The city, the cradle of the Renaissance, is bridling at the establishment of the convenience shops, which are often garishly-lit and run by immigrants from South Asia, many of them Bangladeshi.
While some Italians have welcomed being able to buy milk at 10 o’clock at night, in a country where such corner shops are rare, others say they are eroding the fabric of cities such as Florence, Rome and Bologna. Florence has decreed that from now on all new restaurants and food shops in the city’s historic centre will have to source at least 70 per cent of their products from Tuscany.
So it’s out with packs of generic plastic cheese and in with wheels of local pecorino. Mass-produced ham slices will be shunned in favour of legs of air-dried prosciutto. The decree, described as a “gastro-crusade” by one Italian newspaper, is intended to preserve local food traditions and uphold the city’s cultural identity.
Traditional businesses were suffering from the invasion of mini-markets, kebab outlets and takeaway food outlets. The city denied that there was anything racist about the initiative.
“We’re not attacking ethnic food but raising the quality of what is on offer in the city,” said Giovanni Bettarini, Florence’s councilor for economic development. Several other cities were interested in adopting similar measures, he said, including Venice, Ferrara and Bologna.
Italy has so far avoided the homogenized look of the British high street, but there is a growing backlash against the rising number of fast food outlets, open-all-hours convenience stores, money transfer points and internet call centres.
Last month the mayor of Verona said he would allow no new kebab joints to open in the city, which attracts millions of tourists a year through its associations with Romeo and Juliet. The aim was to protect “the architectural patrimony of the city centre” as well as Verona’s culinary traditions, said Flavio Tosi, the mayor.