Italy's Push to Secure UNESCO Heritage Status for its Culinary Traditions
The Italian government officially submitted the candidacy of the Italian cuisine as this year's candidate to join the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, along with the Mediterranean Diet. The initiative was taken by the Ministers of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, Francesco Lollobrigida, and the Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano.
The dossier will be transmitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to UNESCO and the evaluation process should be completed by December 2025.
In its candidacy dossier, Italian cuisine is defined as a "combination of social practices, rituals and gestures based on the many local flavours that, without hierarchy, identify it and mark it out. This mosaic of traditions reflects the country's biocultural diversity and is based on the common denominator of conceiving the moment of preparation and consumption of the meal as an occasion for sharing and talking."
Why this UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity candidacy?
Italian cuisine is known all over the world, it’s probably what Italians are best known for, it’s a great brand and it’s a great business.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has been promoting for years the "Week of Italian Cuisine in the World" which is the annual thematic review dedicated to the promotion of Italian cuisine and quality agri-food products, promoted by its network of Embassies, Consulates, Italian Cultural Institutes and the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) offices abroad.
This week is a celebration of the essential relationship binding the Italian gastronomic heritage to its territories of origin, the richness and variety of the culinary traditions of the Italian territories.
Moreover, in 2022 Italy exported over 60 billion worth of agri-food products with the European Union being our first partner and the United States the first extra-European market. It’s a huge market with still great potential.
Also, Italians are very proud about their food and take it very very seriously. And despite all our efforts to be open minded, we still grimace in disgust watching a pasta recipe that requires all the ingredients to be mixed raw and then cooked in the oven. We do have a kind of obsession with our cuisine. And this government seems to be very proud of our culinary traditions as well.
What is the difference between the Mediterranean Diet and the Italian Cuisine?
I have to admit, when I heard that Italian Cuisine was a candidate for UNESCO Intangible Heritage I was a little surprised. I thought that the Mediterranean diet comprised all the values, traditions and rituals that make our cuisine special and so appreciated everywhere.
Why was the Mediterranean diet not enough? What’s the difference really?According to UNESCO“ The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin.” They recognize its social and cultural value within the community and its values like hospitality, togetherness, creativity and the respect for the ingredients and their seasonality. It plays an important role in all kinds of celebrations from the Sunday lunch to the main festivities, it’s a celebration of our heritage and the great knowledge of our farmers. This really embraces all the aspects of our culinary culture.
What’s missing then? Animal based foods!
The Mediterranean diet is predominantly characterized by high intakes of olive oil, legumes, nuts, cereals, vegetables and fruits, and a moderate to high intake of fish. It includes moderate amounts of dairy, mainly as cheese and yogurt, and small amounts of meat.
Italian cuisine is full of traditional recipes containing meat and dairy like lasagne alla bolognese, carbonara and tiramisù. The values don’t differ, animal protein intake does greatly. And as we know by now, animal product consumption and sustainability don’t really go hand in hand.
A few days after the announcement of the candidacy of the Italian Cuisine as UNESCO Intangible Heritage, the news broke that the Italian government is studying a bill concerning synthetic food and feed. This law is supposed to lay down provisions to ban the production and the commercialization of synthetic foods for both human and animal consumption.
Under the ban, which needs to be passed in both houses of parliament, those who produce, export or import food grown from animal cells would face fines of up to €60,000 and risk having their manufacturing plants closed. Of course the ban includes synthetic meat.
Coldiretti, Italy’s biggest farmers’ association, has lobbied for the ban, arguing that homegrown produce needs to be shielded from “the attacks of multinational companies”.
It’s clear that the government wants to preserve our cuisine, culinary traditions and jobs as many people are employed in the agribusiness. I believe the government wanted to take a stand on these issues because our cultural identity is at stake. That’s all very good but what is missing in the debate is the fact that, regardless of the different considerations and opinions one might have on synthetic foods, the sustainability of our food system is not a priority. The impact of animal agriculture on the environment is every year more evident but it appears to be a neglected issue in the public debate.
I would expect that, after all the evidence that points in the direction of animal agriculture as one of the leading causes of GHG emissions, biodiversity loss and freshwater use, the political debate will be focused very much on these problems. Unfortunately, it’s not.