Putting our best “food foot” forward

Prioritizing small producers and businesses at home this spring

From where I sit in Florence, the global situation is sobering: a full year has passed since Italy introduced Draconian lockdown measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. At the time, this confinement seemed both necessary and, however flippant it may sound, a novelty, at least for some: navigating new ways of working, socializing, and dining felt non-threatening when we imagined the worst would be behind us within a few weeks.

“As the pandemic drags on, prioritizing small producers and local food and wine businesses in our home kitchens will help set the stage for a better future, and will keep our spirit of discovery and conviviality alive amid a difficult time.”

A year on, though, we’re not out of the woods yet, and in Italy, new traffic light “crisis classifications” are blinking week to week, region to region: red zones, yellow zones, orange zones (note the conspicuous absence of green). Wherever on the geographical map you’ve been riding out this crisis, there’s no sense trying to minimize its effects. But nor is there value in sustained wallowing: for those of us in semi- or full-lockdown mode as spring approaches, in Italy or beyond, the best antidote is to aim for discovery over despair in our daily lives at home.  The easiest place to do this? Around the dining table, of course. 

Much media attention has been paid to the plight of the hospitality industry, particularly restaurateurs in Italy and other European economies that rely heavily on tourism. Pivoting to primarily delivery and takeaway-focused services when staffs are small, customers are cash-strapped, and regulations are ever-shifting hasn’t been simple. There’s been significantly less discussion, though, of Covid’s effects on small food and wine producers, many of whom are the sources keeping menus filled at restaurants in the first place, and who are suffering in their own ways. One mode of embracing “discovery over despair” as we move through another abnormal spring is prioritizing supporting these non-industrial producers and family-run food and wine businesses, particularly within our own local and regional communities.

With limitations on travel, and fewer occasions to flit about town to track new openings, or to stumble on mom-and-pop shops filled to the brim with gourmet products, many a home gourmand’s exploratory spirit may feel dampened. The temptation to fill our pantries and refrigerators with supermarket staples or to restock our spice rack with orders from impersonal, high-speed online delivery services is real, as are our own economic and efficiency concerns. But we can each use this period to take small steps toward a more sustainable, slower-food future, where passion and integrity are prized over convenience and profit.

“Purchasing from small producers and local food and wine businesses is the most concrete way to help, but Kaataa encourages you to consider other creative ways of showing your support in your community.”

It may not be realistic to renounce all supermarket runs, but setting a goal of supporting one local or regional producer per week is something those of us in Kaataa’s wider community can do. How might that look, concretely? Most obviously and urgently, we can make purchases, of course. (They need not be raw or ready-to-eat ingredients for your own kitchen: consider, say, gifting a family-run winery tour for a friend’s birthday, to be redeemed at a later date when travel is back on the table). We can also think about where our skill sets and social circles can help individual producers and businesses. Perhaps you’re a first-rate researcher who can compile a list of local producers for your less-curious friends who are unlikely to seek them out. Maybe you’re a social media whiz who can help your tech-challenged octogenarian baker spread the word about his new breakfast biscuits. Are you an organization leader who can spotlight an enterprising young wine producer at your company’s next Zoom event? A doting neighbor who can ensure the elder across the way has a solid spread for his Easter Sunday in isolation? Making such gestures amid this once-in-a-generation crisis can keep our goodwill strong this spring


Mary Gray Author

I am a writer, journalist, and editorial consultant based in Florence, Italy. Born and raised in Mississippi, I’ve been calling Italy (another) home for eight (!) years now, and enjoy the strangely complementary missions of sharing the best of my adoptive city and country and debunking the myth of the dolce vita. 

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Cantina Ribelà
Vecchio Magazzino Doganale
Le Marche