Tonight I want to share with you my elaborate Anthropology of Taste, the last exam (and a fine 30 cum laude!) I gave before graduating in Science, Culture and Politics of Food and Wine. As a paper the professor asked us to do a free essay choosing one of the three tracks he gave us and I chose this one:"Witnesses of change in Italian post-World War II food culture“. I hear talk of Luigi Veronelli for ten years. I have quoted him countless times, but I have never written about him. This is the first time. I would also like to thank my professor Sergio Vitolo because it had been eighteen years since I had written an essay. Over the years I have written several books and hundreds of articles on this wine blogbut no theme. I got excited.
I was lucky enough to have an extraordinary professor, Giovanni Zanzi, who taught me not so much how to write - something I was naturally inclined to do given perhaps my being a greedy devourer of books from an early age - but how to communicate. I still have all twenty-four essays that I wrote with him in the last three years of high school and I am not ashamed to say that thanks to him I went and reopened that old envelope because I remembered that to do a good essay and not get lost on the way you needed 'the card', but I didn't remember exactly what it looked like.
I put down the card trying to make his track my own and to do so I watched three episodes of Dinner at 7 I found on Rai Play. I hope you enjoy this theme, it made me want to read "The Gastronome"Veronelli's' and I just bought a copy of the 1960 Champagne magazine!
I have chosen three of the 20th century authors I studied in my anthropology of taste classes. The first two topics are dictated by two culturally opposed contemporaries: Emilio Sereni (partisan) and Guido Piovene (fascist). Theses and antitheses chase each other to weave the transition from survival to consumption then sanctioned by Luigi Veronelli (anarchic) with a new dimension of taste.
First, I decided to frame Italian intellectuals in their context of birth and life. Studying them taught me that 'action is conceived when understood in context' (M. Augè). Family context, political orientation, studies and work are valuable indicators.
Emilio Sereni (Rome 1907 - Rome 1977) was an Italian writer, politician and historian born into a Jewish family of anti-fascist intellectuals. A graduate in Agrarian Studies and a member of the Communist Party, after years in the Resistance during World War II, he was twice a minister under Alcide De Gasperi: from 1946 to 1947 he was Minister of Post-War Assistance and in 1947 he was Minister of Public Works. From 1948 to 1963 he was a Senator of the Italian Republic and then became editor of the theoretical communist journal Marxist Criticism. His knowledge of languages - English, German, French, Russian, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Japanese and some cuneiform dead languages - enabled him to study from a vast number of books and gave him a multifaceted culture. A prolific writer, he composed no less than 1071 writings, of which he was particularly successful: History of the Italian agrarian landscape, The agrarian question in the Italian national rebirth and the Capitalism in the countryside.
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Guido Piovene (Vicenza 1907 - London 1974) was an Italian writer and journalist born into a noble family of the Venetian aristocracy. A graduate in Philosophy and a member of the Fascist Party, he worked as a foreign correspondent in London and Paris for Corriere della Sera and in the United States and Moscow for La Stampa. After abjuring his racist past and his enthusiastic anti-Semitic reviews, his writings turned to travel reportage. From 1953 to 1956, he travelled around Italy and reported on it in a RAI radio broadcast and then turned it into the book Trip to Italy (1957), the most famous guidebook of the Economic Boom years. For years a prolific writer of successful novels and essays, in his last year of life he founded The Newspaper (New) with Indro Montanelli, Enzo Bettiza and Gianni Granzotto.
Luigi Veronelli (Milan 1926 - Bergamo 2004) was an Italian gastronome, journalist, publisher, television presenter and philosopher born into a family of chemical industrialists. A graduate in Philosophy and an anarchist, he worked as a publisher, publishing three magazines including The Gastronome. In the 1980s he was sentenced to six months for inciting Piedmontese peasants to revolt and occupying the Asti station and motorway as a form of protest against a government indifferent to the problems of small producers. As a journalist he worked for Il Giorno for twenty-one years and as a writer he published several titles, but it is mainly as a television personality - particularly with At the table at 7, the progenitor of all modern cooking programmes - who has become a universally respected figure in the wine world and beyond.
Witnesses of change in post-World War II Italian food culture
The post-World War II man, aware that he is his own sole witness, returns to the centre of the world with an awareness historically the preserve only of the aristocracy and the wealthy classes: food is not just nourishment.
Veronelli, Sereni and Piovene: the post-World War II man
Ever since the 16th century, man, tired of the rigid canons imposed by Greek tradition, has sought a personal and subjective interpretation in the translation of the social and theological dogmas imposed on him, shaping, over the centuries, a feeling of freedom that will lead him to reject horror and authoritarianism and that in the 20th century will give rise to the Second World War.
The 20th century, with the advent of Fascism and Nazism, was imbued with a horror and corruption that nothing and no one should be allowed to ignore. At Auschwitz, the concept of man was reinterpreted with such infamy, with such a dogged respect for what was considered by some to be a sublime ideal - with the object of defining a sub-category of men less useful than meat for slaughter - that questions were asked about the hypothetical death of God that Nietzsche had theorised in the previous century.
The post-World War II man - at first - wonders, therefore, about the apparently inexplicable silence that God had towards that massacre. The silence of a God who did not see, or did not want to see, the horror in the eyes of those who experienced the extermination of their own people and their own hearts, of a God who did not prevent the blood of the victims from flowing with a hitherto unimaginable brutality dictated by the 'organisation' of the elimination of a race.
The Second World War was, in some respects, the 'triumph' of that sentiment of freedom that had animated mankind from very distant times where individual nations, although not always sharing the same interests, fought Italian-German despotism by redefining the concept of human dignity.
The mental construction of a rational, ordered cosmos, governed by very precise ends and governed by a providential God who makes the pain of existence itself more bearable, is eviscerated, therefore, by the 'death of God', understood as the collapse of all the absolute certainties that had supported man in previous centuries, stable centres of gravity capable of exorcising the dismay caused by the chaotic and irrational flow of things. Man, realising that a possible evolution is only necessary for the individual, posits freedom as an inescapable axiom of his living and sees in the Second World War 'the world' on which to put down roots to build his future.
However, it is a world in which the ghost of misery is frightening: in 1946 people still ate on ration cards* and Italian rations were the lowest in Europe, even lower than those in Germany. If a man needed about 2500 kcal a day to live healthily, the ration available to him was only 700 kcal, which could barely be doubled with the free market. The production of agricultural products, even those that were the basis of the diet, decreased while prices rose sharply, so much so that for some foodstuffs increases of up to thirty-five times were seen. The decline in the production of agricultural products, at first, was not due to a drop in the area suitable for cultivation, but to the abandonment of fields during the war - due to the lack of fertilisers, pesticides and fuel for agricultural machinery - with a consequent drop in the productivity index.
*Lhe ration cards (active in Italy from 1940 to 1949) were personal documents that the head of the family used to receive the ration of food and goods that his family was entitled to over a certain period of time according to the number of members. The authorised shopkeeper would stamp the card and detach the monthly reservation coupon. Collection dates and quantities varied often and were announced in newspapers or on posters hung up.
The post-World War II man was therefore a man only seemingly free as misery and the food crisis effectively limited his possibilities. In addition, the national agrarian structure was faltering 'helplessly' to make way for industries, which were already then, indeed then more than now, 'ecomonsters'.
In 1948, Emilio Sereni, then Minister of Public Works for the Communist Party, wrote Midday in opposition, an essay in which he witnesses the unease of the peasants and the protests that animated those years to obtain the redistribution of uncultivated land, a favourable tax system and the reform of agrarian credit. "There is a fourth party in Italy, which may not have many voters, but which is capable of paralysing and rendering all our efforts futile, organising the sabotage of loans and the flight of capital, the increase of loans or scandalous campaigns. Experience has convinced me that Italy cannot be governed today without attracting into the new government formation, in one form or another, representatives of this fourth party, of the party of those who have the money and economic power.
Veronelli, Sereni and Piovene: the transformation of the landscape and new eating habits
We are in the years in which the Italian landscape is profoundly changing: whereas before there was a clear boundary between town and country, today it is an urbanised unicum. Guido Piovene, contemporary and politically far removed from Sereni (Piovene was a fascist), he noted in his Trip to Italy (1957): 'as I travelled through Italy, and wrote down after each stage what I had just seen, the situation changed somewhat behind me... industries were closing, others were opening; prefects and mayors were falling from office; new provinces were being founded [...]. In no other country would it be permitted to assault as we did, to deface cities and countryside, according to the interests and whims of a day'. It is therefore evident how this fourth Party had become in a few years a factual reality that contributed to the transition from an agricultural to an industrial landscape, from countryside-countryside to countryside-urban.
This transformation not only created new eating habits, but - even more interestingly - changed the metrics by which food was judged. The example of bread, which was most affected by the political choices of the time, is a case in point. Between 1949 and 1956, the fledgling bakery industries were pushed by two laws - the first for towns of over 3,000 inhabitants, the second for everyone - that forbade making bread from hand dough and baking it in a wood-fired oven. At a time when Italy was still in misery and the economic miracle was just around the corner, but still of unimaginable scope, especially for the so-called 'common people', artisan bread was being 'stunted' by virtue of industrial bread. A few years later, with the advent of prosperity, this process was consolidated thanks also to advertising. Famous: 'Still eating like in cave times? Instead of bread, Saiwa crackers!"Carousel'. Ready-made food thus became a symbol of prosperity and progress; choosing a food advertised in the newspaper or on television thus became an aesthetic choice. It is not surprising, as Frontani (2004) writes, that bread consumption declined steadily until the 1980s. Corriere della Sera journalist Orio Vergani - who was to found the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in Milan - wrote in 1953: "Italian cuisine dies".
The man who survived the Second World War and the years of misery that immediately followed saw the possibility of consumption as a form of social redemption. It should not be forgotten that these were the years in which electrical appliances entered the homes of Italians in a big way and the possibilities of preserving food and cooking it also increased considerably.
No matter how much a part of politics - regardless of party affiliation, as Emilio Sereni and Guido Piovene demonstrate - realises that 'there is a problem' in the management of the agricultural landscape, 'the ethics of consumption' still cannot belong to the Italian of the 1960s overflowing with the desire to build, do, explore, but above all forget the hunger years.
Veronelli, Sereni and Piovene: the 'birth' of taste
While these were the years of consumption, and in particular the consumption of ready-to-eat food, they were also the years in which the subversive - and not just of cuisine - Luigi Veronelli founded the magazine 'Il Gastronomo'. In an interview in 1981, he declared: 'When, in 1956, I published The Thought journal of theoretical philosophy, The Gastronome gastronomy magazine, I had not the slightest embarrassment. What is gastronomy, in fact? An act of judgement, aimed at separating, in the field of food, what is good from what is not good'. Of course, already in the late Baroque some pioneering chefs of taste and combinations had revamped the tables of the rich, but to think that anyone could choose food according to their taste and what they think is good is a first. Veronelli's magazine, created to promote, protect and valorise 'gastronomic treasures' and wine in particular, becomes the means to protect typical (Denominazioni Comunali, Law No. 142 of 8 June 1990).
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Luigi Veronelli thus founded food and wine journalism and, although at an early stage, he spoke to an elitist audience, when he joined RAI in 1973 everything changed. The father of today's cooking programmes was born: Dinner at 7which, thanks to the co-hosting of Ave Ninchi - a corpulent, graceful and brilliant actress beloved for her films alongside Totò, Alberto Sordi and Peppino de Filippo - reaches an increasingly wide audience. Veronelli's polemical and timely popularisation is no longer reserved for the cultured and wealthy gastronome, but is the prerogative of anyone with a television. In the 1970s, television was already the medium of mass communication and - between one advertisement for an industrial ready-to-eat food and another - Ave Ninchi was the bridge Luigi Veronelli needed to sensitise as many people as possible in order to anticipate the modern conception of gastronomy. "The pig is like the Aida: there is really nothing to throw away!" begins Ave Ninchi in the episode 8 of 10 May 1974 of A tavola alle 7. Particularly interesting is the debate on the choice between fatty and lean pork according to uses: a topic that would be topical in 2022.
With Veronelli, taste no longer has only an aesthetic value, but also an ethical one. The choice of a particular food should not only be seen to define a person's status, but tells of unique flavours of territories to be protected.
"The death of God" during the Second World War, therefore, is complicit in an ennobling of gastronomy and the pleasure of food. After an initial period in which industrialisation and consumption are seen as a means to demonstrate a way out of misery, the modern gastronome is born.
Good taste is something that goes beyond taste and what is pleasing in the narrow sense: it is a modern Grand Tour among the quality products of the Bel Paese that the 'new man' - consumer and free - can not only see, but also choose and protect.