The future of food, different views from Italy
It is 7.30 in the morning, silence dominates the city and the sound of the supermarket truck backing up under the house pushes me every Tuesday morning to lean out of the window and look in curiosity. It’s the arrival of the groceries.
It’s a bit of a party, it’s the only sound that screams in a now deserted city; finally, it’s the arrival of a new load of food. Once a week I come down in the hope that there will be flour, but apparently, it is the most stormy food. Nothing, I try again next week, I tell myself. But by now the people who work there have put up a sign outside that says it’s over. Well, that sign leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, not so much for the writing itself, but a condition that I, like many others, have never experienced. Who, like me, has the great fortune to be able to dispose of food resources, which are constantly coming in for more, is in a position of great advantage, but the fact remains that the race to supply gives goosebumps. Seeing people taking as much food as possible leads me to a psycho-physical state I have never experienced. It is anxiety that dominates over reason and makes me ask a fundamental question at this time: what if we didn’t have access to food or had only limited access to it, what would it be like? (a condition that someone is already experiencing because of the scarcity of economic resources available).
Here we are reconsidering our priorities and we can see what is fundamental in our lives and what is not. Health, needless to say, is the first, but food comes immediately afterward.
When this terrible moment comes to an end, many of our habits and patterns of life will have changed and we must ask ourselves today how we can and will be able to recreate the sense of community that is necessary for us human beings.
What will food, production, consumption, catering be like afterward? We have been growing for thousands of years through adaptation and variation and so we will have to adapt to new ways of thinking and consuming food: in a safer, more respectful, healthier way. We will have to understand how to reconcile attention to biodiversity and food safety, the enhancement of quality and consumption patterns; in short, we will have to be able to think of food not only as a necessity for us but also for others. In production, distribution, catering and, above all, creating or recreating a new system economy.
In this moment of extreme crisis, how do the protagonists of the sector respond today, how much and how much are they affected and what will be the consequences and future of food, according to them?
I wanted to gather some voices that interpret the future of this world from their point of view. According to Cortilia, a food delivery platform for high-quality Italian products, the channel could grow significantly in the medium term, both for the consolidation of the e-commerce habit in those who had only tried it and for the entry of new customers in the market. Everything will depend on the timing of the recovery and on how gradually consumption outside the home will start again. “As far as basketball is concerned, similarly to other distributors, we have recorded an increase in all categories of pantry products (flour, yeast, etc.), but also fruit and vegetables. We believe that this historical period will leave consumers with a greater awareness of the fact that good health also comes from nutrition and the right supply of essential nutrients” – reports the team of one of the best-known platforms in Italy.
On the other hand, traditional family restaurants such as Lilith, a traditional Apulian farm near Lecce, run for 20 years by the Tramis family, a symbol of the perfect Italian dream, enter the picture. Tradition and innovation move synergistically in respect of quality, sustainability, and seasonality, always with an eye to each member of the family, each founding part of the inn. Giulia, who is in charge of management and communication, says that the future of gastronomy will necessarily have to change. “I think we can talk about the future of food as a return to the past, returning to the land, the use of poorer animal cuts, the use of bluefish, but taking advantage of today’s technologies, such as communication and innovative cooking techniques,” says Giulia. “We are not standing still in this period, what frightens us is what will come next and we are thinking about how we can evolve, thinking about solutions to bring Lilith home to people”. It doesn’t talk about ready meals but more long-lived products, thinking of developing the restaurant by adding the e-commerce part, where, in addition to the traditional cuisine, they will offer ready products such as preserves, taralli and more, to be sent to people’s homes. The stop dictated by the crisis has therefore started a project already in Giulia’s head, but which will see, in the post coronavirus, a new challenge for the Tramis family. “Lilith doesn’t want to be alone in Vernole but will be able to arrive in homes all over Italy. I think this project could be one of the few solutions for Lilith”. I ask her if they will have to change the structure of their restaurant, rethink the prices and the menu and she answers that they will surely have to respond to new needs. Although they don’t have an economically demanding menu, Giulia says that theirs will have to be rethought, making a more popular and affordable proposal, with intriguing dishes and fair prices, thus getting closer to people. As we speak, we are discussing whether the fashions that have taken hold in recent years, from fusion to macro, will be lost or will continue. She tells me that in Lecce fusion has taken hold everywhere and with a smile between her lips she confesses to me that she hopes these fashions are getting a bit lost, because, being that these places are growing one after the other, you are losing the awareness of what you eat. Now – he adds – people should acquire more responsibility than what they eat, especially in a land rich in quality products like Puglia.
As far as Michelin stars are concerned, he believes that they too will have to come a little closer to the needs of the community by bringing more awareness and responsibility than a community. When I ask you if quality will become a fundamental prerequisite for food and more research will be done, you tell me that a greater search for quality was already a direction we were taking. Even more, after this moment there will perhaps be even more attention, even if it has always been a fundamental prerequisite for their restaurant. “People today, being forced to stay at home, pay more attention to what they buy every day for the house and this can only be considered a positive side,” says Giulia.
How do the newcomers deal with the crisis? Rinaldo Rava, together with his partner Stefano Sibona are the owners of the Vineria Sociale in La Morra, in the Langhe area. For 6 months now they have opened a small and welcoming wine shop that aims to offer simple local dishes and a wine list that ranges from local to international, all guided by the same common thread: quality. I ask Rinaldo if according to him, the concept of food and catering will change and if we will go in search of a more “honest” cuisine. “I think it will change the general approach we have to our life experiences, and therefore also to food and gastronomy. Social distancing will probably remain in our brains and habits longer than any decree and this will mean that the experience of the bar, the restaurant, the tavern will somehow change. We will probably lose part of the convivial and human dimension, especially at the beginning, but on the other hand, I believe that public places will acquire a stronger community dimension. Maybe we will attend fewer places in terms of number, but we will become attached to those few, we will build relationships and stronger communities. And the same will also apply to the relationship between locals and their suppliers, with whom they will have to work together to come out of it. If this is the case, I think that the strictly gastronomic proposal will have to be even more “honest”, both in terms of the quality of the raw material and terms of price”. The speech, therefore, touches on a return to simplicity, which bases its foundations on quality.
In this sense, Rinaldo believes that the tendency to search for quality is already a process started before the Covid-19, but that this can accelerate the process. “Then there is also the fact that we are privileged, that we can choose where to shop, what to buy, etc.. These days, unfortunately, we also see a lot of situations (and the number will sadly increase in the coming months) in which people are struggling to put something on the table”. It is clear, he says, to make a general speech is difficult, arguing, however, that one of the paths can only be that of the search for quality, in all its aspects. Then there’s the questioning of trends and whether the concept of Michelin stars will be reconsidered. Rinaldo argues that these weeks of quarantine have rooted some trends by bringing them into our homes, saying that those who have had time, have experienced and deepened the kitchen as never before. “This I believe has helped people to become more deeply aware of what they eat and what it means to make a “starred” dish, use sourdough, start a fermentation, etc.”. In this way, for some people, what used to be a fashion can become a conscious and reasoned choice. I think it’s a beautiful thing”. They closed at the start and peak, the situation could be better, but you don’t get discouraged, says Rinaldo. Over the past few weeks, they’ve been making home deliveries again, for example. And after that? For the reopening they already have some new ideas:” For example, we will create the picnic basket. Imagining that people need time before returning to the closed premises with serenity, we will give them the possibility to pass by, retrieve the complete basket and receive directions on the paths and panoramic locations in the surroundings where they can consume it. A way like any other to get used to socializing again!”
To close the circle of the supply chain Daniele, from Azienda Agricola Corbari, just outside Milan, brings to light an important point of view of the producers, an essential element for our supply.
Daniele makes an interesting introduction saying that within this crisis framework food must necessarily regain a central role because it is an issue that describes a model of our society and can help to develop ideas and reasoning on new social models with which this crisis, like others, can be addressed and metabolized.
“In my opinion, the future of food will change in both production and catering. The latter is one of the most affected areas. The effects will be seen when activities reopen in a different formula from before. It will be necessary to understand how much the health crisis will have repercussions on sociality itself, on people and on the possibility of joining. The restaurants themselves will not have the capacity and availability to accommodate as many people as before. As far as production is concerned, it is more difficult to talk about it. It is a global crisis, which is touching different areas of production, and it is difficult now to project what the repercussion will be on a global scale. On a local scale, on the other hand, this moment marks an important turning point in the small producer’s revenge on large-scale distribution. Let me explain, where we have seen the failure of the large distribution model with endless queues in supermarkets and a model of food distribution that we have discovered is not adaptable to a crisis prospect like this, the work of small production has instead been enhanced in our ability to shape ourselves for diversification of production and sales. These reshaping capabilities have demonstrated our greater resilience.”
There is also talk of whether food fashions will be re-evaluated or reconsidered and whether, in this sense, we will move towards a higher quality of food. Daniele responds positively, he sees fashion as an important vehicle of messages and values. The good product is a concept that brings with it many different elements and it is difficult to frame it from a single point of view. This is what fashions do: they put the accent on a particular aspect making it explanatory of some concept or trend – he says. “Milan is the city par excellence of fashions and contradictions. However, all this has created an awareness and attention to food and production and has allowed food to be placed within an overall social focus. I hope that with this crisis, this greater attention to food and its production can be even stronger, and if fashions can help, so be it. Long before this crisis, I thought that good food would become the food produced in a healthy society. In recent years we have seen growing attention to the naturalness of food and in the coming years, perhaps advantaged by this crisis that has challenged large-scale production, food that is produced in a healthy social context, not produced by mechanization, but that derives from craftsmanship and that rewards local biodiversity in all its meanings, will be rewarded. Rewards will be given to food produced by companies that treat people humanely and fairly and quality will play an important role, insofar as quality means food produced in a healthy society according to healthy production models”. Today, says Daniele, the producer plays an essential role, especially as a valid alternative to supermarkets. Today, producers are a possibility. “Today we have had to change our production capacity, increase production and product differentiation by re-planning the crop plan. We have increased home selling, encouraging cumulative orders as well as purchase orders. We have therefore changed quickly in response to increased demand, although this does not mean more profit. In this sense we are proving to be more capable than the large-scale retail trade to respond to new needs, also by implementing greater synergy between companies, networking between small companies of different kinds and types. For distribution, we still suffer from some weaknesses, especially for direct sales, and in this area, greater synergy between realities of the territory could facilitate us. Once this system has been perfected, our proposal will be completed and we will be ready to give a valid alternative answer in the future.
Here the chain closes and the pieces of the puzzle come together to create a general overview that unites the producer and the consumer. We are and must, therefore, all be an active part of what is happening and what will happen. Responsibility and awareness of fair and sustainable consumption must be central to everyone, no one excluded. Access to food for all depends on this; our livelihoods will depend on it.