On the Italian Life and Consumerism: My Take on Eataly

(photo: the ideal Italian life represented in Pellegrina, Reggio Calabria)

Italian Shopping on Steroids

You'll have to excuse me if I sound a bit crabby this morning, as I just finished reading a New York Times review of the mega supermarket Eataly (located in New York City).  While the Times article was somewhat critical of the 50,000 square foot space (including multiple restaurants, an espresso bar, butcher, fish shop, wine store, cooking school, etc.) calling it, "...a mass-market retail play that capitalizes on the fame of its most visible partners, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and his mother, Lidia Bastianich", they also applauded the store for possibly, "represent[ing] a step forward for Italian food at the upper end of the economic spectrum of New York" (I hate to think of the hidden implications behind this statement).

The Authentic Italian Life:
The Mom and Pop Shop Versus the "Unlimited Brand Experience"

What gets me all fired up is the fact that one aspect of what makes Italian life so special is the experience of purchasing and consuming food. That is to say, in many small villages in Italy the average Italian visits the cafe for an espresso in the morning, the Salumeria for some sausage and salumi, the Panificio for bread, and a local farmer for fruits and vegetables (or their own farm if they're lucky) - this may be changing in large Italian cities where "supermarket" shopping is beginning to take hold.  If Eatly-like establishments were to open throughout Italy (there are, in fact, a chain of Eataly like Über stores in Italy) then we could all say good by to the small, local, shops and the idea of supporting local farmers and artisans directly.  And while Eataly claims to carry some local products, most of their items are brought in from overseas (as the Times article points out). 

What Eataly is telling it's customer is to shop here and you can find everything you need (and, by the way, screw the mom and pop shop selling cheese and salumi next door, because they don't offer cooking classes, a handmade pasta station, and the option to have "dinner" in the middle of a super market).  The question that keeps popping into my mind is why would I shop at Eataly and, beyond the novelty of seeing a 50,000 sq. ft. Italian circus (as, again, the Times suggests), would anyone would want to form a relationship and shop in an overly exploited corporate environment?  And, moreover, haven't we had enough of Home Depot, Starbucks, Staples and the idea that every consumer niche in the US (including our beloved Italian lifestyle) can become a brand commodity?

Simple Advice

My advice this morning is to continue (or start) to support the local shops in your area that offer wonderful products, great service, and that one to one relationship and connection that makes living life the Italian way (i.e, the good life) so special.

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