When one says Italy, one speaks of the culture of food and high-quality food products. But in a world where the impact of humans’ activities weighs more and more, and with a growing population and resources becoming more scarce, the food industry and the Made in Italy brand face new and crucial challenges. These topics were discussed at Montclair State University during the event Food, Sustainability and Biotechnologies (see the video of the event at the bottom of the page) organized by the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies, within the Critical Made in Italy series, in collaboration with the Italian Program (Department of Spanish and Italian), and co-sponsored by: the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, the Global Education Center and the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University.
One of the products that above all others is associated with Italy is coffee. But there is coffee and there is coffee, and this product – largely popular in the Western world – has been under the public eye throughout the years for a production process not always respectful of the environment and local communities. Some companies, however, have wanted to tie their brand to a sustainable approach within the coffee industry. Among these stands out the Italian illy which, in the coffee business, has brought the values of Made in Italy and a serious commitment to sustainability. This is what Andrea Illy, Chairman of illycaffè and Altagamma Foundation, spoke about during the event at Montclair, along with Daniele Balicco, Professor of aesthetics, journalist, and author of essays on ecology and politics. At the event the Italian Consul in New York, Francesco Genuardi, and the director of the event’s sponsor, the Italian Trade Agency of New York, Maurizio Forte, also spoke. Both pointed out the role of Italy in spreading the culture of good food and living well throughout the world.
During his remarks, Andrea Illy introduced his family’s company, now in its third generation, led by him, explaining that illy has always aimed towards high quality, constantly introducing innovations in the coffee industry and bringing Italy to the world through its products. “We are not a company oriented in profits,” he explained. “The consumers are the real owners of the company because they are the ones that generate the revenue. But the revenue is a means and not an end. What interests us is spreading knowledge and values.” Created as part of this philosophy is l’Università del Caffè (University of Coffee), founded by the company in Trieste in 1999 and organized in three departments – producers, restaurateurs, and consumers – with the aim of creating a dialogue around coffee on all levels, “from the plant to the cup,” as is stated in one of the company’s mottos. “We work to create a virtuous cycle between countries of production and countries of consumption and this is possible when you make a high-quality product and you sell it at the right price,” repeats Illy. Part of this perspective is also the sponsorship of the International Day of Happiness of the United Nations because, as Illy explained, the company wants to be a part of the solution and not the problem.
After Andrea Illy’s remarks came Daniele Balicco who, starting from a picture of a Romanesco broccoli, the design of which – he explained – follows the Fibonacci sequence, wanted to underscore how agriculture, nutrition and human health and the health of the planet follow a similar balance. Balicco then illustrated “some small Italian stories that could become great.” The journalist discussed the experience of the Cascina Rosa dell’Istituto dei Tumori di Milano (Cascina Rosa of the National Cancer Institute of Milan) that works on the diet for the prevention of cancer, with the particular emphasis on products that make up the Mediterranean diet; he discussed the case of the biomedical campus in Rome that studies and cultivates plants and medical and botanical principles dating back to the Renaissance; he showed a clip from the documentary Natural Resistance, which focused on the resilience of Italian winegrower families; and, lastly, the journalist discussed the global spread of a philosophy born in Italy that is today universally known and followed: Slow Food.
Like Illy, the Made in Italy brand, or at least a part thereof, also tries to contribute to the solution and not the problem. It could also be a matter of size, or a matter of culture and tradition, but it would seem as if the economic model of certain Italian entrepreneurships points in the direction of sustainability. With this and other events dedicated to Made in Italy, the Inserra Chair wants to open a conversation on Italian entrepreneurship and on the values our products bring to global markets. A conversation that wants to also include Italian businesses that work in the tri-state area (to which a meeting during the same day was dedicated) and that aims to create synergies around the study of the Italian culture and language.
Following the presentations was a discussion moderated by Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair, and Enza Antenos, Deputy Chair of the Italian Program, and with the participation of a very interested public. During this discussion, it was brought up how Italy was recently classified as the healthiest country in the world and the second in longevity. “The secret is in the epigenetics,” said Andrea Illy. Daniele Balicco connected these qualities of the Italian people to the diet, explaining that Italy has a rich biodiversity and, therefore, great nutritional wealth: “Just think, in Italy alone there are 40,000 official recipes. China, a country with just a few more inhabitants, counts 90,000,” said the journalist, laughing and emphasizing how many of these recipes come from simple cooking that relies more on the quality of the original product than on its transformation.
The public asked the guests a number of questions, demonstrating how much curiosity and regard there is for Italian cuisine in a country in which, traditionally, few pay attention to what goes on their plate, and that is recently discovering the benefits of a healthy yet delicious diet, and is therefore seriously looking to Italian cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. Indeed, when it comes to food and health, Italy certainly has a lot to teach.
Translated by Marta Russoniello.