There’s already a backlash
This summer, the Northern Italian city of Turin (along with the country’s Roman capital) voted in its first female mayor. Her name is Chiara Appendino, and her five-year municipal plan has a bold component aimed at fighting climate change, improving public health, and decreasing animal cruelty. How? By promoting a vegan and vegetarian diet to the citizens of Turin through municipal campaigning.
Appendino isn’t the only female politician in Italy making waves regarding meat-free eating, however. A few hundred miles away in the town of Forza, city deputy Elvira Sorvino wants to curtail the rising trend toward plant-based eating. In response to recent reports of child malnourishment and neglect by vegan parents, Sorvino has proposed legislation that would criminalize parents who raise their children on a vegan diet. A local Italian report cites Sorvino’s opening statements in the bill where she specifically addresses the growing cultural shift toward vegetarianism as a healthy lifestyle, a shift that she has branded as “reckless and dangerous.”
But in Turin, Appendino’s proposed campaign doesn’t want to directly antagonize meat consumption—its promotion of a plant-based lifestyle is more the byproduct of an already veg-friendly culture. Despite the meat-heavy regional cuisine, Turin boasts 133 restaurants that are either vegan, vegetarian, or are veg-friendly, according to the Veg travel app Happy Cow; with a population under 900,000, Turin’s herbivorous food options rival those in much larger cities like Rome and Milan, where there are 150 and 122 veg-friendly restaurant listings, respectively. Plus, the people of Turin already know a lot about food. The city is the capital of Piedmont, Italy’s second-largest region whose history of gastronomy and food justice makes it good testing ground for the hypothesis that eating your veggies can change the world.
Piedmont is also the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement, a grassroots campaign started by Italian activists in the 1980s that has now spread internationally. The goal? To preserve regional food traditions and help people stay connected with their gastronomic heritage in a time of industrialization and rising fast food consumption. What Slow Food did for the food movement in the 80s could foreshadow what meatless initiatives are aiming to accomplish in 2016—activists who encourage less meat consumption are often trying to help people understand what goes into their food, and to think about how it impacts the environment and their health.
While globetrotting food lovers and wine aficionados likely already have Turin starred on their maps, the city may now become a hub for emerging food activists and policy-makers with Appendino’s plan in place. Though the specifics still need to be ironed out, Appendino’s initiative will likely draw more vegan and vegetarian tourists to Turin, but she may also upend North Italy’s cheesy, meaty cuisine and transform Turin into a sustainable, green city.