The Slow Pace of Pasta Essay

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Appetite 47 (2006) 161–169

Research report

The slow pace of institutional change in the Italian food system
Maria Paola Ferrettia,Ã, Paolo Magauddab a Centre for European Law and Politics (ZERP), University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany b Department of Sociology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy

Abstract Recent surveys show that Italians have little trust in the food they eat. This seems at odds with the world-wide popularity of Italian food, and the very prominent role that the agro-food sector has in the national economy and culture. This paper aims to explain this apparent contradiction by examining recent political and economic changes in the food sector. From the analysis it emerges that, facing institutional crises and food scandals, Italian politicians have left the task of reassuring consumers to the market. However, the market actors’ strategy has been to prioritise the discourse of food quality, but give little weight to some other important preoccupation of consumers, such as safety. To address these concerns a more proactive role of the State would be required. An actual concern of public institutions with consumer needs, institutional efficiency, transparency and accountability emerges as a crucial factor in restoring and maintaining trust. r 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Trust; Food safety; Institutions; Regulation; Typicality; Italy

Introduction: gourmands who do not trust In Italy, the agro-food sector is not only crucial for the national economy, but it also represents a strong factor in cultural identification. Pizza, spaghetti, olive oil and icecream are but some of the symbols of Italy abroad. Italians are proud of their culinary tradition and its fortune abroad, and many have cherished the recent decision to locate the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in Parma as due acknowledgment of the city as the European capital of food (Interview Coldiretti; INALCA). However, the comparative survey carried out by the TRUSTINFOOD research project reveals that levels of trust in food in Italy are some of the lowest in Europe, and most importantly, this attitude does not seem to be related to particular products that have been the object of recent food scandals, but is generalised to all foods (Poppe & Kijarnes, 2003). This data seems to corroborate the findings of other studies on trust levels. Already in the 1950s Edward
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E-mail addresses: (M.P. Ferretti), (P. Magaudda). 0195-6663/$ - see front matter r 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2006.05.005

Banfield called ‘‘amoral familism’’ the deep mistrusts that Italians show toward others, except members of one’s own family (Banfield, 1958). More recently a wealth of empirical data has attested to a lack of trust in many basic institutions such as political parties, unions, big industrial companies and courts (see for example: European Values Survey, 1999–2000). These observations help us to put into context the findings from the TRUSTINFOOD survey; it would, however, be too simplistic to understand the level of trust in food simply as a reflection of the general mistrust of institutions. In fact, this cannot explain many of the peculiarities of the Italian consumer emerging from the survey. In particular, when compared to other European consumers, Italians seem to give a remarkable relevance to aspects such as personal relationships with the staff of the shop where they purchase food, and its origin. Moreover, they declare a strong preference for food produced locally and nationally, and a high concern for the taste and safety of beef. On the other hand, they tend to be less concerned with the importance of the dietetic aspects of food, as well as its price, as illustrated in Fig. 1. This article suggests that the survey findings can be explained by looking at the changes and