The post-World War II man, aware that he is his own sole witness, returns to the centre of the world with an awareness historically the preserve only of the aristocracy and the wealthy classes: food is not just nourishment. Thanks to the work of three profoundly different personalities - Guido Piovene, Emilio Sereni e Luigi Veronelli - the food culture enters the homes of Italians through the mass media par excellence: television.

Guido Piovene, Emilio Sereni and Luigi Veronelli: the man of the Second World War

Ever since the 16th century, man, tired of the rigid canons imposed by Greek tradition, has sought a personal and subjective interpretation in the translation of the social and theological dogmas imposed on him, shaping, over the centuries, a feeling of freedom that will lead him to reject horror and authoritarianism and that in the 20th century will give rise to the Second World War.
The 20th century, with the advent of Fascism and Nazism, was imbued with a horror and corruption that nothing and no one should be allowed to ignore. At Auschwitz, the concept of man was reinterpreted with such infamy, with such a dogged respect for what was considered by some to be a sublime ideal - with the object of defining a sub-category of men less useful than meat for the slaughter - that questions were asked about the hypothetical death of God that Nietzsche had theorised in the previous century.

Auschwitz

The post-World War II man - at first - wonders, therefore, about the apparently inexplicable silence that God had towards that massacre. The silence of a God who did not see, or did not want to see, the horror in the eyes of those who experienced the extermination of their own people and their own hearts, of a God who did not prevent the blood of the victims from flowing with a hitherto unimaginable brutality dictated by the 'organisation' of the elimination of a race.

The Second World War was, in some respects, the 'triumph' of that sentiment of freedom that had animated mankind from very distant times where individual nations, although not always sharing the same interests, fought Italian-German despotism by redefining the concept of human dignity.

Holocaust children

The mental construction of a rational, ordered cosmos, governed by very precise ends and governed by a providential God who makes the pain of existence itself more bearable, is eviscerated, therefore, by the 'death of God', understood as the collapse of all the absolute certainties that had supported man in previous centuries, stable centres of gravity capable of exorcising the dismay caused by the chaotic and irrational flow of things. Man, realising that a possible evolution is only necessary for the individual, places freedom as an inescapable axiom of his living and sees in the Second World War 'the world' on which to set down roots to build his future.

However, it is a world in which the ghost of misery is frightening: in 1946 people still ate with ration cards* and Italian rations were the lowest in Europe, even lower than those in Germany. If a man needed about 2500 kcal a day to live healthily, the ration available to him was only 700 kcal, which could barely be doubled with the free market. The production of agricultural products, even those that were the basis of food, declined while prices rose sharply, so much so that for some foodstuffs, increases of up to thirty-five times were seen. The decline in the production of agricultural products, at first, was not due to a drop in the area suitable for cultivation, but to the abandonment of fields during the war - due to the lack of fertilisers, pesticides and fuel for agricultural machinery - with a consequent drop in the productivity index.

*The ration cards (active in Italy from 1940 to 1949) were personal documents that the head of the family used to receive the ration of food and goods due to his family over a certain period of time based on the number of members. The authorised shopkeeper would stamp the card and detach the monthly reservation coupon. Collection dates and quantities varied often and were announced in newspapers or on posters hung up.

Guido piovene yearly card

The post-World War II man was therefore a man only seemingly free as misery and the food crisis effectively limited his possibilities. In addition, the national agrarian structure was faltering 'helplessly' to make way for industries, which were already then, indeed then more than now, 'ecomonsters'.
In 1948, Emilio Sereni, at the time Minister of Public Works for the Communist Party, wrote Mezzogiorno all'opposizione, an essay in which he witnessed the peasants' unease and the protests that animated those years to obtain the redistribution of uncultivated land, a favourable tax system and the reform of agrarian credit.

"There is in Italy a fourth Party, which may not have many voters, but which is capable of paralysing and rendering futile all our efforts, by organising the sabotage of loans and the flight of capital, the increase of loans or scandalous campaigns. Experience has convinced me that Italy cannot be governed today without attracting into the new government formation, in one form or another, representatives of this fourth party, of the party of those who have the money and economic power.

Council of Ministers, April 1947, Statement by Alcide de Gasperi (then Prime Minister of the Italian Republic) quoted by Sereni E., Mezzogiorno all'opposizione. Diario di un Ministro in congedo, Einaudi 1948 [page 21].

Guido piovene Emilio Sereni Agrarian Reform

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Guido Piovene: the transformation of the landscape and new eating habits

We are in the years in which the Italian landscape changes profoundly: whereas before there was a clear boundary between town and country, today it is an urbanised unicum. Guido Piovene, a contemporary and politically very distant from Sereni, noted in his Viaggio in Italia (1957): 'as I travelled through Italy, and wrote down after each stage what I had just seen, the situation was changing behind me... industries were closing, others were opening; prefects and mayors were falling, new provinces were being founded [...]. In no other country would it be permitted to assault as we did, to deface cities and countryside, according to the interests and whims of a day'. It is therefore evident how this fourth Party had become in a few years a factual reality that contributed to the transition from an agricultural to an industrial landscape, from countryside-countryside to countryside-urban.

This transformation not only created new eating habits, but - even more interestingly - changed the metrics by which food was judged. The example of bread, which most of all suffered from the political choices of the time, is fitting. Between 1949 and 1956, the fledgling bakery industries were pushed by two laws - the first for towns of over 3,000 inhabitants, the second for everyone - that forbade making bread from hand dough and baking it in a wood-fired oven. At a time when Italy was still in misery and the economic miracle was just around the corner, but still of unimaginable scope, especially for the so-called 'common people', artisan bread was being 'stunted' by virtue of industrial bread. A few years later, with the advent of affluence, this process was consolidated thanks also to advertising. Famous: 'Still eating like in cave times? Instead of bread, Saiwa crackers!" from Carousel. Ready-made foods thus became a symbol of prosperity and progress; choosing a food advertised in the newspaper or on television thus became an aesthetic choice. It is not surprising, as Frontani (2004) writes, that bread consumption declined steadily until the 1980s. Corriere della Sera journalist Orio Vergani - who was to found the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in Milan - wrote in 1953: "Italian cuisine dies'.

Guido piovene carousel

The man who survived the Second World War and the years of misery that immediately followed saw the possibility of consumption as a form of social redemption. It should not be forgotten that these were the years in which electrical appliances entered the homes of Italians in a big way and the possibilities of preserving food and cooking it also increased considerably.
No matter how much a part of politics - regardless of line-ups, as Emilio Sereni and Guido Piovene demonstrate - realises that 'there is a problem' in the management of the agricultural landscape, 'the ethics of consumption' still cannot belong to the Italian of the 1960s overflowing with the desire to build, to do, to explore, but above all to forget the years of hunger.

Guido piovene hunger second world war

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Luigi Veronelli and the 'birth' of taste

While these were the years of consumption, and in particular the consumption of ready-to-eat food, they were also the years in which the subversive - and not just of cuisine - Luigi Veronelli founded the magazine 'Il Gastronomo'. In an interview in 1981 he declared: 'When, in 1956, I published, a few months after Il Pensiero magazine of theoretical philosophy, Il Gastronomo magazine of gastronomy, I was not the least bit embarrassed. What is gastronomy, in fact? An act of judgement, aimed at separating, in the field of food, what is good from what is not good'. Of course, already in the late Baroque some pioneering chefs of taste and combinations had revamped the canteen of the rich, but to think that anyone could choose food according to their taste and what they consider good is an absolute novelty. Veronelli's magazine, created to promote, protect and valorise 'gastronomic deposits' and wine in particular, became the means to protect national typicality, laying the foundations for the subsequent birth of the De.Co. (Denominazioni Comunali, Law no. 142 of 8 June 1990).

Luigi veronelli the gastronome

Luigi Veronelli thus founded food and wine journalism and, even if at an early stage he spoke to an elitist audience, when he joined RAI in 1973 everything changed. The father of today's cooking programmes was born: A tavola alle 7, which, thanks to the co-hosting of Ave Ninchi - a corpulent, graceful and brilliant actress beloved for her films alongside Totò, Alberto Sordi and Peppino de Filippo - reached an increasingly wide audience. Veronelli's polemical and timely popularisation is no longer reserved for the cultured and wealthy gastronome, but is the prerogative of anyone with a television. In the 1970s, television was already the medium of mass communication and - between one advertisement for an industrial ready-to-eat food and another - Ave Ninchi was the bridge Luigi Veronelli needed to sensitise as many people as possible in order to anticipate the modern conception of gastronomy. 'Pork is like the Aida: there's really nothing to throw away!' begins Ave Ninchi in episode 7 of 10 May 1974. Particularly interesting is the debate on the choice between fatty and lean pork according to use: a topic that would be relevant in 2022.

Luigi veronelli ave Ninchi guido piovene

With Veronelli, taste no longer has only an aesthetic value, but also an ethical one. The choice of a particular food should not only be seen to define a person's status, but tells of unique flavours of territories to be protected.

Guido Piovene, Emilio Sereni, Luigi Veronelli and 'good taste'

"The death of God" during the Second World War, therefore, is complicit in an ennobling of gastronomy and the pleasure of food. After an initial period in which industrialisation and consumption are seen as a means to demonstrate a way out of misery, the modern gastronome is born.
Good taste is something that goes beyond taste and what is pleasing in the narrow sense: it is a modern Grand Tour among the quality products of the Bel Paese that the 'new man' - consumer and free - can not only see, but also choose and protect.

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