Eataly World Theme Park Leaves Bad Taste In Bologna

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

Italy’s “City of Food” has a new attraction, a massive food-based theme park. And surprise, surprise, Bologna’s ‘Eataly World’ is causing controversy.

After wandering the alleyways of Bologna’s Mercato di Mezzo, –filled with local, family-owned grocers, visitors can now take a 20-minute shuttle bus to Fico Eataly World, where food from all over Italy is on show.

Inaugurated by prime minister Paolo Gentiloni on 15NOV, Eataly World claims to be the world’s largest agri-food park, and promises visitors “a discovery of all the wonders of Italian biodiversity” under one vast, 100,000 sq m roof.

However, as Sophia Seymour reports for The Guardian, many are struggling to make sense of a project that stands in direct contrast to the traditional allure of Italian gastronomy – the pleasure of strolling farmers’ markets in Renaissance town squares, or sampling the delights of small producers in remote hilltop towns.

“To enter Eataly is to step into what can only be described as a US-style mega-mart, a Wholefoods on steroids,” Seymour writes. The site used to be a wholesale market, built in the 1980s, and the original A-frame barn structure supported by big wooden beams forms an L-shaped walkway that stretches for more than a kilometre.

Inside are more than 45 branded Italian eateries, which according to Fico are “bonded by a passion for excellence and the role they play in producing and promoting the best of Italian food and wine.”

The kitchens in the restaurants are visible behind glass panelling, and host over 30 daily sessions to educate the consumer on food production. There is a multitude of pop-up-style stores, selling Italian produce and kitchenware; six experiential educational pavilions; several classrooms, sports and play areas dotted throughout the space; as well as a cinema and 1,000-capacity congress space. It’s all surrounded by several hectares of farm animals and vegetable plots.

The project took four years to complete, at a cost of $180 million, works with over 150 Italian companies, from relatively small to very large, and has created over 3,000 jobs. Fico predicts it will attract 6 million visitors a year, a substantial boost in tourism for the whole area.

For her part, Seymour says there’s something about Eataly World that leaves her cold.

“Despite many of the restaurant spaces being beautifully conceived, and the presence of a strong educational and ethical impulse, the reality of watching mozzarella being made under strip lighting, or eating Michelin-quality cooking while shoppers whiz by on Bianchi-sponsored tricycles, makes me think Oscar Farinetti has conjured a dystopian vision of the future, rather than a homage to Italy’s rich food heritage and culture.”

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