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As a student, I have always been fascinated by traditional food products. Since my bachelor thesis titled “Prospective and problems of foreign commercialization of Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO” in 2007 and my MSc thesis “Strategies of development and communication channels of regional food products” in 2010 at the University of Parma.

Then, in 2011, before starting my PhD in Agricultural Economics, I worked as a collaborator at Qualivita Foundation in Siena with the task of valorizing the quality food sector, especially Geographical Indications. This foundation has been recognized by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies as a subject with extensive scientific and technical experience within the quality agri-food sector.

Now, as a postdoctoral researcher focusing on food culture and consumer behavior, I am aware of how many studies have been carried out on traditional food in the last decade. Last but not least, the “Strength2Food”, a 5-year EU Horizon 2020 funded project that started in March 2016.

This project, which covers 11 EU and 4 non-EU countries and consists of 30 partners (among which my home affiliation: the University of Parma), adopts a multi-actor approach that brings together researchers, agri-food chain, SMEs and farmers. The research objectives are aiming to understand better how quality logos (for instance PDO and PGI logos) can be harnessed further to positively affect rural development, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

 

 PDO, PGI and TGS EU logos

But why it is so important doing investigation on this topic? Well, it is not surprising that the ways of producing and consuming food have certainly changed in the last century, and the strong link between cuisine and agriculture in our society is no longer so vivid. The transmission of both agricultural and culinary traditions, summarized in the gastronomic knowledge, is disappearing in some cultures. Nevertheless, in Europe, the presence of many important and historically rooted traditional products has favored the permanence of a healthy and sustainable local food sector.

A heritage of knowledge and flavors (in Italian translated in “saperi e sapori”) that enriched our lives every day, traditional food found in many restaurants and farms, small shops, delicatessens, and all other "good places". Today's consumer is therefore increasingly aware that his buying actions are also an expression of his personality. Buying food products directly from those who produce them, from local businesses and in specialized stores means giving the food a face and creating a strong bond of trust and assurance about the quality of the product.

Traditional food products constitute food products elaborated according to tradition, a “long-established custom that has been passed from generation to generation”. The quality and identity of such products reflect the link between the specificities of a place (i.e., the origin) and the people living there, and they represent the result of a long-standing effort of enterprises localized in the specific area that manage and communicate the quality of their products, defending and increasing their reputation.

This kind of products is sometimes recognized with a geographical indication (PDO and PGI), which certified their typicality. Geographical Indications are distinctive signs that associate products of quality and reputation with their place or area of production and thereby help identify and distinguish such products on the market. For example, among the most famous ones, we can mention the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Prosciutto di Parma, the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and other hundreds of products, in all countries of the European Union.

 

  Traditional balsamic vinegar farmhouse ("acetaia") in the province of Modena, Italy

Therefore, the project Strength2Food will help policy-makers and other relevant stakeholders in improving the effectiveness of current policies on food quality designations and encourage knowledge exchange and stakeholder engagement on up-to-date sustainable practices. Please if you are interested to find out more about the typicality and sustainability of the food you eat, please take a look at the website of the project: https://www.strength2food.eu