In her first political act after being elected as Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni addressed Coldiretti, one of the main Italian agricultural business associations. Against all odds, since she represents the extreme right, she spoke of food sovereignty, a concept coined and traditionally promoted by the left. What was she referring to?
Meloni said that food sovereignty is the main challenge for the Italian agri-food chain, as well as for the European one. There is no doubt that it is, but not in the sense that the president gave it, in a kind of gastronationalism: protectionism. As an example, it is worth reviewing her electoral program, in which she made reference to the made in Italy and to the Italian pride of its gastronomic products, and to the fight against those who make unfair competition to them because their names sound Italian.
Francesco Lollobrigida has already given some statements against transgenics and ‘synthetic and artificial food’
Along these lines, the president has renamed the former Ministry of Agricultural, Agri-Food and Forestry Policy into the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, led by her colleague from the Fratelli d’Italia party, Francesco Lollobrigida, who has already made some statements against of transgenics and ‘synthetic and artificial food’, as well as the French nutritional label, the Nutri-score, which will soon be implemented throughout Europe, since in his opinion it penalizes some central products of the Mediterranean diet – a continuist criterion with that of his predecessor, Stefano Patuanelli, who already presented an alternative in February, the Nutrinform battery.
This being the case, the parliamentarians tweeted their confusion about the objectives of the ministry: “Will they make pineapple illegal?” said Laura Boldrini, a representative of the Democratic Party; the cod alla vicentina raised ‘dramatic’ doubts to the senator carlo cottarelliwho was ironic about the subject, recalling that the recipe is Venetian but the fish comes from the north.
Be that as it may, the meaning that the new Italian government is giving to the concept of ‘food sovereignty’ is far removed from its traditional meaning. As explained by the president of Slow Food Italy, Barbara Nappini to eat the vanguard in the framework of the conferences Fixing the wine“food sovereignty is the right of all peoples to determine their own food policies without external constraints linked to private and specific interests”.
And he added: “food sovereignty is not synonymous with autarky, but is a broad and complex concept that includes the importance of the connection between territory, community and food, and calls into question the use of resources from the perspective of common goods as opposed to its misuse for the favor of a few”.
Nappini recalled that one of Slow Food’s tasks has always been to disseminate and promote food sovereignty in the world, as well as to develop strategies to strengthen local food systems, strategies that translate into combating food waste, giving value to small and medium productions and protect biodiversity, among others.
However, it was La Vía Campesina (to which the Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Agricultores y Ganaderos, the Sindicato de Obreros del Campo de Andalucía and the Sindicato Labrego Galego belong in Spain) who in 1996 defined for the first time, in its Declaration of Rome, what was food sovereignty: broadly speaking, as Nappini explained, it is the right of each people, country or union of states to define its agrarian and food policy.
It was La Vía Campesina who, in 1996, defined for the first time, in its Rome Declaration, what food sovereignty was
Food sovereignty prioritizes “local agricultural production to feed the population, the access of peasants and the landless to land, water, seeds and credit”; considers it a right that peasants can produce food and that consumers can freely decide what they want to consume and who they want to produce it for them; it also establishes as the right of countries to protect themselves from “too cheap agricultural and food imports; links farm prices to production costs; channels the participation of the peoples in the definition of agrarian policy”; and “recognizes the rights of peasant women who play an essential role in agricultural production and food”.
The concept was brought up for debate at the 1996 World Food Summit and since then it had in its germ the protection of the environment, a defense that has been exacerbated by the climate crisis, as well as the greater inclusion of urban food systems, As Phili McMichael points out in her study on the history of food sovereignty, Historicizing food sovereignty (The Journal of Peasant Studies, vol.41, 2014).
Giving new meaning to and appropriating concepts from the other end of the political spectrum is nothing new. In the words of Federico Plantera, sociologist and journalist on international politics and society in Il fatto quotidiano and Frankfurter Allgemeine“different ministries of the Meloni government have been renamed to emphasize a certain vision, more right-wing and conservative, of a certain concept, as is the case in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty – in which they have wanted to bend the term – or in the previous Ministry of Equal Opportunities, which today is called Equal Opportunities and Natality, something directly related to demographic issues”.
Despite this discourse, the parties in power are in favor of large corporations and international trade.
Plantera points out that one of the keys to reading this fact is that it also calls its ministry of agriculture (Ministère de l’Agriculture et la Souveraineté Alimentarie) that name, and that there is a consensus on its good performance in the European context and its capacity to obtain the necessary economic funds for your industry. “The new minister has affirmed that it is no coincidence that his ministry is named after the French one and he has highly valued the ability of the French to protect the native product. For me, it is one more example of protectionist rhetoric that wants to stimulate national pride and that extends to other areas of the new government’s policy.
“Will it really happen? I doubt it,” says Plantera. “Despite this discourse, the parties in power are in favor of power, big corporations and big business, and international trade. For this reason, I don’t think there will be any big change as far as agricultural policy is concerned. Beyond the words, there is no clear idea of what they want to do and, on the other hand, we know how these parties have voted in the past, both in the country and in Europe, and it has not been in favor of food sovereignty. To this day, we only have incoherence and rhetoric.
On the other hand, just as I remembered diana garvin, a historian of transnational Italy and a specialist in food and politics at the University of Oregon, just think of George Orwell’s Ministry of Peace in 1984, where the concept was redefined by saying that ‘War is peace, peace is war’. Garvin, for whom this redefinition is based on protectionism, pointed out Matteo Salvini’s controversy with Nutella: the politician called for a boycott of the product when it was learned that it contained Turkish hazelnuts.
With Salvini, venues in the Middle East and North Africa were banned. They called it ‘the kebab wars’
Because, in the case of Salvini, first it was the hazelnuts but later it was the so-called ‘small ethnic shops’, which a 2010 legislative proposal prohibited from operating in some historic areas of Italian cities. “Today we see what it has resulted in: American burger chains, sushi restaurants and French creperies have opened,” Garvin said, “and places in the Middle East and North Africa have been banned. Journalists called it ‘the Kebab Wars’. It was an extension of the famous Lega Nord poster: ‘Yes to polenta, no to couscous’”.
In this way, the historian connects this gastronationalism, which might seem innocuous and even favorable to the Italian industry, with something much more dangerous that hides behind the facade of defending the national product: institutional racism.
The historian connects this gastronationalism with institutional racism
For the philosopher and essayist Eudald Espluga, the redefinition of concepts linked to left-wing thought (freedom, precariousness, social class and even the ideas of women and feminism) occurs in a double context: “on the one hand, the great uncertainty of how it is the current ecosocial crisis (after a long recession and a pandemic), which have made it endemic; on the other, the fact that some of the ideas on the left come from postmodern thought, which since the late 1970s has been dedicated to questioning the great certainties and the great stories that led us to two world wars and the nuclear threat : the ideas of Nation, family, gender, race, etc.”
And he adds: “This has meant that the extreme right has been able to associate the dissolution of social ties and the uncertainty generated by neoliberalism with postmodern thought, and has thus created a theoretical entelechy where Bill Gates and Judith Butler are the two faces of the same Amoral and corrupt libertarianism that respects neither women, nor the family, nor the country, nor does it care about the material conditions of the workers. This becomes clear with environmentalism: wanting to end fossil fuels is resignified as an attack on the working class, as a privileged position. It is of interest to the right because it allows them to build a nostalgic story and politically make the disenchantment with the liquid society profitable, in a conservative key. Meloni or the National Front speaking against neoliberal elites is another of the clearest examples of all this”.