Food by VICE

Pizza Ovens Are Under Fire in This Polluted Italian Town

The mayor of San Vitaliano has issued an ordinance banning the usage of wood-fired ovens in restaurants and bakeries for the next three months unless they’re equipped with pollution-reducing filters.

by Hilary Pollack
Jan 4 2016, 5:15pm

Foto von Garrett Ziegler via Flickr

If you were a city official aiming to improve your area's air quality and reduce pollution, what would you target first? The exhaust-spewing trucks stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Or maybe any local factories that burn coal, leaving the surrounding buildings in a permahaze?

In one Italian city, they're cracking down on these emission enemies. But they're also targeting a less likely culprit that has citizens considerably more pissed: pizza restaurants.

Thankfully, not any and all pizza is under fire (literally). Specifically, the mayor of San Vitaliano—a 5,000-person town located near Naples, the (sometimes disputed) birthplace of pizza—has issued an ordinance banning the usage of wood-fired ovens in restaurants and bakeries for the next three months unless they're equipped with specially fitted pollution-reducing filters. Locals are baffled; while larger Italian cities such as Florence and Milan have also moved to curb pollution via traffic restrictions, neither have gone after what is arguably Italy's most beloved food tradition.

READ: Pizza's Lengthy History Has Been a Filthy Lie

To complicate matters further, traditional Italian pizza-makers are extremely serious about their craft, with many insistent that the high temperatures and conditions within wood-burning ovens are the only way to achieve pizza perfection. In fact, last summer, the Italian pizza-makers assocation (Associazione Maestri d'Arte Ristoratori e Pizzaioli) put increased pressure on the federal government to mandate that pizza chefs take extensive courses and receive official licenses before being allowed to prepare and sell any pies. (The government opted to ignore them.)

Photo via Flickr user andredoreto

Photo via Flickr user andredoreto

The mandate in San Vitaliano is in place until March 31, but could be extended if not enough improvement in local air quality is seen. Police forces will be checking area food establishments and slapping fines of up to 1,032 euros (US $1,130) on noncompliant businesses.

Granted, the small Italian city has some serious problems with its air supply. Local paper Il Mattino says that the area is more polluted than Beijing, which has notoriously horrible smog, recently so bad that the city has had to issue alerts warning those with respiratory problems to stay indoors.

Although woodsmoke is certainly hazardous to human health—linked to asthma, bronchitis, cancer, lung disease, and heart disease, not unlike cigarettes—not everyone is convinced that the town's scattered pizza restaurants are to blame for its miserable air quality. The town's citizens and pizza chefs have protested the ban in front of town hall, arguing that the decree hurts local businesses and that nearby Naples has lower pollution levels despite being home to more pizza places.

"Shocking, it's so ridiculous. They don't want us to make pizza?" Massimiliano Arrichiello, owner of pizzeria Taverna 191, commented to Il Mattino."We make about 34 pizzas a day. How do they think we are responsible for the pollution problems around here?"

READ: Very Serious Italians Want All Pizza Makers to Be Licensed

Hot summers and light rainfall for the past few years have also been contributors to Italy's disconcerting pollution problem. According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution was a contributing factor in more than 84,000 premature deaths in Italy in 2012.

And if Italians are all going to sputter and die young, they'd at least like to do it with pizza in hand.