A journey in low/density Italy in search of agro/food biodiversity


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After 9 years living abroad and multiple explorations of the various continents I suddenly realized the specificity of my country.

It must have happened while I was staring into the emptiness of the meseta through the window of a Barcelona/Madrid high/speed train. Or when I left New York on a Greyhound bus heading north: the last tower of the Bronx left room for a black wood that surrounded the highway for hundreds of kilometers, up to the following place worthy of note. No gradual transition between the asphalt jungle and the virgin forest; no nuance. There I understood that, in the world, Italy is the country where the anthropization of the territory has its oldest roots. It is not the most densely populated country but the one in which urbanization is widespread in the most capillary and homogeneous way. A country without strong contrasts, a country of nuances. It is in fact an urbanization on a human scale that reflects social structures of the past, the result of centuries of adaptation and modification of the natural environment.

Very little remains of the original habitat / some areas of he Gennargentu park and the Calabrian Aspromonte / being the same Mediterranean scrubland the result of the intervention of man and his tools, first of all fire and goats. The panorama we know is therefore the result of a long history of cooperation between man and nature, a cultural landscape. It almost seems that nature and culture have drawn the borders together. The political borders perfectly follow the natural barriers: the crest of the highest mountains, the coastline. Even the regional borders overlap the rivers and the mountain ranges, this is reminded to us by the many villages called Dogana scattered on the Apennine ridges. To get an idea of he opposite extreme / that is to say, borders designed by man / it is sufficient to observe the borders of the state of Colorado.

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In the country of the hundred towns / as well as the 8000 municipalities and the countless villages, hills, parishes and hamlets / metropolitan cities are counted on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand, also the uncontaminated natural areas are an anecdote in the geography of the boot. Human presence has a pulverized appearance, even though it is concentrated mainly in the flat areas of the peninsula. Empty and full blend into a zigzagged pattern, outlining the physiognomy of a country of countries. This dense network of settlements woven over three millennia has been the scene of conflicts, exchanges, contaminations, giving life to the mosaic of diversity to which we belong. Cultural diversity and biological diversity. The Country of Diversity.



 But how can I even think of being able to capture the spirit of such a complex place? How can we reduce the country of diversity to some minimum common denominator? Perhaps only by taking diversity as the only possible minimum common denominator. And how can we isolate a substance as volatile as diversity?

 My strategy is to choose a series of "indicators" of diversity around which to develop a research of visual anthropology. Traditional Agri/Foods (P.A.T.) for example, which are the fruit of nature but also the products of a culture. I'm not interested in creating a catalog of products, nor a collection of postcards from the beautiful country. Food products have the function, theorized by Alfred Hitchcock, of MacGuffin in film plots. Cases full of diamonds and microfilms stolen by the enemy are engines of intrigue, objects around which the human story develops.

Example of  MacGuffin  in the movie  Kiss me deadly  (1955)

Example of MacGuffin in the movie Kiss me deadly (1955)

Although I want to make a strictly documentary project, I need these catalysts, symbolic objects around which to weave the narration. The products, their collections, the festivals dedicated to them, give me an excuse to be in a certain place, at a certain moment. They are the key that opens the doors of a reality that lies on the sides of Italy, a reality that I want to explore.

For the moment I have selected about thirty P.A.T. among the over 380 local DOP and IGP and the 290 Italian Slow Food Presidia. The final selection, which may be partially different from the current one, must in any case respect the following criteria:

 / cover all the categories of agri-food products. Vegetables and animals, worked or not, of the earth and the sea

/ cover all the pedoclimatic conditions present in the country. Plain, hill and mountain. Rivers, lakes and seas. North, center and south

  / favor products whose links with the territory are unique and indispensable

 / favor products from areas with low population density and limited territorial extension

Each criterion restricts the field of investigation by distilling a series of products that are distinguished by being precise indicators of a particular habitat and of a specific local culture; in other words, biodiversity indicators.