The Golden Age of Italian Veganism and Vegetarianism
Carlotta Perego, a young woman with a down-to-earth voice, is in her kitchen filled with lights and plants. The author, recipe developer, and YouTuber has built an empire around veganism — all under the umbrella of her Cucina Botanica brand.
Via her channel, she presents new inventive recipes totally without animals. Some of them are adaptations of traditional Italian recipes, such as polpette based on lentils, or even international cuisines such as Japanese pancakes.
Now Carlotta has written two cookbooks that have become hugely popular. His 500,000 YouTube subscribers are also proof that veganism and by extension vegetarianism is no longer an obscure trend in Italy. In fact, Italy’s vegetarian population over the past decade has increased by 94.4%. There are now over 5 million vegetarians in Italy.
As a result, the trend might be here to stay. So how are veganism and vegetarianism slowly but surely finding their way into Italian daily life?
From the diet of ancient Rome
Today, there are many traditional dishes in Italy that are de facto vegetarian. Street food dishes such as pizza wallet in Naples for chip, sandwiches to take away around Lecce, the choices are many. The same goes for vegan food: Pizza sailor or a side of fave and cicorie.
For centuries, many communities in Italy rarely had access to meat because it was expensive or hard to find. It was a common denominator throughout southern Europe and dates back to antiquity. While we can all imagine images of lavish dinners at ancient Roman feasts – filled with game meat, or meals made from insects – ordinary people ate mostly vegetarian diets.
Working on archaeological excavations and what they presented, scientists and archaeologists discovered remains of seeds and plants. Oats and rye were also an important part of the diet, along with durum and soft wheat, confirming that pasta has long been part of the Italian DNA. Archaeological records and literary sources also allow us to trace recipes, many of which are vegetarian. This allows us to connect them to modern communities that use the same type of ingredients and live in the same landscapes where these plants or vegetables come from.
For example, Pulmentarium and Ventem (translated as “vegetable dinner”) is a recipe found in Apicius, a compilation of Roman recipes dating back to the 1st century CE. It contains beets, leeks and a little cumin — eaten hot. Here is the recipe for the next time you receive guests. It looks exactly like something Carlotta would cook for her Botanical Kitchen channel.
Vegetarianism has become a booming market
While animal-free products naturally already exist in farmers’ markets and supermarkets, specialty foods catering to vegan and vegetarian needs are on the rise. And in Italy, start-ups are catching up.
Koro is one of them. It is an online store that offers all kinds of food, household products and hygiene products. The brand keeps sustainability in mind and everything is vegetarian or vegan and cruelty-free. What sets them apart from other online platforms is that they create their own products – from nuts to mixers – allowing them to really focus on their mission while keeping an eye on quality control.
Physical stores are also setting up in major cities, such as IVegan in Rome, or organic stores like NaturaSi in almost all cities in the country. These types of stores typically carry products for people who are vegetarians and vegans but have other dietary needs such as lactose or gluten allergies.
Although still a niche market, Italian food companies are adapting and redesigning traditional products such as mozzarella for those who can’t eat the real deal by choice or not. Morarisella is one of them, making organic “cheese” from sprouted brown rice. Or Fermaggio, where chef Manfredi Rondina uses traditional techniques such as stone crushing or fermentation to create a variety of new “cheeses”.
The territory of cities adapts
Associations and organizations are also increasing their influence in cities across the country. Dr. Valentina Colasanti and Dr. Roberto Favata are members of the Association of Italian Vegans (AssoVegan). They see this new trend as something that is here to stay. A vegan or vegetarian diet is a sustainable choice in a world where rapid climate action is needed. But becoming vegan does not mean breaking with tradition, quite the contrary: “A vegan diet does not deny Italian cuisine at all, on the contrary, it is an invitation to reclaim it.
With new demands, cities and suppliers are adapting. These days you find vegan cones in bars where tourists and internationals could have breakfast. Vegetarianism and veganism are also on the political agenda: take the former mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino. At the start of his term as mayor, his plan was to make Turin the first vegetarian city in Italy. This involves supporting restaurants and entrepreneurial initiatives, but also offering awareness and education projects in schools to teach students about animal welfare and sustainable practices. Predictably, however, the idea of launching a meatless day did not sit well with the butchers’ association and other vendors.
But there’s room to offer people alternatives if they’re interested — and have their own moral or health reasons for doing so — without stigmatizing food professionals. Other politicians have seen veganism in a negative light: Elvira Savino of the center-right Forza Italia party proposed a bill that would threaten parents who raise their children as vegans: they could face prison. This was prompted after some vegan children were hospitalized with malnutrition. The bill was controversial and, thankfully, did not pass: politicians argued that it would have been an open door to stigmatize other parents – those with overweight children for example.
While specific diets are on the political agenda, Stefania Giannuzzi, regional environmental manager for the city of Turin, insists: “It is not a question of forcing people to eat from a way and we don’t want to come into conflict with the meat. industry. Rather, it is about raising awareness and showing people that there is an alternative if they are interested. The vegan choice is only part of the plan to make our city more sustainable and promote environmental issues. While this particular decision may have been divisive, it still shows that some Italians are progressive and willing to change their personal habits based on a new collective awareness of animal welfare and farming practices. industry.
A few years ago I was at my local gelateria in Rome, Olive Dolci, and they had just started offering vegan ice cream based on demand largely from tourists. It was made from olive oil and botanicals and was an instant hit, with omnivores and vegans curious to try it. Companies have the opportunity to think outside the box, while respecting traditions. It may take a bit of imagination, but a challenge coupled with inventiveness often yields creative and fruitful results. I remember an elderly couple who picked the place for their weekly ice cream date after hearing how creamy Olive Dolci’s ice cream was. They were seduced. Although the food landscape is changing, one thing remains true: Italians will always recognize and prioritize quality.