On the Italian Life and Consumerism: Our Review Of Eataly

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the ideal Italian life represented in Pellegrina, Reggio Calabria

Italian Shopping on Steroids – On the Italian Life and Consumerism: Our Review Of Eataly

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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8 Comments

  1. Amen, Vincent, Amen

  2. My sentiments exactly!

  3. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of big news, thanks for reminding us all what’s really important. Mario Batali doesn’t need your money but the corner shop does

  4. Bravo Vicente —
    This is exactly my response as well. You know, it seems to be epidemic though – everything about Italy is a consumer play in this country – consider TV commercials about Olive Garden to “Tuscan” in the names of every new DH Horton based housing development. I lived in Bologna recently for a year – when I came home the choices were 1) industrial fruit and vegetables at the local corporate supermarket, or 2) “fresh” or “organic” or even “Italian”, as some kind of fashion statement for wealthy lifestyle choices, pasta at $10.50 a pound at AF Ferrari or the like. I miss every element of being able to walk home, through Bologna, and pick up food from the small local vendors.
    Keep up the good work Vin, your insights perfectly echo my own
    Regards from fellow Jerseyite on Left Coast,
    Matt

  5. Buona Sera Vincenzo,
    I just got back from 6 weeks in the States. Haven’t been back in 3 years and although this was my third trip back I was absolutely OVERWHELMED with the whole retail experience. Things like floor to ceiling OXO gadgets on display..vegetable peelers 10 feet up the wall. Stuff like that. The volume, the excess. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was preparing a birthday dinner for my best friend and I wanted to serve a simple head of escarole dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar. What was I thinking? I couldn’t even find the escarole or for that matter anything whole and not precut in a plastic bag.
    I live in a tiny village in Eastern Tuscany and I believe that I’m living the real deal. Buy the bread from the baker realted to your next door neighbor then go to the guy who sells the fruit and vegetables who also sells the seeds and plants for the l’orto. Go to Antonio’s who cures his own proscuitto and have a panino (a few slices of proscuitto crudo on schiacciata) and a glass of vino. This is the kind of stuff that matters. Eataly makes me sad as it represents mass consumerism and a massive misrepresentation of what the real daily shopping experience is like here.

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