Ever since Chiara Appendino said she wanted Turin to become Italy's first vegetarian city, residents have been grumbling.
Italy is a difficult place in which to start a vegetarian movement. It’s the land of long-simmering meaty bolognese sauces, of braised veal shanks served over polenta, of hanging prosciuttos, Florentine steaks, and paper-thin carpaccio. It is a country in which meat is king, where a meal without meat is, well, not a real meal!
So you can imagine that when Chiara Appendino, the new mayor of Turin, announced that the city would strive to become Italy’s first vegetarian city, negative reactions were swift and fierce. The new government made the following statement in July:
"The promotion of vegan and vegetarian diets is a fundamental act in safeguarding our environment, the health of our citizens and the welfare of our animals. Leading medical, nutritional and political experts will help promote a culture of respect in our schools, teaching children how to eat well while protecting the earth and animal rights.”
Appendino also said the city would introduce a weekly meat-free day.
Five months later, not much has changed, but reporters from The Guardian spoke with residents in Turin to find out what the general mood is. It seems that irritation is the dominating emotion right now.
Some residents say the rise in vegetarianism and veganism is just a fad, that it will die out over time, and that Appendino made these promises in order to garner votes.
Others, including local meat vendors, recognize that the anti-meat message goes further afield and is even pushed on TV. Meat is frequently touted as unhealthy, which is why so many older people are giving it up. (Younger people go veg for environmental and ethical reasons more so.) Combined with the tendency of younger shoppers to buy less, but higher quality meat, vendors have seen significant sales drops of 40 to 50 percent in recent years.
Turin’s butchers are furious and, should a meat-free day pass, are demanding a meat-only day in retribution.
Parents argue that Appendino’s government should focus on other, more important issues ahead of vegetarianism, such as the lack of quality food in schools. (This topic sparked another huge debate in Milan recently, when a young boy was made to eat alone because his parents sent a sandwich.) With some schools unable to supply even toilet paper, conversations about diet strike some parents as superfluous.
Deputy mayor Stefania Giannuzzi argues that Turin’s residents are interpreting the mayor’s intentions incorrectly.
“It isn’t about forcing people to eat a certain way and we don’t want to clash with the meat industry. Instead, it’s about raising awareness and showing people that there is an alternative if they are interested. The vegan choice is only part of the plan to make our city more sustainable and promote environmental issues.”
Giannuzzi makes a good point. Without bringing dietary issues to the forefront of conversations about environmental issues, then we, as a global population, don’t stand a chance of solving the enormously terrifying problem of climate change. People will resist these conversations because they challenge deeply entrenched traditions and cultural norms, and food in particular is something to which people are very attached.
It’s hard to imagine a vegetarian Turin, but even if Appendino’s efforts result in a widespread reduction in the amount of meat consumed — which seems likely, especially as education campaigns are launched in schools — then it will have been worthwhile. The whole world will never go vegan, but if the whole world could eat less meat, we’d all be better off.