From vitello tonnato – veal with tuna sauce – to beef braised in the Piedmont region’s most famous red wine, brasato al Barolo, meat dishes have been central to the food tradition of northern Italy for centuries.
But Chiara Appendino, the new mayor of Turin and a force in the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), could be about to change all that with her pledge this week to promote vegetarian and vegan diets as a “priority” in her administration.
According to M5S’s 62-page manifesto – which also called for better urban planning and the protection of public land – Turin’s new mayor said the endorsement of meat-free and even dairy-free living was fundamental to the protection of the environment, health, and the wellbeing of animals.
While the specifics of the strategy have not been disclosed, the city is expected to set up educational projects in schools to teach students about animal welfare and nutrition.
The move is unprecedented in Italian municipal government, but is in keeping with the views of the eurosceptic M5S. The party espouses some progressive values, such as environmentalism, conservation and green energy, but is ambiguous on migration and did not support a recent extension of parental rights to LGBT Italians.
Earlier this month, Luigi di Maio, the deputy speaker of the Italian parliament – who would likely lead the M5S in the next general election – celebrated his 30th birthday by indulging in a vegan cake. Though Beppe Grillo, the M5S founder and a former comedian, has said eating meat is part of his nature, his widely followed blog has occasionally praised the vegetarian diet, including a post on the Leonard0 Di Caprio-produced documentary Cowspiracy, and an article that promoted vegetarianism at childcare centres.
Appendino’s surprise victory in June, in which she handily defeated the incumbent Democrat Piero Fassino, has made the 31-year-old the darling of M5S. But the new mayor’s rallying cry against meat could still backfire.
The news was met with some ridicule on Twitter, where she faced accusations of attempting to create a nanny state. “If you disobey [the mayor’s agenda] in Turin you’ll go to bed without dinner”, said one tweet. Another critic pointed out that the mayor’s agenda lacked any mention of industry, even though Turin is the longtime home of carmakers Fiat and Alfa Romeo and is considered Italy’s industrial heartland.
Stefania Giannuzzi, a new councillor for the environment appointed by Appendino who says she has been a vegetarian for 20 years, said the promotion of vegetarianism was not meant as an affront to the meat producers of Piedmont.
“I would not want to create a contrast with the meat industry. We do not want to close the small shops or ruin the people who have worked for years to develop the Piedmontese food and wine heritage,” Giannuzzi told Corriere della Sera.
But M5S could be underestimating the challenge they face in Turin. Last year, when the World Health Organization labelled cured meats such as ham, sausage and salami as carcinogenic, meat producers in Italy railed against the classification, calling it “meat terrorism”.