Hardly a day goes by without talk of the Middle-East Crisis. This has been a constant throughout my life. This summer I am teaching an ethnography of the Mediterranean course at UBC and as I prepare my syllabus I am looking at different ways I can work olives into my teaching. Olives as food, culture, landscape, a good for trade and barter and as a symbol of peace and discontent.
While reading about the Mediterranean Voices project, I came across this image. These are bottles of olive oil from the Cremisan monastery, whose land was divided by the Separation Wall. Olive trees in Palestine have been hard hit by conflict. In fact, these trees are particularly loaded symbols of not only peace but also ownership and settlement. To plant olive trees is to stake claim to land; olive trees are potent symbols of life, culture and a thriving community. Over the past decades olive trees have been planted and torn out in contested areas of Palestine and Israel.
When will the olive tree return to the Middle East as a symbol of peace?
We recently made headlines in Marco Polo, the local Italian-Canadian newspaper, with regards to a discussion on authentic products made in Italy. Enrico Polacco, an expert on Italian olive oil, commended us for promoting the origins of our oil and for understanding that the most important aspect to consider when purchasing olive oil is quality. Polacco vehemently chastised the Italian-Canadian community for focusing too much on price. However, he failed to mention our extremely accessible prices ($24.99/litre). We would like to prove that great quality and taste does not have to be exorbitantly priced.
Shopping for genuine ‘made in Italy’ products is not always so easy, particularly when it comes to extra virgin olive oil. Slow Food Italy recently made a press release lamenting the fact that even most Italian consumers have no idea where the olives come from in their oil. As I mentioned in a previous post, Italian olive oil can technically say made in Italy and the olives can be produced in Marocco, as long as the oil is blended and packaged in Italy. This is a big problem for small producers who pride themselves on the geographic specificity of their products.
According to Coldiretti, one of Italy’s major agricultural organisations, the average Italian production of olive oil in the last 4 years was approx. 600 000 tonnes per year, worth 2 billion euros. The average Italian consumes between 13-14 kg of olive oil per year. Recently there has been an increase in olive oil consumption in Italy and in particular more high-quality and organic oil is being sold. Slow Food has been working hard to encourage the EU to create legislation that requires producers and vendors to indicate the place of production of the olives that is used to make olive oil. Consumers have a right to know what they are buying and eating.