Cannoli and Food Activism

How food can be an instrument for positive change in Palermo?

Pizza, pasta, gelato! The food culture in Palermo is under Mafia’s control. The Sicilian Mafia in Palermo tries to influence the local food system, the largest pride of the Italian culture. People and communities have their own form to ‘rebel’. Addiopizzo, a citizen movement, has taken action to restore Palermo’s food culture through the philosophy of Food Activism.

A whole community of people who pay the pizzo is a community without dignity’-Addiopizzo

Starting off with this motto on their page and campaigns, Addiopizzo movement set up in 2004 in the Sicilian capital, Palermo. It aims to shake up the Mafia structure and facilitate the terms of purchasing trade in the country. The movement activates citizens by offering them the right to choose and stand up to the Mafia chain. This is mainly done through supporting the ‘pizzofree’ stores.

The idea emerged among a group of friends that wanted to open a Fairtrade shop in Palermo when they realized they would be forced to pay the ‘pizzo’. This is the protection fee that shopkeepers are made to pay to the Mafia in order to keep their stores which are posed under its territorial control. ‘Pizzo’ is the major obstacle for local food producers and shopkeepers. By using mainly social media Addiopizzo activists tried to attract as many consumers as possible through making their presence familiar and substantial. Addiopizzo managed to be considered as a very innovative, anti-mafia and grassroots movement that involved residents and shopkeepers for the common good.

©Erin McNeaney

Small scale actors in European countries and specifically in southern Italy, such as Addiopizzo activists, can be guarantors that citizen rights will be committed and that exploitation and abuse can be fought. They made it by setting innovative campaigns through social media and using stickers with their central motto. They also enriched their already wide audience through approaching the public body and schools.

Addiopizzo’s capacity to involve citizens and establish campaigns and practices of boycotting and Fairtrade techniques is developing a more sustainable and political involvement mindset that can mark a new era of Food Activism. As a concept Food Activism brings together citizens and activists that want to intervene and influence the food philosophy. This goes in pair with more democratic and equal terms of production, collection and distribution of food products that as well known, plays a crucial role in the Italian culture and identity.  Food activism run by Italian activists and citizens as a whole can bridge the gap in Palermo between grassroots and the government. This spreads new forms of solidarity. So far, solidarity is designed by governments and corporate powers, although that is paradoxical since it turns out that solidarity does not in fact respond effectively to the majority of the current issues modern societies deal with.


Since 2007 the local Sicilian initiative gathers a large number of supporters and co-workers that belong either to the entrepreneurial landscape or as determined citizens and consumers that decided to sustain and buy their groceries from only pizzofree* shops. ‘Addiopizzo’ movement together with its more than 1000 involved stores does not aim to fight against the current political system but rather complement it by spreading awareness and engaging active citizens. It is not a political party, on the contrary, they take part in a globalization from the bottom.  This means that residents enact for more democratic, inclusive and transparent decision making processes.

Food Activism brings New Solidarity

The rise of this new political engagement and active citizenship through Food Activism can seed new forms of solidarity and create a deeper faith and commitment to the political arena. By doing so, initiatives such as Addiopizzo, bring together local actors, citizens and activists directly with entrepreneurs, such as shopkeepers. They skip the intermediates that seek individual profit, as the Mafia in this case, and as a result it leads to a more dynamic, effective and democratic political system. Civil society associations and initiatives can play a key role since they spot more easily the problems of vulnerable communities and develop ideas regarding solutions for social change and justice. When it comes to Food Activism, ideas like ‘sense of belonging’ and ‘community development’ are highlighted through movements like Addiopizzo, along with their vision and campaigns. Therefore, new notions of solidarity can be formed by bringing together many local partners which are working towards the common good, food justice and cultural identity. Collective practices in Palermo may incise  new paths as alternatives to the philosophy of Food Activism.


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