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Mar 11, 2014 09:07 AM

Countdown to the opening of Eataly's Disneyworld of Food in Bologna

Scheduled for a 2015 opening, the new Eataly theme park of Bologna is garnering worldwide attention, although probably most people in the States are more interested in when Eataly will be opening a mega-store near them.

But interesting for Italolphiles and people planning trips to Italy.

(I better add: this post is not a joke for those who might be wondering! It's a real project.


I fear it might drive a lot of traditional, historic vendors out of business in that area, or fundamentally change their character as they try to compete to survive. I can't help but think it will skew visitor perceptions of what has food has meant to that region of Italy. So if you were planning to go that area for understanding its food culture, you might want to hurry. If they stick to the schedule, it could all be different very quickly.

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  1. I'm wondering if the opening of Eataly will have a big impact on the food scene in Bologna. Did it have a harsh impact in Turin, among everyday shoppers? (I visited the Turinese mother ship once, for curiosity, and did buy quite a bit, but found that although the offerings covered a wide range of Northern regions, that it was not a substitute for the wares offered at local, Piemontese-focused food stores.

    Curious about the impact in Rome, which I suspect would not be that great.

    Speaking now of the US: In my home town of NYC, I do believe that this mega-store has impacted smaller Italian food shops (thinking DiPalo here and my comment is solely from m own observation..).Eataly in NYC is skewed toward products from the northern half of the country, in my opinion and from only cursory glances...I do not see too many southern products, although lest I get criticized for this comment, there are some in the olive oil section, and some preserved items from Campania..maybe the northern companies are better versed in the import-export regs...

    3 Replies
    1. re: erica


      If you have access to Time magazine online you can read an archived article by Stephan Faris that talks about the "success" of EATaly. The article follows the classic journalism format of opening with a tale of the colorful "little guy" -- in this case a Piemontese artisan cheesemaker, the last in a long line of such cheesemakers -- threatened with extinction until EATaly came along to buy up his products.

      It is all a wonderfully heartwarming intro to a big hug and kiss for glam EATaly, all about how the business model succeeded beyond all expectation, with philosophical nods of approval from the Slow Food crowd, leaving the impression that maybe it's really not too late, because with the opening of a new EATaly in every town on the planet, we are on our way to a more flavorful world.

      Except, at the very end of the article, our colorful cheesemaker re-appears and has the last word. It turns out that the type of cheese he makes -- which is aged amid certain herbs and flowers -- can't be scaled for larger production. He is worrying -- out loud, on the pages of TIME -- that his product is losing its quality. Its flavor.

      So when people ask questions about the "impact" of EATaly, what are they asking? Does anyone care that if no remembers what that cheese used to taste like none of us will even realize the flavor is gone even though the cheese is still being made?

      Didn't Petrini and the Slow Food crowd tell us they cared about precisely this? Are they no longer listening to their own blessed cheesemakers?

      To me, the answer is fairly obvious and it is sad but also almost boring: Yeah, we had to destroy the cheese in order to save it.

      By the way, your observation that northern Italian taste is actually a kind of imperialism (I said that, not you) is spot on. It is a terrible bias against the flavors and cooking traditions of the south. It was as plain as day when I went to Sicily that supposedly all those terrible things that supposedly Americans do to true Italian food are actually fairly common practice in Sicily. I'm betting too that a lot of the "no-no" and "never in Italy" from the eye-rolling dogmatists is hiding the fact that plenty of poor Italians all over Italy ate dishes and preparations and flavors very familiar to American lovers of Italian cooking, because it was the poor folk who went to America. And when they got here, they started putting meat balls on their spaghetti and eating their chickens instead of saving them for eggs because they could finally afford it, not because they'd forgotten how to cook.

      1. re: kmzed

        Thanks, kmzed. This post was fun and enlightening to read. Sad that what you are saying is true.

        1. re: rrems

          Glad you got a something out of it!

          I have another thought to add. Which is that there is a difference between an option and a definition.

          A lot of people in Italy initially welcomed Eataly as another option. But Eataly hasn't been content to be an option (probably was never their intention). They are attempting to define what Italian eating is for the entire world. They are using the name of the country to create what is actually an incredibly false definition of what eating in Italy has been and still is in the majority of the country.

          It is certainly not about isolated food products being ripped out of their context and served as taste treats in fast food stalls in mega pavillons halfway across the globe .

          Italians aren't closed to innovation. In generously making room for Eatly as an option they've really been betrayed with one corporation trying appropriate and cash in for itself the entire food culture of Italy. It's like any other imperial project that seeks to redefine established boundaries and grab as much as possible under one new rule that isn't serving people but only its own narrow interests, all the while high-mindedly blathering just the opposite.

          People who don't know Italian food culture are being deliberately lured into thinking that Eataly is bringing them authentic Italian food and even more, the culture of Italian food. All the labels say "made in Italy" and all the signs on the wall say "SLOW.". But it is a totally artificial and empty misrepresentation of Italy and eating in Italy. I can accept the flat out business transaction when it comes to luxury items. What I can't accept is this propagandistic brainwashing against history and truth. Eataly's founders have not earned the right to do this. They are flat out stealing the hard work and love of an entire people and copyrighting it for exclusive profiteering purposes.

          I don't know how small food producers will be able to survive outside the Eataly system. It's like Amazon.

    2. Just to clarify, because maybe I'm missing something. Doesn't an "Eataly" already exist near Piazza Maggiore in the center of Bologna?

      My understanding is that FICO-Eataly, this so-called "Disneyland" of food, which I guess is a joint venture between Eataly and others, will be located fairly well outside the center of town. Will the central Eataly still remain open?

      Any sense of how the Eataly in the town center has impacted the broader restaurant scene in Bologna? I guess the question is where the net influx of tourists generated by this thing will offset historic vendors, and/or if FICO-Eataly will be a big enough buyer to help support historic vendors.

      As for perceptions of food, I suspect there will be two types of tourist --those who care about the local food scene and will continue to frequent the classic establishments (for lack of a better terminology), and those who don't and will just view things through Eataly. The latter types tended to bypass Bologna anyway.

      4 Replies
      1. re: MagicMarkR

        You are correct that there is already an Eataly among the 'classic' food shops such as Atti and Tamburini in central Bologna. From my couple of times that I browed through it, other than being large (3 floors), it has very little to offer. With a large selection of books, it is better as a general bookstore than food. It was practically empty (both times around 3pm) except for a few people grabbing a salad, a quick espresso or something to drink on the street level cafe. That tells me that it probably has very little impact on the surrounding businesses. I think it is the supermarkets that are having a big effect on small businesses. In Venice, supermarkets such Billa are mobbed by both locals and tourists while there are very few alimentari left.

        1. re: MagicMarkR


          The term "Disneyland of Food" is not something I made up to insult the project. It is is the way the project is being described by the creators. When journalists have asked for explanations of what the project is, the EATaly and FICO folk tell them: "It is going to be a Disneyland for food. It will be like Disneyland." It's not "so called". That IS what the are calling it when they talk about it.

          I have not been in a Disneyland or Disneyworld for years, but when I went there were corporate pavillions and "rides" that were built by corporations promoting their ideology. Like General Electric had a "carousel of progress" and some chemical company had a futuristic ride. All sunny stuff about how corporations do so much good for us! So maybe there will be pasta cord bungee jumping from Barilla and a ride on a wheel of cheese from some big cheese in Parms. I'd say you can't make this stuff up -- but you can!

          As for "perceptions of food", obviously this is going to be aimed at families with kids. This will shape children's perceptions of food in a very powerful way. That is the intention (along with making obscene amounts of money off other people's craft). You cannot define food as entertainment and hold on to the meaning nourishment, health and good eating. Didn't 40 years of Cocopops teach us anything?

          A theme park critically depends on erasing local and regional differences so that the minute a kid walks through the gates then he or she instantly has entered a world he or she already knows his or her way around. Harry Potter. Disneyworld. Pick your theme park. It's not designed to greet kids with confusing foreign experiences. It is designed to make them feel instantly in a world they know.

          Creating a internationalized identikit commercialized theme park of food out of the centuries old regional foods of Italy that were developed from local soil, wind, rain and sun for that place and that place alone is a full frontal attack on Italian culture, and if it succeeds, it will confuse the minds of entire generations, who are already perilously divorced from the understanding of what it means to work with nature and eat well to live.

          I am amazed I am having to type all this on a message board for Italy to people who presumably only bother to read anything here because they care about food, and the food culture of Italy specifically.

          1. re: kmzed

            "I am amazed I am having to type all this on a message board for Italy to people who presumably only bother to read anything here because they care about food, and the food culture of Italy specifically."

            Huh? Sheesh ... you're not having to do anything. I simply asked a question for clarification. I did not use the term "Disneyland" to implicate you --you are not the only person to have used that description, as you pointed out. I simply used the term to distinguish it from the other Eataly in central Bologna.

            I posted again below, so I guess I can expect another socio-political lecture :-)

            1. re: MagicMarkR

              When the EATaly folks and those who egg them on and those who can't see anything wrong with patronizing them are ready to give up doing what they do, then I'll be ready to quit lecturing. But please be fair enough to notice that you can search far and wide and not find anything more mind-numbingly didactic and condescending than walking into one of those big box EATaly caverns and be confronted with all that quasi-religious gnomic psychobabble on the walls in black and white, meant to entertain you while you fall in line uncritically to consume, consume, consume imported food as a political statement of solidarity with the rest of affluent members of the globe.

              I read recently that they discovered in Pompei that the wealthy were eating imported giraffe meat. History is instructive.

        2. It's my understanding that the new FICO-Eataly will be as much a convention center and event venue as just a large supermarket type center. There will be that too, of course, but as adjunct to more of a learning experience.

          As far as its impact on local artisans and/or shops I don't think the Eatalys have had any more impact (or less) than the huge expansion of supermarkets dictated by changes in shopping habits in Italy in the last few years. Yes, smaller stores are shutting at an terrifying rate. But I don't think the blame can be laid at Eataly's front door. When Italy changed over to the Euro this opened the floodgates to all of the big supermarket chains in Europe. So far we have escaped the intrusion of such multinationals as Walmart, but with the success of Ikea, those can't be far behind.

          In terms of the effect of Eataly on the various shops in the center of towns likeRome, Bari, Florence, Bologna and Torino, I think the effect has been negligible so far. The bigger ones, like in Torino and Rome, are located in outlying neighborhoods where there weren't many small shops anyway. And in Bologna, the store is so small that it really has had no effect at all.

          All that may change, since the new trend is to open bigger Eatalys in the center of town. A new one is set to open in Piazza della Repubblica in Rome . But still, I think the only shops they may put out of business will be the already junky 'food' stores that have sprung up on Via Nazionale.

          1. I think from the comments people misunderstand what this project is.

            It is not another Eataly. It is a theme park about food as entertainment. This in itself is a cultural shift, although one could fairly argue that it is merely a more rapid acceleration of a trend gone too far to turn around.

            Secondly, this theme park will be designed for mass tourism. It is meant to capture that part of the global mass tourist trade that steps off of cruise ships in Ravenna, or takes coach tours, or is just generally is on a pre-set organized march through Italy looking for an already packaged version of Italy, which will now include packaged food.

            Some of these tours already exist within Bologna and other towns. You can hire a guide to take you into the alleyways of the historic markets. But that is hard. You have to walk on cobblestones. There is no air conditioning. There are not signs in English everywhere. You may get a ticket driving into the historic center yourself. This entertainment pavillion will eliminate all those problems.

            Don't forget too that it can be time consuming to buy things in these markets, because many are run by only one or two owners (profit margins don't allow for employees), Tourists are people in a hurry. Unless you educate them as to why things take time in Italy, they simply walk away when they don't get the get of mechanized service they are used to from a supermarket in another country. Plus, tourists are looking for continuous entertainment, not an education.

            The historic markets of Bologna to a significant extent now rely on tourism for their survival. So do the local tour guides, obviously. So what will happen to these vendors when people are told there is no need to go into the historic center of Bologna or Modena or Parma to sample the true taste of the region?

            I see little reason to believe people will still visit these historic centers plus DisneyEATaly, because cultural and educational tourism to Italy has been almost totally replaced by consumerist tourism to Italy, and in particular food tourism. The "museum people" are as passe as the Village People. Everybody is first and foremost a "foodie" now.

            What is likely to survive if anything does is division by class. Rather than the historic open markets that are central public streets of the town and the open egalitarian ideal of community that cares and proudly works to provide almost a basic right of access to quality food in the (largely still communist minded) Emilia Romagna, you will see a larger and larger split. The historic shops will turn to luxury production. The guided tours will get ever more boutique and luxury oriented and expensive. You will see a retreat of quality into private hands -- those who can afford it.

            What will happen in the mass "public" entertainment pavillion is the selling of a false concept of "food for everybody". Mass produced, mass delivered. Volume drives price down. Plus no wasted time talking to you. If you want an explanation, read the sign.

            This is the end of one food culture and replacing it with another. Make no mistake about that even if not every vendor in the historic center of Bologna, Modena and Parma is driven out of business and the knowledgeable tour guides don't all end up as employees of Disney-FICO EATaly sporting pigtails while they caution people not to step in the s*** at the demonstration pig pens.

            Before I posted this I did I search on Chowhound to see if someone else had posted it here so I wouldn't bore people. I came across a recent thread where people argued about the Eataly corporate big box stores, and whether they pander to the worst sides of unsustainable tourism and stereotypes of Italy (my summation).

            The last post in that thread, if I recall correctly, was somebody defending Eataly on the grounds: "At least it is something to see!"

            The only thing important about seeing anything is to understand what you are looking at. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise to any one of us that Eataly now openly embraces the Disneyfication (or is it Disneyfico'ation) of Italy's food traditions and culture. It was always headed in that direction, on hot wheels. They simply grabbed it and now own it. They have announced in a few years they will take it to the stock markets. They have already told people in Bologna who have raised objections that they just feel sorry for the losers who are always against everything and don't want the new. Disneyland, remember, is the happiest place on earth.

            Unless you happen to have any taste.

            3 Replies
              1. re: kmzed

                Perhaps, but I think that is a bit too pessimistic.

                >"It is a theme park about food as entertainment."

                Right. So locals are not going to be interested in that as an alternative to their regular grocery shopping itinerary (and here I agree with other posters that supermarkets have a much bigger impact). And there are plenty of tourists who are not simply interested in going to Italy for Italian food product separated from the culture.

                As I suggested in a post above, these sorts of tourists (the coach tour crowd) tend to bypass Bologna anyway, up to and including the person who goes to Italy and says "at least there is something to see". (Now if it were outside of, say, San Gimignano, that could be a different story.)

                On a smaller scale, "Copia",a sort of wine themed entertainment and culinary destination in the city of Napa, CA, closed after only 5 years. People didn't want to travel all the way to the Napa Valley to spend their day at this sort of packaged wine entertainment center. Alternatively, the Ferry bldg in San Francisco is filled with local "delicacies" (on a smaller scale than Eataly) and that has not harmed the restaurant/market scene in SF. These are of course not identical to Eataly, but they do indicate that it is not all hopeless.

                1. re: MagicMarkR

                  It is certainly not hopeless if this fails spetacularly, and I hope that it does.

                  I am mystified as to why you think this would be a crime outside of San Gimignano but not outside of Europe's oldest center of higher education.

                  Real food and good food are the product of backbreaking and even heartbreaking work. To confuse children or any one by selling them a ticket to the circus tent where food is "entertainment" -- which is just the opposite of all that -- is highly damaging to all of us. How much more basic does it get than food? It's what we need to live.

                  It is bad enough we have pushed into near invisibility the people who still do the sweating for us and have bought into the idea food is only "safe" when a corporation hands it to you in plastic wrap. To go yet further and create whole artificial environments where food is nothing but a consumer product that gives a fleeting and stupefying sensation ...

                  Okay, I think Aldous Huxley already wrote this book and everybody was made to read it in school so I'll quit trying.

                  Except I cannot help but add that the greatest aspect of Italian culture has always been its humanism, and to watch it go so unappreciated and even see it betrayed by the people who put on the false face of being its protectors is something I very much hope to see fail hugely. It cannot come too soon.