Transition tales #9: The recipe for a vegetarian city

In an area with a rich meat-eating culinary culture, citizens will be encouraged to turn vegetarian

This week’s story takes us to Turin, Italy.

From bollito misto (mix of veal, chicken and pork) to carne cruda (beef tartar), meat dishes have been central to the food tradition of Turin. The representative city of Piedmont region is renowned for its selection of salami, beef and prosciutto. Turin transformed shopping for meat into a ritual, but   the city is undergoing a recent process of re-inventing its recipe for success, by becoming Italy’s first ‘vegetarian city’.

This change in main ingredients is the result of a programme launched by Chiara Appendino, Turin’s new mayor. According to the programme, the city is supposed to set up educational projects to teach both young and old generations about nutrition and fundamental principles to promote a healthy lifestyle and protect the environment. The program does not convey solely to teaching sustainable habits, it also includes a ‘meat-free’ day and a new vegetarian cuisine circuit through out Turin.

“The promotion of vegan and vegetarian diets is a fundamental act in safeguarding our environment, the health of our citizens and the welfare of our animals,” the programme stated.

Promoting a culture that respects environmental and animal rights should be welcomed in cities, still the new ‘vegetarian’ perspective is received with a certain degree of ‘culinary’ skepticism in Turin. Street venders and local butcheries are arguing that this shift contravenes the food tradition of the city. Their argument is that the program does not only go against a city legacy based on meat products as a main course, it will also affect the business prospects of any meat-oriented establishment. With the number of local butcheries declining due to recent economic hardships, a program that prioritises vegetarianism is seen as another barrier to overcome.

In a recent article, in The Guardian addresses this culinary divide as a result of political changes in the city, Chiara Appendino representing the populist Five Star Movement (M5S). The party promotes a series of progressive values for the city, the new food plan being part of a larger agenda on sustainability and positive environmental impacts. Read the full article here.

The Guardian

‘We don’t even eat that much meat anyway and we don’t like to be told what to do in terms of our diet. This is part of our anti-authoritarian genetics, it’s what makes us Italians!’ – Professor Michelangelo Conoscenti, Department of Culture, Politics and Society at the University of Turin

Wether a political decision or the result of a new progressive agenda, the change is unprecedented in Italian government and, well, Italian cuisine, and as such, it is faced with a strong local challenge.

In order to make clearer the fact that the program is not meant as an affront to the meat producers of Piedmont, government officials have been pointing out that the proposal is following the lines of Food Smart Cities for Development agenda, a legacy of Milan World Expo 2015.

Food Smart Cities for Development 

In 2015, Milan hosted for six months the World Expo, making the city a centre of the global debate on sustainable food production and usage. Under the motto: ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, the event promoted both sustainable and smart city policies and projects on the topic of food. After the Expo 2015 ended, Milan launched the Milan Urban Food Pact, an international agreement on sustainable and equitable urban food systems, signed by representative of 130 cities world-wide.

As part of the Urban Food Pact, Milan leads the Food Smart Cities for Development project, where together with Turin, promotes policies to provide healthy food for everyone in a sustainable way. The aim is to introduce a set of guidelines that encourage heathy eating and the purchase of food produced respecting the environment. Starting form this consideration, Turin’s new vegetarian programme is a local action that follows these exact guidelines in order to trigger change not only at local, but also national level.

Towards the Turin Food Policy Summit

In order to ensure that the process of adoption of this new food policy programme is carried out in a coherent way with the local context, Turin organised the summit Toward the Turin Food Policy. The summit focused on actions and good practices that broaden the institutional scope towards local social initiatives so that change is not imposed from a top-down perspective, but it is facilitated by the cooperation with local actors.

The video below illustrates the main ideas that were discussed during the summit.

Taking a step back from the political perspective or personal agendas, it becomes obvious that Turin is on a mission to promote the implementation of the right to adequate food. Promoting vegetarianism in a meat-oriented culture may seem as an impossible challenge, still taking aside the celery vs. beef debate, it highlights the idea of having access to quality food in a healthy and sufficient manner.

Transition tales

The stories we present reside at the intersection of planning, culture, politics and economics. We introduce a series of weekly uploads from a number of sources (conferences, interviews, summits), that offer a better image on the way cities are changing and what are the ideas behind this transitioning.

comments on this article
There are comments on this article
in Turin
comments on this article