The ‘km 0’ phenomenon in Tuscany

Italians are very aware of their food – of what’s in season and what’s not. Attempt to munch your way through a punnet of strawberries in March, or a bunch of grapes in June and you may be berated by Italians around the table, informing you in no uncertain terms that purchasing fuori stagione (out of season) produce demonstrates a lack of food awareness. The importance placed on food in Italy is understandable, given that gathering around the table to enjoy each other’s company, as well as good food, is at the very heart of Italian culture.

Farming in Tuscany

 

Subtlety and simplicity are the keys to this cuisine, where dishes are prepared to allow the ingredients to speak for themselves. Italy finds herself in the fortunate position of enjoying a warm climate conducive to producing many delicious, fresh products. Putting this to perfect use, the country’s answer to sustainability has been ‘km 0’ (Farmers’ markets or locally sourced foods). Consequently, local markets in Italy have taken on a more precise meaning of the term ‘local’. When the phrase ‘km 0’, or zero kilometres, began springing up in foodie circles, not only did translators begin scrabbling around for the perfect interpretation, but Italian food culture proved itself to be savvier than the rest of the world when it comes to good food habits.

With globalisation on the rise, the range of foods on offer may have increased, but by indulging in a pineapple or tropical mango in Italy in December (or at any time really) we are buying into an economically and environmentally damaging cycle. These tropical fruits, along with other foods which don’t grow here naturally, are either cultivated by employing unnatural methods or imported from their countries of origin. Supermarkets and large companies may have us all spoilt for choice, but we should all be reaping the benefits of what is growing on our doorsteps (as well as in the fields nearby) and can still enjoy a vast selection of delicious fresh produce.

Hitting the pause button on globalisation and returning to older methods of food consumption not only creates awareness of how to put the local land to best use, but it also reinstates an appreciation of the significance of ‘seasonable’ foods which are undoubtedly also healthier. By definition, the food products cannot travel a great distance and are therefore 100% local and fresh, containing no added preservatives. By saving on packaging and transport and fuel costs, C02 emissions are reduced and local biodiversity is preserved. Tuscany is no exception when it comes to fresh, vibrant locally-grown grub.

Farmers’ markets, or ‘km 0 markets’ should be embraced and seen as an opportunity to rediscover local delights. Traditional Tuscan dishes typically contain solely local produce, since in the past that is what was readily available. All the necessary ingredients for ‘Pappa al pomodoro’, ‘Ribollita’ or ‘Panzanella’ can be purchased, and sometimes sampled, straight from the producers at any of the given markets around Tuscany. The region is full to overflowing with farmers’ markets. From Pescia (Pistoia) every fourth Sunday of the month, to piazza della Vittoria in Empoli every second Saturday of the month. Florence’s piazza Santo Spirito is also filled with delicious Tuscan delights most weekends while Siena hosts a weekly market on via C. Maccari. With too many to list, you can almost guarantee that every Tuscan city will be host to its own farmers’ market as the trend sweeps through Tuscany and beyond.

The country has reacted positively to this phenomenon and the growing interest has created jobs in the short-supply chain sector. After many food scares and labelling mishaps, it is perhaps understandable that people take pleasure from and are assured by the face-to-face contact ‘km 0’ can offer. Whether it’s at a market or at the farm itself, the ‘km 0’ branding, now common practice, is the perfect biological icing on your locally produced cake!

By Catriona Miller

 

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