The M.A. Food Studies students took a much-anticipated field trip to Eataly on October 25 as part of their studies on ethical consumption. Through their Food, Environment, and Society course, students had read research on Eataly in its first two years as a new business model integrating ethical, specifically Slow Food principles with capitalist consumerism. By visiting the store, students evaluated for themselves and discussed the effectiveness of this commercial approach to promoting food ethics.

Eataly first opened in Turin in 2007 with the aim of promoting sustainable and socially-responsible food products in a mainstream market setting. Founder Oscar Farinetti collaborated with Slow Food over the course of two years prior to opening the store, identifying producers who met their standards and determining management, promotion, and communication practices to help shed the ‘niche’ character of ethical consumption. Dr. Quieti sent the students to explore the sprawling, four-floor store in search of evidence of “good, clean, and fair” food products, as per the Slow Food mantra. In addition to labels like Fairtrade and D.O.P. (Denominazione di origine protetta), the students looked for signs of who the individual producers were and for references to the Slow Food Presidia. The students found all these and more as they awed at the array of artisanal, sustainably-made, and high-quality goods, including everything from fresh Italian-grown produce to seemingly-endless cheese counters to an open crate where customers can hand-pick eggs for their cartons. While marveling at these goods as well as the overall layout of the store, students pondered whether this style of marketing makes ethical food more accessible or continues to come off as elitist. The class reconvened with Dr. Quieti in the Eataly café to discuss their impressions.

The Eataly trip fit snugly into the student’s studies of the aims and complications of ethical food movements. Not just seeing but also shopping and eating in the store was an immersive experience, enabling the class to evaluate firsthand whether Eataly is successfully mainstreaming Slow Food principles to the average consumer. In addition to being great fun, the experience allowed students to deepen their critical understanding beyond academic study.

Author: Eva Reynolds