social biases.

              Italy is a country with broken into many regional cuisines (largely based on climate change). It is obvious that due to global interest in Italian cuisine and culture in the past 30 years, the country is suffering from the effects of globalization, and is trying to retain some of their heritage.

              The walled city of Lucca is a tiny old-fashioned and very conservative historic area (only resident cars can pass through, for instance) of a larger city. The word "city" is confusing, as the Renaissance-era walled city is a historical site, like the colosseum.

              The government is obviously trying to block large corporations like McDonald's, who would prefer we all eat the same thing worldwide. It is also trying to prevent natural evolution and change (and potentially the changing culinary tastes of its walled city of Lucca). As a historical site, it could arguably be permissible to exclude large corporations. But banning local "ethic" food or Sicilian food is a slippery slope. As a living, breathing part of the city, the government is trying to stunt the cultural growth of this older area simply to display a living specimen of Lucca in its "pure" Italian form to tourists.

              1 Reply
              1. re: anjuliayer

                I don't think we should read too much into this story. I don't know anything about the local government of Lucca, but I know that there is a wide spectrum of political opinions and social/cultural attitudes everywhere in Italy. So there could be many different motives behind this particular ruling, and it is vague enough to be enforced in many different ways, or perhaps not at all. The news reports mentioned in this thread and others may be ever so slightly sensationalized (e.g. let's get a quote from some Northern League politician in Milan), and many of the commenters have, understandably, run with that idea.

                Let's just all start visiting Lucca every year and see if time stands still.