The Italian sagra is a subject dear to me. The blend of wacky sagra atmosphere and good, cheap eats has for years appealed to the foodie in me as well as the observer of things Italian. The sagra tradition was one of the first topics to inspire me to write about Italy. Years later, with more sagra experience under my ever-snugger belt, I looked at some of the developing controversial aspects of the sagra, in particular the deteriorating quality of ingredients, the standardization of dishes and flavors, and bitter reactions from the restaurant sector to alleged transgressions by sagra organizers. Left unchecked, sagras were becoming a ‘business,’ posing a threat to restaurants and, worse, compromising their home-grown authenticity in the process.
A recent development here in Borgo San Lorenzo has redressed sagra regulation, to good end in my opinion. Last week the town council instituted new rules and regulations governing sagras in the Borgo municipal jurisdiction, summarized here:
Quality and authenticity. The star ingredient of the sagra must be local. Other secondary ingredients must be locally obtained ‘as much as is possible.’ The sagra’s focus in offering certain dishes should be on tradition and quality.
Timing (or seasonality). Sagras may be organized from April 15 to October 30 only, and organizers must submit their sagra event dates to town hall before November 1 of the preceding year. This will curb the spontaneous appearance of sagras (which speaks to quality).
Frequency. Associations who organize sagras will now be limited to one per year. No sagra can last more than 12 consecutive days. The same town may not offer two simultaneous sagras, but sagras within the municipality may be offered at the same time (realistic, given the geography of the Mugello, a large agricultural zone made up of many small frazioni, or small towns under the jurisdiction of a municipality; prohibiting simultaneous sagras within the Borgo municipality would be too extreme a limitation).
Fiscal regulations. Sagras cannot be for profit. All funds collected must go towards activities promoted or hosted by the organizing association, or be donated to charity. Let’s hope that this, perhaps the most controversial of the new regulations (or most needed, depending on perspective), will be enforced.
Ecological and civic regulations. Sagras must respect noise regulations, must swap non-biodegradable plastic plates and forks for biodegradable alternatives, and are obliged to separate and recycle all refuse, including cooking oils.
While restaurant proprietors played a part in bringing this matter to the attention of the town council–in other words, individual business concerns were partly behind these changes–the results of this initiative will not benefit restaurateurs exclusively. Sagra-lovers should see better quality soon, not to mention an improvement of the lately in-question reputation of sagras on the whole.
Here in the Mugello, sagras are as fundamental to summer as sunflowers and mosquito repellent; in autumn they are just as abundant, given our bounty of porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and wild boar. In recent years, however, their excessive repetition in these parts has, as will happen with overkill of any good thing, bred banality. This initiative by the Borgo San Lorenzo city council will encourage a return to former thinking about sagras: a non-profit, community-based event that highlights a particular product in its peak season, the concept that drove the sagra tradition for years. Well, one can hope.