Pizza Loses Favor as Italians Turn to Pasta

Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Rome
for National Geographic News
June 30, 2008
Part ten of a special series that explores the local faces of the world's worst food crisis in decades.

The ongoing crisis in food prices has made a luxury of one of the world's most iconic foods even in its affluent homeland.

Italians are shirking pizza due to skyrocketing bills and turning increasingly to pasta, which remains comparatively cheap despite also seeing large increases in cost.

"When I was a student, it was a Saturday night classic: You went out with your friends and had a pizza," said Cristina Romanelli, a 34-year-old living in Rome. "Now you spend so much you can do it only once in a while."

In fact, the number of Italians who say their favorite food is pizza has dropped from 14.1 percent to 8.7 percent in the past two years, according to a survey from GPF Research Institute, a private opinion poll company.

Rising cereal costs, experts say, are pumping up the cost of the wheat flour used to make pizza dough. Wheat costs have grown 23.2 percent since April 2007, according to the national Institute of Services for Agricultural and Food Markets.

(Related video: "World Food in Crisis".)

Olive oil and mozzarella, both vital components of traditional Neapolitan pies, cost more as well. Olive oil prices have risen 10.9 percent and mozzarella prices 14.3 percent since April 2007.

"That's mainly due to recent fluctuations in [the] oil market. We need it to warm greenhouses and cattle sheds, to fuel machines, to transport products, and we have to import all of it," said Sergio Marini, president of Coldiretti, the Italian farmers union. "Italian agriculture is deeply affected by international oil prices."

In total, pizza prices have gone up 13 percent since April 2007, according to Italy's National Institute for Statistics.

Global Appetite

Antonio Pace, president of Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, a group of pizzeria owners, pointed out that the cost of raw ingredients only accounts for 20 to 25 percent of the price of a pizza.

"Pizzeria owners have other outlays as well. We have workers to pay, a rent for the place, and so on. All those expenses are on the rise too, and we have to take care of them," Pace said.

The only relief in sight, he added, is that "the bill of a dinner in a pizzeria has grown, but not as much as a dinner in a restaurant, and people who want to spend the evening out prefer the cheaper pizzeria."

And Carlo Rienzi, president of consumers rights association Codacons, added that these overhead costs are not the only culprits in pizza's price increases.

Global interest in the food had begun to ratchet up the price long before the current food crisis exacerbated the situation.

"In 2001 the mean price of a pizza in a restaurant was 3.36 euros. Today it's 7 euros. It has grown 108 percent in seven years," Rienzi said. "Prices have been pumped up opportunistically, pizza being important in our eating habits and appealing to millions of tourists visiting our country."

Pasta Gains Favor

As an alternative, Italians are relying imore heavily on their most basic staple, pasta, which remains among the cheapest foods in Italy.

"Pasta is on top of Italians' eating preferences. Its lovers increased from 37.9 percent to 46.9 percent in two years," said Giampaolo Fabris, sociologist at San Raffaele University in Milan and head of GPF Research Institute.

Even though prices have jumped 16.8 percent since April 2007, "consumption has dropped only 5 percent because pasta is a basic necessity," Rienzi, of Codacons, said.

"But something has to be done to stop this crazy trend and protect people's pockets," he added.

Last year, on September 13, major Italian consumer groups called a one-day pasta strike, asking people to boycott spaghetti and tagliatelle in shops and restaurants to protest against rising prices.

"Codacons wants the government to proclaim an emergency and intervene to bring down prices," Rienzi said.

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