Can you eat cultural heritage? Are you allowed to digest it?
That will be a real, guilt-free possibility if Italy’s nomination of its Neapolitan pizza as a candidate for UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage List is accepted next year.
On Friday, Italy’s national commission for UNESCO unanimously confirmed the Neapolitan pizza’s candidacy for the cultural heritage list, deeming it as a “central element of Neapolitan and Italian identity, and a symbol of the brand of Italy around the world,” according to a report in The Guardian.
The candidacy of the Neapolitan pizza — pizza from the city of Naples — was backed by a petition with more than 850,000 signatures from Italy and around the world.
Once the nomination is placed with UNESCO officially, it will take another year for the decision-making process to run its course, with 200 countries having a say in the matter. The final list will be out sometime in 2017, and only then will we know if the pizza campaign (hashtagged as #PizzaUnesco) has been successful or not.
For a layperson, it would be a bit confounding to think of a food item as cultural heritage. Usually, the first things that come to one’s mind when “cultural heritage” is mentioned are the monuments or touristy places. What people generally don’t know is that there is a separate UNESCO list for culturally important things that may not be as “tangible” as a monument but no less important. This list is called “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list. Italy wants its pizza to be on this list.
This is how UNESCO describes Intangible Cultural Heritage.
“Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation.”
If the pizza is accepted by UNESCO, it will find a place in the Intangible Cultural Heritage list for 2017 and will be listed as “The Traditional Art of Neapolitan Pizza Makers.”
The Neapolitan pizza makers take their pizza very seriously. There is even an association of pizza makers called True Neapolitan Pizza Association, a “non-profit organisation” whose mission is to “promote and protect in Italy and worldwide the true Neapolitan pizza.” The association has very strict regulations as to what is and what is not a “true” Neapolitan pizza.
Neapolitan pizza makers hope that the UNESCO listing will help them distinguish their pizzas from the wide array of pizzas that has proliferated the world — from the Canadian bacon pizza to poutine pizza to the New York-style pizza to the controversial Chicago deep-dish pizza to the Indian parantha pizza. In all this pizza noise, people usually tend to forget the original, the real thing.
Despite the earnestness of this initiative, the pizza’s march to UNESCO may not be a cakewalk. Pizza is among the most recognizable, popular dishes on the planet. It can be argued that it is not obscure enough to be on the list. From the previous years’ lists, check out how many you have heard of before: “Tradition of kimchi-making in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” “Arabic Coffee, A Symbol Of Generosity,” “Turkish Coffee Culture And Tradition,” “Washoku, Traditional Dietary Cultures Of The Japanese,” “Gingerbread Craft From Northern Croatia,” “Ancient Georgian Traditional Qvevri Wine-Making Method…”
Coming back to the dish under discussion, here’s a Neapolitan pizza in the making, filmed by Pizza Today magazine.
[Image via Shutterstock/Massimiliano Marino]