United Press International

News. Analysis. Insight.
October 11, 2002
No more bad pizza: Italy eyes becoming 'cultural superpower'
UPI SpecialCorrespondent
© Copyright 2002  United Press International, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
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ROME -- In a plan aimed at stemming the tide of bland pizza
and watery tiramisu, the Italian government announced plans to
set up an agency that will certify Italian restaurants around the
world that are really Italian.

It's all part of Italy's plan to become a superpower -- at least in
cultural terms.

While Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi strives to solidify Italy's
place among the world's elite nations in political and military
spheres, Pierferdinando Casini, the speaker of the Italian
Parliament's lower house and a leading figure in Berlusconi's
coalition, has called on Italy to take steps to make itself the
world's "cultural superpower." Casini proposed a plan to
promote Italian cuisine, language, history, culture, fashion,
and traditions.

The idea seems to be that while Italy may not be able to match
the clout of U.S. military or political prowess, nor can America's
attributes hold up to Italy's cuisine, history, culture, or language.

"Our culture remains our greatest natural resource, and the resource that best identifies our nation," Casini told Parliament during
remarks explaining the proposal. "We should play to our strengths."

The Ministry of Agriculture is already a step ahead of Casini. It has just announced plans for a voluntary certification process that will
send officials around the world to judge restaurants based on the quality of their ingredients, preparation techniques, service, the
authenticity of the menu, the ambiance of the dining room and the makeup of the wine list. Officials say that the ownership does not have
to be Italian, as long as the quality of the restaurant is up to standard.

The special committee to oversee the initiative hopes restaurants will line up to apply for the certification on the theory that discriminating
customers will seek out restaurants and pizzerias that earned a thumbs-up from the government.

    "We hope that a few old straw-basket Chianti bottles and some cans of stewed
    tomatoes will no longer be enough to be considered a real Italian restaurant
    anymore," a ministry spokesman told United Press International. "We are trying to
    raise the bar from where it is today."

    The Italian government says the restaurant initiative -- which will kick off in June 2003
    in Belgium, include the United States and Japan by the end of next year and most of
    the rest of the world in 2004 -- makes economic sense. Officials would not say how
    much the plan would cost, but they said that by maintaining a positive image of
    Italian cuisine can help promote Italian food products abroad, boost tourism and
    educate people.

    "American kids ask how to say 'pizza' or 'spaghetti' in Italian," Industry Vice Minister
    Adolfo Urso said in a statement. "They don't even know those are Italian words!"

    Casini's office applauded the ministry's plans, and said they fit in well with the overall
    "cultural superpower" strategy he outlined. Casini's spokesman told UPI that other
    aspects of the plan could include providing funds and materials to foreign schools
    teaching courses in Italian language and culture, loans of Italian art and historical
pieces to foreign museums, and encouraging international tours by Italian musicians and orchestras.

"Any individual step will not seem like a lot, but together they can only help improve Italy's image," the spokesman said. "This helps Italy
become a world leader in non-cultural areas ... (because) the country will have a better overall image."
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