NOTE: If you’re vegetarian, and this topic offends you, I’m sorry. But it’s the best way I know to illustrate something about Italian life that I’m extremely grateful for. Small-scale food production. What I’m about to say may not be true of the grocery stores here, and it may not even be possible in countries the size of the U.S. But there’s something here, that should be considered.
Once a week or more, the neighborhood butcher shop, Marnini, receives a delivery. A white truck pulls up. A portly man in a slightly stained white coverall slides out of the driver’s seat, opens the cargo doors to reveal several sides of beef hanging in a row, throws one over his shoulder, and hauls it into the butcher shop.
Inside the shop, the butchers (a middle-aged man and his father) and perhaps an assistant, begin the process of “processing” by cutting it into pieces that will then be cut—on order—into the different cuts that the Italian household demands. Filetto. Controfiletto. Tagliata. Fiorentina. Etc. (Cuts of meat vary from country to country, cuisine to cuisine.) If one wants filet mignon (filetto), one specifies the thickness and quantity, and it’s cut to order. Ditto for anything ground. How finely ground do you want it? How many times? Do you want it mixed with something else? Do you want it shaped into patties? How much do you need? Your order is prepared, placed in waxed paper, foil, or a decorative wrap, and put in the bag. No sitting between layers of polystyrene and plastic wrap.
You may be squeamish about the topic of butchery, but if you’ve ever seen any films about the mass production of meat products in America—(Linklater’s Fast Food Nation among them)—you’d find this process more clean, more honest, and much more reassuring. From the arrival of the truck to the moment of placing your order, much of the “processing” required to prepare your meat, is the process you see with your own eyes after you’ve placed your order. There are no mammoth, warehouse-filling, bacteria ridden machines, spinning perilously at high speeds, threatening the limbs—in fact, lives—of badly treated illegal aliens.
This is an issue of scale, choice, and cultural preference. This is about keeping things extremely close to home, in their neighborhood. Italians still—and I hope this continues—like to see the people who prepare their food face to face. This isn’t just about chatting, it’s about accountability. It’s about human scale versus corporate scale. And everything about the human scale is much more humane.