Above: “The Earth Trembles… Authentic Wines and Winemakers, Peri-Urban Farmers, and Autonomous Gastronomy,” an alternative wine and food conference held late last month at the historic “centro sociale” Leoncavallo in Milan. Themes included “self-certification” and “source pricing.” Note the symbolism in the battle between spears and shopping carts.
Is there anything more romantic than the Grand Tour of Italy? Piazza San Marco, the canals and vedutista paintings of Venice? The Uffizi galleries and the Basilica di Santa Maria in Fiore of Florence (although I am partial to the Fra Angelico frescoes in the convent at San Marco and the Laurentian library)? The Vatican, the Coliseum, the Borghese Gardens, the Spanish Steps of Rome? And, of course, who can forget that little trattoria where you had the “best meal of your life”?
Dig a little deeper and you may discover an Italy beyond its famous hospitality and its ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and Risorgimento treasures.
Since the early post-war era, Italy has also been the backdrop of ideological, political, and economic strife that has often expressed itself in extreme and — sometimes — violent manifestations. From the gun-slinging “lead years” of the 1970s (which culminated in the Aldo Moro kidnapping and assassination) to a legacy of organized crime that stretches from the southernmost tip of Sicily to the Dolomite Alps, from the indiscretions and excesses of the historic Christian Democrat and Socialist parties to the “continuous struggle” of the only politically relevant Communist Party outside of the ex-Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China, from the “economic miracle” of the 1960s to a current-day negative birthrate and the 30- and 40-somethings who still live at home because of economic hardship in one of the western world’s most prosperous countries… Italy continues to represent one of Europe’s greatest paradoxes.
While we often read about Italy’s “trasformismo” (transformism) governmental system, its ever-changing coalitions, and colorful politicans, we rarely hear about the country’s underground movements of autonomi, off-the-grid individuals who seek to live their lives unfettered by Italy’s unbridled consumerism and bourgeois values.
Late last month, one such group of “autonomous” farmers and winemakers held a food and wine conference entitled La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles) at Milan’s historic Leoncavallo, a centro sociale commandeered in the 1970s by “autonomous” citizens who demanded better social services for the community. All kinds of conferences and rock concerts are held there and the venue — I know from personal experience — is hemp-friendly. (I found this article on “anarchist” culture in modern-day Italy.)
I’ve taken the liberty of translating the following passage from the manifesto posted on La Terra Trema’s website:
“La Terra Trema [The Earth Trembles] tells the story of gastronomy conceived as cultural action: the act of cooking as the practical fulfillment of free, commonly shared knowledge and not the instrument of the restaurant industry’s technicist, professional insinuations. It is in the kitchen (including and above all in everyday cooking) that we may discern a thousand traces of the ages: the contamination and nomadism of food and people, economic and social shifts, changes in the land, alienations, the qualities and rhythms of our work, and the countless deviations/depravations of mass-media flavors.” (N.B.: my translation reflects the rigid pseudo-Marxist style of the original.)
Among the themes discussed at the conference, supporters of “self-certification” proposed that every winemaker, “beyond that which is prescribed by law…, has the right and duty indicate the origin of the raw materials, their classification, and the methods of transformation, conservation, and packaging.”
Producers, they argue, should not be bound by appellation laws and the restrictions of market hegemony. There is more than a grain of truth to the notion that small producers’ market access is limited by Italy’s often bureaucratically and politically driven DOC (appellation) system and the market’s inherent tendency to favor mass-marketed wines.
Another theme was “prezzo sorgente” or “source pricing”: proponents argue that consumers have the right to buy wine at the producer’s price.
I didn’t attend the conference. My account is drawn from the conference website and other bloggers’ previews, like this one by Franco Ziliani, who fairly and even-handedly points out some of the organizers’ shortcomings and linguistic foibles,* and reviews, like this one by kNOw Future Inc., who doesn’t address the conference’s ideological implications at all (last year, however, the same blogger wrote this succinct description of the “Critical Wine” movement in Italy).
But I applaud the organizers’ spirit: it’s important, I believe, to remember that wine — like any commodity — will always be politicized and ideologized. In our increasingly globalized world, we need voices who zealously oppose the complacently embraced hegemony of mass-marketed wines.
* Ziliani points out rightly the weakness of conference’s English subtitle, “Critical Wine,” borrowed from the “Terra e libertà/Critical wine” (Land and Liberty/Critical Wine) movement co-founded a few years ago by the great Italian food and wine writer Luigi Veronelli.