You may have noticed that some of the posts here on Parla Food have been of the doom and gloom persuasion of late. I don’t know what else to say, aside from the fact that I see the food culture of the place that I live changing for the worse. Palates are being forcibly homogenized as farm raised fish, industrially produced breads, and factory farmed meats infiltrate the so-called pastoral Roman culinary landscape. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
In many ways, chefs in the US, UK, and the Nordic countries are way ahead of those in Rome (and Italy in general) in terms of sustainable sourcing and dedication to seasonal cooking, which is the exact opposite perception that most people have. Roman consumers, in spite of their reputation as discerning diners, prize price over quality (a miniscule group of gastrofighetti–food snobs–excluded), and flock to supermarkets in droves, leaving many local markets to the 70 and over set.
Now most of what you read about food in Rome, especially in magazines, speaks about how quaint and perfect every neighborhood trattoria is (this is utter BS) and how Campo de’ Fiori is the lifeblood of the food community (WTF?!). Out of touch hardly covers it. Enough of this rubbish. Can we please talk about where all the bakers have gone? Where are all the food artisans? Is it possible that in a city of over 3 million people, so few are engaged in making and cultivating our food? Which chefs are actually sourcing responsibly? I think these questions need serious consideration. But where does one start?
A few months ago, while pondring these issues in a semi-depressive state, I came across an article about the first MAD FoodCamp, a two-day Symposium founded by Rene Redzepi and the Noma team. I booked a room and flight immediately. In his piece for the Observer this weekend Redzepi wrote, “Farmers, scholars, foragers and chefs will talk about where we are and educate each other about where we can go… New knowledge not only makes us more responsible, it can also make us more creative, more socially engaged, with a fresh understanding and the tools to consider the cultural, historical, social and scientific context of the food all of us cook and serve every day.”
In ten days I will depart for Copenhagen to attend MAD Food Camp, where I hope to learn more about how food professionals confront obstacles to local food culture, how they promote sustainable practices, and how I might put these ideas to work in Rome. I’m no chef, but at times the pen is mightier than the knife.