Italy puts national dish on space station menu


Italy's government is beating the drum for cucina italiana and want to make it an intangible world cultural heritage. Now, they are even arranging for pasta to be served to astronauts in space. Photo: dpa

Italians are proud of their cuisine, and rightly so, given it’s seen as the epitome of tradition and deliciousness.

Beyond global fame, Italians are looking a step further, seeking to make their cuisine popular in space.

Cucina italiana is to be recognised as an intangible Unesco World Heritage Site and part of that bid is to serve pasta to the astronauts on the new International Space Station (ISS) mission.

Fittingly, one of those astronauts is Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei.

The astronauts started their journey into space from Florida, the United States, on Jan 17, with numerous scientific experiments on their menu.

The special “Italian Space Food” project is led by Italy’s Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida and envisions astronauts eating pasta on Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3).

Colonel Villadei is unlikely to have to do much convincing of his fellow travellers, even if the pasta and sauce is a mere ready meal. Plus, he and the three other astronauts have already tried the dish during their pre-blast off quarantine.

Cannelloni in the cosmos

The space mission plus pasta is set to launch on International Italian Cuisine Day, a coincidence likely to please the government in Rome.

Since taking office more than a year ago, the government led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, bent on tradition, has been promoting everything that is “Made in Italy”.

The World Day of “cucina italiana” and the space project come at just the right time and Meloni was delighted to bring “excellent food and an iconic product like pasta” into the heavens.

Meanwhile, on Earth, people are preparing to mark International Italian Cuisine Day with events and food festivals worldwide. The celebration day is held on the feast day of St Anthony the Great, a Christian monk who is the patron saint of butchers.

But how traditional is Italian cuisine? Critics are increasingly saying that “typically Italian” is merely a smart marketing strategy for food that also strengthens the nation’s sense of identity, a key concern for the right-wing government.

Pasta: Not so traditional after all?

One critic is historian Alberto Grandi, whose comments have repeatedly led to fury in his home country. His thesis on Italian cuisine is that cucina italiana is not traditional but just a couple of decades old and that much can be attributed to good marketing.

“You could say that almost everything that is said about Italian cuisine is wrong,” said Grandi.

Grandi shot to fame with his work Denominazione di Origine Inventata (DOI) (which translates as “invented designation of origin”), a corruption of the DOP seal for Italian goods meaning protected designation of origin. He has also launched a podcast called DOI.

Grandi says most Italians first heard of pizza in the 1950s. As a dish, carbonara originates from the United States and he sees tiramisu and panettone as relatively recent inventions. The best Parmesan – named after the northern Italian region of Parma – is actually produced in the US state of Wisconsin, in his view. Furthermore, the popular Pachino tomatoes – named after Pachino in southern Sicily – were bred by researchers in Israel.

Grandi says Italians want to halt their cuisine’s further development. History shows that dishes considered 100% Italian these days are actually the result of crossbreeding, substitutions and imitations.

“Italians didn’t teach the world how to cook; they learnt it as migrants in the countries where they worked,” he argues.

Grandi’s theories proving indigestible

The writer’s ideas are causing a stir in Italy and the government in Rome was even driven to action after an interview in the British Financial Times newspaper last year.

“I believe that today, cuisine is the last element of their identity that Italians have left. That’s why they get very angry when the history of our recipes is called into question,” says Grandi.

“Italy wants to stop time, to live in an eternal present, with no past and no future. But it is exactly this attitude that will destroy our image.”

He doubts that a world day and putting pasta in space will do his nation’s cuisine any favours. The International Day of Italian Cuisine is simply another advertising initiative, in his view. He says the same of the project of putting pasta in space.

But such public relations activities are not merely the work of Meloni’s right-wing government, he says. “Tradition and cuisine are cross-cutting issues that even the left rides on to a certain extent.”

The proof meanwhile is at least partly in the pudding. It remains to be seen whether the food consumed by the ISS astronauts will go down well – and whether that project might bring Italian cuisine a step closer to coveted Unesco World Heritage status. – dpaItalians didn’t teach the world how to cook; they learnt it as migrants in the countries where they worked. – dpa/Robert Messer

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