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SCHOOL

Children can bring packed lunch to school, Italy’s top court rules

In a decision that's expected to set a precedent for schools all over Italy, the country's top administrative court has overruled one city's attempted ban on packed lunches.

Children can bring packed lunch to school, Italy's top court rules
Children eat lunch at an elementary school in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The Council of State, which rules on matters of public administration, on Monday found in favour of families in Benevento, in the southern region of Campania, who objected to being told that their children had to eat lunches provided by the school canteen.

The city council had sought to make canteen meals compulsory, a move that the court judged was “not backed up by concrete, proven reasons of public health or hygiene, nor commensurate with a reasonable balance”.

While Benevento argued that allowing pupils to bring in food prepared at home could compromise the collective health and safety of its facilities, the Council of State found that the freedom to choose what you eat outweighed such concerns. 

Its decision was hailed by lawyers representing some 50 families who challenged the ban as a victory for “families' autonomy”. 

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A regional court had already ruled against the packed lunch ban, prompting Benevento's council to take the case to a higher authority – unsuccessfully. It is the first time Italy's supreme administrative court has ruled on the matter of school lunches and will likely have consequences for similar appeals in other cities.

Previously regional courts have come down on different sides of the argument, with the tribunal of Naples last year finding that children's right to health and equality should come before parents' right to choose.

While authorities have no say over what parents put in a packed lunch, Italy sets nutritional standards for school meals that limit the amount of fat they can contain, require fruit and vegetables to be included and encourage the use of varied, seasonal ingredients.

Proponents of a packed lunch ban argue that children who don't eat the healthy lunches provided by Italian schools – which are usually subsidized for low-income families – may miss out on well-balanced meals and the chance to develop good eating habits.

READ ALSO: Five ways being a parent in Italy is different from the UK


Photo: Kristie Prada
 

FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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