The Alleged Crime of Eating Al Fresco

The Roman police force is on the lookout for defiers of the law, the law being: Eating and drinking at historic sites. Thou shalt not do it, capisce?

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As trendy peoples, we've been paying keen attention to certain international food trends (très Brooklyn, for example, or, in laymen's terms, how France is supposedly embracing food trucks and dubbing it a particularly stylish dining borough-havior). But outside of France and Brooklyn, there's something else food-trend-related going on in our global community.

The New York Times alerts us: In Italy, there is something dreadful occurring. Something that is anathema to our personal supposed freedoms. The Roman police force is on the lookout for defiers of the law, the law being against eating and drinking at historic sites. Thou shalt not do it, capisce? (Maybe this sort of makes sense?) Still, there's something near parody about this crackdown. As Elisabetta Povoledo writes:

“Stefano, look! There’s another eater,” one officer said to another before sauntering over to a baffled couple who had begun munching an inoffensive-looking meal while sitting on the steps. The culprits, a couple of foreign tourists, had settled down on the landmark, one of Rome’s most famous. In their hands were the offending items: sandwiches.

The officers pounced, and after much waving of hands, the couple wrapped up the sandwiches and slouched away, looking sheepish.

Mortifying, really, these eaters. The recent surge to track them down and prevent them from committing their fowl (or perhaps beef-based, or pork, or vegetarian) crimes is due to a municipal ordinance that went into effect this month, prohibiting munching and slurping on things in or around the city's landmarks and monuments, including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. If busted, one must pay: "Fines range all the way up to $650 for culinary recidivists," writes Povoledo. But isn't enjoying a gelato in the out-of-doors, a la Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, exactly what tourists do in Italy? And is it really a good use of cops' time, you know, being on the constant alert for sandwich violations? There are signs of impending revolt: 

“From now on, a tourist walking around the Colosseum with an ice cream cone will be fined,” said Angelo Bonelli, a member of Italy’s Green Party, who flagrantly challenged the ban by eating a sandwich in front of the Pantheon while taunting a municipal police officer.

There was also a recent flash mob protest at which pizza and delightful pressed sandwiches were heartily enjoyed, the group united under the feeling that "panino is not a crime" (this sounds like a flash mob we could support). But this isn't the first of such anti-outdoor-eating laws for Italian cities that enjoy significant tourist traffic. Povoledo explains that it's been illegal for years to eat a bag lunch while sitting on the steps of St. Mark's Square in Venice, for example—one would assume that would be unappealing on account of the pigeons, anyway, but there's no accounting for tastes.

Maybe at heart, though, this is something of a taste thing. Dripping your ice cream cone or dribbling marinara all over the photo-friendly ancient ruin you've come to admire is hardly what we'd call civilized, or even appetizing. Note how daintily Hepburn is eating in the photo above! Rome's head of tourism, Antonio Gazzellone, agreed, this is more a matter of good manners than it is about keeping people from enjoying tasty snacks in the all'aperto belle. Come on, everyone: Let's just not be gross about it. Grazie.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.