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.