Food May 2007

The Supermarket of the Future

An exciting new Italian bazaar makes Whole Foods look like the A&P—and it’s coming to America.

At Eataly, a sprawling food market in Turin that opened at the end of January, you can choose fresh fish from beautiful arrays on curvy banks of ice, or beef from rare breeds prized for their meat, raised on nearby farms. If the sight of all this makes you hungry, you can sit at a high counter—at two of the nine areas serving food within the market—and order a piece of grilled fish or meat, or have it as tartare.

Also see:

Piedmont Pleasures
Three great Eataly foods available here now.

You can eat pizza at a counter near the bakery, where bread is made in a huge, custom-built wood-fired oven sheathed in fieldstone. A young French baker named Rémy Coste devised the starters (no commercial yeast), and the bakery uses stone-ground flour milled 30 miles away by the wonderful Marino family at Mulino Marino, which grinds organically raised wheat, corn, rye, and more-exotic grains. The tomatoes for the topping are Miracle of San Gennaro, a particularly sweet variety of San Marzano, the best Neapolitan tomato. The cheese is not the posh yet inapt buffalo mozzarella (watery when it melts) but cow’s-milk fior di latte from Agerola, the echt pizza cheese, made by a cheese­maker south of Naples whose production is so limited and costly that only one other pizzeria is said to use it: Da Michele, the best in Naples.

You can finish at a wood-paneled caffè within the market, drinking espresso brewed from beans grown on the hillsides of Huehue­­tenango by a cooperative of Guatemalan farmers whose working conditions, education, and health care are supported by Slow Food, the international food movement founded in Piedmont, the region whose capital is Turin. The beans are roasted locally, over a wood fire, by apprentice roasters in a Turin prison—in a training program created by Slow Food. Or you can finish with ice cream made of milk from nearby dairies and flavored with that Guatemalan coffee, or Sicilian pistachios—all products that Slow Food seeks to protect and promote. (I first encountered Slow Food in 1998; an article I wrote for The Atlantic grew into a 2002 book, The Pleasures of Slow Food.)

You can sit in a comfortable armchair at the front of the market and peruse the stock of books published by Slow Food, or read on any of eight Apple computers about the foods carried in the market. You can stroll past several educational displays on shelves, panels, and video screens; the most prominent of them shows the fruits and vegetables that are in season when you visit, and it leads to a row of marvelously fresh, locally grown vegetables in market-style bins. Many of the growers and food producers are likely to be at Eataly to deliver their goods, greet customers, and guide the tastings or classes frequently taking place in the market’s two teaching kitchens or in the big wine-tasting room in the wine cellar.

Or, like many of the ecstatic, somewhat dazed customers of Eataly, you can start with ice cream and coffee and then get on to the real work of shopping.

Though many of the goods at Eataly are organic, the greater emphasis is on shortening the distance from farm to market. Solving transport logistics took up a good deal of the three years of planning before Eataly opened. The extensive development was underwritten by Eataly’s founder and owner, Oscar Farinetti, a local entrepreneur made very good and a longtime fan of Slow Food. Signs throughout the market point out products that are in season, that come from close by, and that are protected by Slow Food. You can fill your completely biodegradable plastic shopping bag (it even has a use-by date, showing when it starts biodegrading) with artisanal food at prices comparable to those you would pay if you visited the food producer—and much lower than those at gourmet boutiques, previously the only other places you could count on finding it. This is fancy food—the rustic, carefully raised, simple stuff that costs a fortune these days (think of Whole Foods)—at prices nonfancy folk can afford.

Eataly is an irresistible realization of every food-lover’s gluttonous fantasy, paired with guilt-cleansing social conscience—a new combination of grand food hall, farm stand, continuing- education university, and throbbing urban market. Much like Boqueria, in Barcelona, and Vucciria, in Palermo, two of the few thriving center-city markets left in Europe, Eataly draws all classes and ages at all times of day. The emphasis on local and artisanal producers, education, affordable prices, a lightened environmental footprint, and sheer fun makes Eataly a persuasive model for the supermarket of the future—one that is sure to be widely copied around the world. The question is whether Eataly will bite the hands of the people feeding it, the people it says it wants to help: Slow Food, which is the arbiter and moral center of today’s food culture, and the artisans themselves.

For a decade, the promise of rare and wonderful artisanal foods, wines, beers, and coffees from around the world has brought paying throngs to Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto, an international food fair held every other year since 1996 in the same development where Eataly just opened. At each Salone, Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s founder, has announced the movement’s grand new initiatives—the preservation of endangered local foods; environmentalism; social justice for the people who grow and produce food—and each one has drawn hundreds of new members. Now Eataly is offering much of the Salone’s greedy excitement every day, leaving Slow Food to hope that international artisans and chefs will still attract crowds to its food fair—and that the take will still help subsidize Terra Madre, its hugely expensive new conference concurrent with the Salone, which brings together thousands of farmers and food producers from around the world, many of whom have never before left their villages. The idea of Terra Madre (which is not open to the public and does not sell food) is to create, through seminars, workshops, shared meals, and casual encounters, a new kind of network whose strength, Slow Food hopes, will eventually challenge the international food industry.

Presented by

Corby Kummer is an Atlantic senior editor. More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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