Top | Oyster Food and Culture

Lucca, Italy - continued

(post, LouAnn Con)

I spent the past few days mulling about the banned ethnic food in Lucca, Italy, and felt compelled to add to my previous post.  When I first identified this issue of Lucca banning what city leaders deemed ethnic food from the city center, I did so as an immediate response to the news, and because I also thought it would be a good segue to compare France’s desire to have their cuisine listed with UNESCO.  I participate in several food and culture related groups, and this topic prompted great discussions where issues and opinions were raised that I never considered.

My background includes international business, so my instinct is to look at these decisions through the lense of my experience and education.  My fellow groupies include chefs, food historians, anthropologists, with several living as expats in other countries, consequently they bring very different opinions - so I was intrigued as they shared their thoughts. 

One woman stated the ban is akin to farmers markets requiring vendor’s to only sell food they grow, or cities banning chain restaurants and allowing only locally owned businesses.  Living in San Francisco, I’ve witnessed the desire to keep fastfood restaurants out of neighborhoods. 

I spent the past few days mulling about the banned ethnic food in Lucca, Italy, and felt compelled to add to my previous post.  When I first identified this issue of Lucca banning what city leaders deemed ethnic food from the city center, I did so as an immediate response to the news, and because I also thought it would be a good segue to compare France’s desire to have their cuisine listed with UNESCO.  I participate in several food and culture related groups, and this topic prompted great discussions where issues and opinions were raised that I never considered.

My background includes international business, so my instinct is to look at these decisions through the lense of my experience and education.  My fellow groupies include chefs, food historians, anthropologists, with several living as expats in other countries, consequently they bring very different opinions - so I was intrigued as they shared their thoughts. 

One woman stated the ban is akin to farmers markets requiring vendor’s to only sell food they grow, or cities banning chain restaurants and allowing only locally owned businesses.  Living in San Francisco, I’ve witnessed the desire to keep fastfood restaurants out of neighborhoods. 

An ethics professor asked if the reaction would have been as strong if the ban was against McDonalds as opposed to a kabob vendor?   She further suggested we might have created a Disney-like scenario where the good guys and bad guys are easily identified, when, in truth, it might not be so clean cut.

Another contributor, a writer living abroad, asked - Do you eat the local cuisine of your new home and lose your cultural identify, or do you hang on to your cultural identify and import food from abroad?

Seeing these questions made me pinpoint what really captured my attention with this issue.  What struck me was the fact that Lucca’s city elders considered the culture static.  Why did they select only one period to represent the food of Lucca?  I suspect that the make up of the people of Lucca is different now than when the cuisine they seek to preserve was created. 

Similar arguments could probably be made for every country.  Is mole representative of Mexican cuisine?  I would give it a resounding “yes” as that would be my first example of Oaxacan cooking, yet the Spanish are credited for bringing Moorish influence to Mexican food with their sauces, and before that came the influence of Persian food on the Moors.  So is mole truly Mexican?   The more I think about it, the more convoluted it becomes. 

This situation reminded me of my recent trip to Omaha, Nebraska.  I had not been back in awhile, and when I drove, I followed the interstate as much as possible.  But on this last visit, my father shuttled us around the neighborhoods of his youth, and while I recognized the structures, little else remained the same.  The runza restaurants, Polish and Czech butchers and Bohemian cafes common in my youth, were replaced by brightly colored tacquerias and Mercados.  New culture had supplanted old.

I strongly believe preserving culture is critical and something that is commonly overlooked in our fast paced world.  I am not convince the the city elders of Lucca are on the right path, but we need to maintain our identify; to learn what makes us unique as Americans, French, or Filipinos.  I struggle with determining where the line should be drawn to define what represents a culture for a locality?  I think this is a problem of globalization, as we grow more mobile do we break our ties with where we are from and embrace where we are?  How do we define who we are, if we cannot define where we came from?