Pigs At The Parliament: Italian Farmers Protested Imported Food
Image Credit: Most of the pork in Italy was imported | Pexels

Food as a protest tool has a long history. It’s fascinating how something so fundamental to our existence can be used so creatively by the plebs to mock the elite and induce course corrections, or by protesters looking to foment chaos. 

In ancient Italy, Vespasian, who later became emperor of Rome, was pelted with turnips in 63 ACE by the people of Hadrumetum (in present-day Tunisia) due to food shortages. Hundreds of years later, eggs were hurled at Methodists on the Isle of Man to persecute them. George Whittier, an American abolitionist, was pelted with eggs in 1834 after giving a lecture on slavery in the state of New Hampshire, where eggs were used to punish Methodists.

That tradition of flinging edibles at people continues in the modern era. In December of 2013, hundreds of Italian farmers journeyed to parliament in a Christmas season protest against foods imported to make pasta, mozzarella cheese, and prosciutto ham. In a campaign dubbed "The Battle for Christmas: Choose Italy", Coldiretti, the Farmers' Union of Italy, claimed that 33% of foods sold in Italy and exported from the country were made with foreign materials. 

A wheat and olive farmer from south Italy, Augusto Musardo, said that the government needed to make labelling more transparent and halt such imports. The protest was done to highlight the dwindling number of farmers in Italy. Approximately 4% of Italians work as farmers. It was reported that between 2007 and 2013, 36000 farmers had been put out of work, out of which 8000 were pig farmers 

The farmers demonstrated outside Parliament, marching with pink pigs as a symbol of being driven to ruin by processed meats known as 'Made in Italy'. They claimed that Italy's largest agricultural economy had become a victim of poor quality foreign food processing, counterfeit goods, and a lack of proper processing facilities. Farmers asked pedestrians to "adopt" one of the pigs, which was lying contentedly in straw-filled sties surrounded by protesting farmers wearing the vibrant yellow of Italy's biggest agriculture group Coldiretti. The farmers said many of them could not afford to farm anymore because they did not have anything, because everything was destroyed. Their homes were abandoned, the land was useless and their lives ruined.

Most of the protesting farmers were pg farmers | Pexels

The group said that meat production provided 105,000 jobs in an economy where unemployment was at a record high. The protest group launched a "Battle for Christmas" campaign to encourage Italians to buy national products. "Too many foreign goods enter our country without a clear law on labelling, and suddenly become 'Made in Italy' without our having a clear law on labelling," according to Roberto Moncalvo, president of Coldiretti.

He further claimed that three out of four prosciutto sold as ‘Made in Italy' were actually made using non-Italian pork, and Parmacotto, Italy's biggest prosciutto maker, had tripled pork imports over the last year. Parmacotto denied the allegations and said that it only used Italian raw materials for 100 percent of its requirements. The company also said it did not increase imports.

According to Coldiretti, about 50 percent of the classic Italian mozzarella cheese is made with foreign milk and rennet, and half the olive oil in Italy is produced with foreign olives. In addition, a third of Italian pasta is made with wheat from abroad, half of which is imported. Demanding stricter labelling laws, Coldiretti asked the government to ensure that public subsidies went exclusively to Italian farmers and to publish detailed import statistics. Coldiretti claimed that thousands of farmers had stopped trucks at the Italian-Austrian border to ensure that the goods they transported were produced locally. They were concerned that German mozzarella and ham headed for Sicily and Modena, two famous Italian regions for their cured meats, might not be of local origin.

Food protests are fascinating, whether it sis the hilarity of food being paraded, the cynicism of food being destroyed, or the flip side of the same coin - the hunger strike. Instances of hunger strikes being an effective weapon have proven popular in India. Gandhi’s hunger strikes are the stuff of legend in freedom movements. It is now unsurprising news to see Indian farmers drop a lot of their produce on highways as a way of protesting price changes by the government.  Hunger strikes played a significant role in western history as well. In the same year (2013), across the Atlantic Ocean, over 100 detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison went on a long-term hunger strike to protest their imprisonment, which was inspired by the suffragettes' hunger strikes in the early 1900s.

The story of food protests is as old as recorded history itself. Keep an eye out for more such interesting stories in this series on Slurrp.