Risotto and polenta are traditional menu items in Verona, Italy, and its mayor and government want to keep it that way. The city has banned new restaurants that mostly offer “ethnic” or deep fried food from opening.
Verona mayor Flavio Tosi has attempted to justify the ban by saying that it’s the best way to preserve the city’s culture and traditions in the face of an explosion of restaurants serving food like kebabs, gyros and fried food more typical of southern, seaside Italian regions than the more mountainous north, Alex Swerdloff writes for Munchies.
“Thanks to this provision there will be no more openings of establishments that sell food prepared in a way that could impact the decorum of our city,” Tosi said, as Andrea Vogt reported for the Telegraph. “This protects not only our historic and architectural patrimony of the city centre, but also the tradition of typical culture of the Verona territory.”
Critics, however, are calling foul. As Vogt reports, Tosi was a long-time member of the far-right and anti-immigrant Northern League party, even though he ran for mayor as an independent. People opposed to the restaurant ban say this has less to do with preserving Verona’s culture than it does with unfairly targeting its immigrant and Muslim populations, both of which have grown in recent years.
Verona isn’t the only city enacting laws like this. Several Italian cities including Venice and Florence are considering or have implemented similar so-called “Unesco Laws” that claim to be trying to preserve their traditions and culture while clamping down on restaurants, souvenir shops, and Internet cafés that are typically run by immigrants from China or the Middle East, Vogt writes. In 2009, several Italian cities banned kebab shops, setting off a “Yes to Polenta, No to Couscous” movement, Aly Walansky reports for Food & Wine.
“Some of this gimcrackery, especially when we don’t know even know where its made, is difficult to reconcile with the city,” Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro tells Vogt. “These are things that have nothing to do with our history and frankly create discomfort.”
This decision comes as tensions in Europe continue to rise over immigration and the influx of refugees from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. On Thursday, European Council president warned so-called “economic migrants” posing as refugees not to try and sneak into the European Union, Tim Hume and Laura Akhoun report for CNN. At the same time, immigration centers in Greece and Turkey have built up enormous backlogs as many European countries have shut their doors on refugees and immigrants seeking to move to the west. More and more, it seems likely that these tensions around immigration will continue to play out on the plate, as well.