Italy is known for its food. Italian food is synonymous with quality, as is italian wine. Yet, in the home for high cuisine, it seems the Italian state is finding itself increasingly choosing to become food and drink police, dictacting what you can sell, what you can drink, and even what times you can drink. The Italian people are chaffing under the tightening of the leash while tourist publications like Food and Wine are moralizing on the side of the food police, even suggesting that a ban on drinking wine after 2AM is no big deal becaue, after all, you should be in bed after 2 anyway.
The reaction from the distant players, such as the writers of Food and Wine magainze, illustrate the blind acceptance of coercive action against non-prefered behavior, that is, laws that prohibit voluntary action that harms no one directly. The reaction by those who are on the brutal end of such enforcement illustrates the tendancy for humans to resist being artificially hemmed in from making free-will decisions. Those who pay the direct price of coercion are the most likely to resist it. Those who pay no diret price are least likely to resist it and most likely to support it.
Earlier this month, Milan banned food trucks from the city. Also in July, reports The Local, Rome imposed a series of bans on food and alcohol.
The Roman law prohibits grocers and other stores from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. and bars people from drinking alcohol from a glass in public at that same time. It also prohibits all alcohol consumption outdoors after midnight, and cuts off all alcohol sales after 2 a.m. Rome has also joined other Italian cities—notably Florence—in prohibiting picnicking at popular historic sites.
The first Saturday the alcohol ban was in place, Roman police issued more than three dozen tickets, which cost about $200 a pop. Many Romans are aghast.
“It limits our freedom as a business, and our free choice as responsible adults to be able to drink after 2 a.m.,” the owners of Redrum, a restaurant and bar, told The Local. “[It is] a curfew which recalls decidedly sad periods of our history.”
At least one U.S. publication doesn’t see the big deal. Food & Wine—a magazine devoted to celebrating some of the specific things Rome has banned: food and wine—apparently doesn’t see the big deal with the Roman law.
“Truthfully, it doesn’t sound like the law should be difficult to abide,” writes F&W’s Elisabeth Sherman. “You’ll still be able to enjoy Rome with respect, and a glass of wine in your hand, at least until two in the morning. By then, you should be in bed anyway.”
This isn’t all Italy’s getting wrong. This month, the country’s highest court ruled that restaurants that serve frozen food to customers without declaring so on their menus are guilty of civil fraud. A restaurateur who’d disputed the charges was fined more than $2,000.
“Even the mere availability of frozen food, if not identified as such on the menu, constitutes attempted commercial fraud,” said the ruling. (Canned tomatoes are apparently still acceptable.)
In April, the same court ruled, the New York Post reports, that “cooking stinky food—like rich pasta sauces and fish—too close to neighbors” constitutes a crime. The court, in upholding a couple’s fine of more than $2,000, declared cooking food that produces aromas which are subjectively “beyond the limits of tolerability” amounts to “olfactory molestation.”
A creeping food xenophobia also appears to be taking hold in the country. Last year, Florence imposed restrictions on so-called “foreign” food from being sold in the historic city center. Fair Verona barred “ethnic” foods. This year, Venice banned new fast food outlets, focusing in part on kebab shops, in order to preserve Italian “decorum and traditions.”
Add to these recent crackdowns the country’s ban on cultivating GMO crops and the creeping takeover of the food sector by the mafia, and Italy’s future as a culinary titan would seem to be in jeopardy.
Bans on drinking and eating in public and a host of other lousy rules could jeopardize Italy’s culinary future.