The Art of Naples’ Pizzaiuoli as UNESCO Heritage: Presenting a Master Thesis at Sorbonne University

Should Neapolitan Pizza making be considered heritage? Is the art of the Pizzaiuoli heritage of humanity? During my studies at UNISG, these were the questions that led me to write my master thesis, entitled “Gastronomic Traditions as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Case of the Traditional Art of Naples’ Pizzaiuoli”. I became interested in the topic of food heritage in a class taught by anthropology professor Chalcraft. One of the things that struck me during my research was that in 2012 the Italian National Commission rejected the candidature, although there was a great support from the people of Naples and associations of pizza makers. There were a few articles that talked about this rejection but there was no mention of the reasons behind the decision, nor the way in which UNESCO identifies food heritage.

I decided to go directly to the UNESCO Centre in Paris to have a better understanding of the procedures involved in the identification of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and the role of gastronomy. I interviewed Giovanni Scepi, assistant programme specialist of intangible cultural heritage. I also studied in detail the criteria used by UNESCO and the few studies that were made on the topic of gastronomy as ICH. In my thesis, I argued that UNESCO’s protection of culinary heritage is not sustainable since the organization does not clearly define the characteristics that food traditions need to have to be recognized as intangible cultural heritage.

In order to understand the reasons why Neapolitan pizza making could be considered heritage, we need to take into account the history of pizza. The etymology of the term “pizza” is debateable. It may derive from the Greek word “plax”, referring to a flat surface, or from the Roman term “picea”, a type of bread. Otherwise, it may derive from the Latin verb “pinsere”, meaning to crush or grind. Although Etruscans, Greeks and Romans already developed a type of flatbread that resembled focaccia, the modern pizza was born in Naples as a street food. In the early 18th century, the pizzeria and the figure of the artisan Pizzaiuolo (i.e. the pizza maker) appeared. In the 19th century, pizza became popular also among the upper classes. Indeed, at the end of the century, Pizzaiuolo Esposito in Naples made the famous Pizza Margherita in honour of the Queen Margherita. It became also a national symbol, as the colours of the pizza are the same as the Italian flag. Through migration, pizza became famous around the world in the 20th century and the globalization of pizza led several associations to protect traditional Neapolitan pizza. They obtained EU recognition as Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) product but were not able to obtain UNESCO’s protection thus far.

pizza unesco

Since my thesis was written, a lot has changed. This year, for example, there is a petition whose objective is to push for the recognition of Neapolitan pizza making as ICH. It is supported by Coldiretti, the ANP (Associazione Napoletana Pizzaiuoli), the green foundation Univerde and the pizza chain Rossopomodoro. It counts more than 40 thousands signatures and aims to reach about 1 million. There is also a social media campaign going on (i.e. #PizzaUnesco) that attracts many Neapolitans and Italians, including famous actors. Furthermore, in March 2015, the first objective of including Neapolitan pizza making among the UNESCO candidates for 2016 was achieved. In November 2016, we will know whether the Italian National Commission for UNESCO will have selected Neapolitan pizza making among all the Italian candidatures.

When I heard about the possibility of presenting my research in a symposium on food heritage at Sorbonne University organized by a scientific committee, I thought that it was the right opportunity to discuss the new developments of the candidature. The conference, which took place in Paris from the 14th to the 16th of October, reflected the nature of food studies. There were scholars from around the world and from different academic fields. The topics varied, for instance, from the history of cocoa in Mexico to the American South’s tradition of barbecue. For more information about the other topics, look at the detailed program

I was proud to showcase what I learnt at UNISG and support the Slow Food philosophy of good, clean and fair food. I suggested that UNESCO should focus on small-scale culinary traditions that involve artisanal work and are passed down from generation to generation. The Pizzaiuolo is an artisan and his product is a work of art. Also, the globalization of pizza is leading to the disappearance of the wood-fired oven, the traditional recipe and the know-how of the Pizzaiuolo. Thus, obtaining the UNESCO’s recognition can largely increase the visibility of this tradition worldwide.

A few days after my presentation, I went to the EXPO in Milan and I noticed that at the Coldiretti pavilion people were invited to sign the petition. I decided to support it, too, because I felt the need to not only study the issue from an academic perspective, but also give a concrete contribution to the petition.

You can also take an active role in the safeguarding of this ancient tradition by signing it here

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