UNESCO recently recognized the art of pizza making as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, and for eight women among Italy’s highest achieving pizza chefs, pizza is about a lot more than just making dough – they’re using it as a weapon in the fight against violence and gender inequality.
From Naples to Verona, women from around Italy are joining forces to pioneer a series of charity pizza dinners, donating proceeds to a Verona-based anti-violence center P.E.T.R.A, which provides resources and shelter to abused women and their children, welcoming all nationalities and ages. Their first dinner is scheduled in Verona at Settimo Cielo on March 12th 2018, shortly following International Women’s Day.
In part, the chefs’ desire to raise awareness about women’s issues was fueled by their own challenges succeeding in a male-dominated industry, where working their way up the ranks of the kitchen – as well as getting the attention they deserve – is a daily struggle. Even after the UNESCO award, women pizzaiole have received little recognition from UNESCO itself or from most of the media who reported on the award, as both have predominantly highlighted masculine faces.
Inspired by their own struggles in a gendered world, this group of established female pizza chefs – including some who have personal experience with domestic violence – plan to use their pie-making skills to help end violence against women.
Claudia Tosello of Pizzeria Arcobaleno in Rovigo, one of the eight pizzaiole who will be participating in an upcoming pizza charity for P.E.T.R.A, says the disproportion of women to men who train in the vocation of pizza-making (five women for every 50 men), gave them the desire to create an initiative that benefits women in less fortunate situations.
“Since starting this group, many women have come forward to us confessing their experience with domestic violence, and how the psychological manipulation rendered them feeling helpless to walk away,” Tosello says. “This affirmed the project we are forming, and this is only the beginning.”
Together with a sensibility for experiencing marginalization in the pizza world, she and the rest of the group are determined to speak up for an important cause – or at least let their pies do the talking. Another woman from the group, Petra Antolini of Settimo Cielo, stresses the importance of empowering women to feel capable.
“We’ve had to work more than double to receive the same consideration as men pizzaioli; the birth of this group is to prove that women can do it, and do it well,” Antolini says. “A common tactic used by the perpetrators of abuse is to influence their subject to believe they are useless in life. Perhaps if there was more gender equality – not only in the pizza-making world, but in professions across Italy – more women would have the courage and feel supported when reporting or standing up to injustices such as violence.”
To illustrate the difficulties in making pizza as a woman in a patriarchal society rooted in digressive gender roles, consider this: According to Top 50 Pizza in 2017, only one woman – Marzia Buzzanca – was considered among the top 50 pizza chefs in the country, and was ranked No. 26. When Franco Pepe – Italy’s pioneer of new-wave pizza and chef at Italy’s best pizzeria, according to Top 50 – was asked why there were no women in his kitchen, his response was cutting: “Making pizza isn’t a job for women. It’s simply too physically demanding.”
Stefano Auricchio, director of the renowned Association of Authentic Neapolitan Pizza (AVPN), which trademarks authentic Neapolitan pizzerias in Italy and around the world, affirms these chauvinistic attitudes, saying, “It’s simply not a job for women, not because of a lack of ability, but because of nature. Many hours are spent away from home as the job nature requires selecting ingredients in the morning to running the pizzeria at night. The trade is simply not easy for women should one desire a family.”
Attitudes like this are pervasive not only in the restaurant industry, but throughout the country. But the pizzaiole are aware that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abuse many women face in a country where an estimated one in three women experience violence at some point in their lives.
Antolini says one of her employees endured stalking after leaving a violent partner. The team at her pizzeria accompanied her to and from shifts until she was finally granted a restraining order – reinforcing on a personal level why it’s so important to find ways to help women.
Antolini, Tosello and their fellow pizzaiole would like to go beyond these dinners and offer work training. “A lot of the submission to abuse comes from the fear of being financially independent,” Tosello says. She has already started to hold weekly lessons teaching women how to make pizza so it helps instill a sense of mastery, giving them the confidence to break-free from abusive situations.
The pizzaiole hail from north to south: Petra Antolini of Settimo Cielo in Verona, Enrica Causa of Pizzeria Rustica in Padova, Marina Orlandi and Giovanna Baratella of Pizzeria Slurp in Ferrara, Claudia Tosello of Pizzeria Arcobaleno in Rovigo, Paola Cappuccio of Pizza Verace in Naples, Eleanora Massaretti of Basilico Rosso in Rovigo and Marzia Buzzanca of Percorsi di Gusto in Aquila. Each will present a pizza demonstrating their own style, including Neapolitan, pinsa (an ancient Roman oval style), a taglio (by the slice), new wave and even gluten-free.
All proceeds from the first dinner will go towards sustaining P.E.T.R.A. Tosello says she hopes their work will not stop here, as she intends for the group to continue growing and to putting on pizza dinner events to benefit anti-violence centers around the country.
*If you’d like to support these tenacious women and the center they aim to benefit, make sure to reserve your seat at one of the kindest pizza parties on earth.
Details: 12 March 2018 Pizzeria Settimo Cielo, Via Bernardi, 1 (Settimo di Pescantina) Verona
Reservations requested by March 7th 2018, via phone +390456703207