Mafia-free pizza – the ultimate fairtrade product

August 23, 2011

Ever worried that “fairtrade” may be just a label, camouflaging unspeakable exploitation and corruption beneath flimsy ethical sticking-plaster? If so, the latest Human Rights Watch report on South Africa’s booming wine industry will have confirmed your worst suspicions. HRW would have us believe the Paarl and Stellenbosch we glug so freely is produced by workers living in pig-sty conditions.

So where should the ethically squeamish turn for food and drink of unimpeachable integrity?

Fear not: I have the answer. Out with that Stellenbosch and in with Placido Rizzotto, a wine made exclusively from grapes grown on a mafia don’s confiscated vineyard.

And if Rizzotto (named after a famous Sicilian union leader bumped off by the mob in 1948) isn’t to your taste, then how about some bottles of Calabrian olive oil, or Pugliese breadsticks?

All courtesy of a consortium called Libera Terra (Free Land), set up in the last decade to farm the estates of convicted mobsters.

Libera Terra’s success has been based on a simple proposition. However delicious those sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, mozarella and focaccia, you can never be quite sure where they come from. Organized crime has its grubby paws on quite a lot of the Italian organic food industry. Particularly in the south, home of Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.

Legislation passed about 13 years ago has begun to change all of that. Organisations like Libera Terra were encouraged to come forward and exploit confiscated mafia estates for social benefit. Something like 4,500 estates (not all of them farms – villas and apartments as well) have been expropriated and passed into the hands of student cooperatives during that time.

Libera Terra acts not only as a kind of kitemark, offering quality and ethical reassurance, but also as a marketing agency for groups of approved co-operatives.

The latest financial update to come my way suggests a turnover of about $6m. A figure the more remarkable given that it has been achieved in the teeth of torched mafia-free vineyards, vandalised farm equipment and systematic intimidation by the relatives of jailed mafiosi.

All very well, you say, but where do you get this stuff? Ah. Until recently distribution has been confined to Italy – mainly through specialist outlets, but one or two supermarkets as well.

Now, however, Libera Terra is branching out, with a marketing push in the rest of Europe. I gather Germany is the principal target. The Germans are so right-on about these things that they have published a list of 400 Sicilian businesses which refuse to pay the pizzo (mafia protection money). The idea is to give German tourists the option of shopping only at places that don’t line mafiosi pockets.

Whether Britain is also in Libera Terra’s sights I have no idea. For those who can’t wait to eat their pizza minus pizzo, I suggest tackling the organisations’s website, where a number of products can be bought direct (although only by businesses it seems).

AdWeek’s Michael Wolff on the Murdochs, an everyday tale of Mafia folk

August 9, 2011

Reading AdWeek these days, I’m irresistibly reminded of Spike Milligan’s old bestseller: “Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall.”

It’s not Spike’s obvious irony I’m talking about here, either. Michael Wolff, a talented enfant terrible now editing the venerable US trade magazine, is deadly earnest in trying to slay single-handedly the apotheosis of all evil. Only, for Hitler and the Third Reich read instead Rupert Murdoch and his Evil Empire.

Media don Rupert Murdoch

“Pugnacious”, “relentless” and “fearless” are words often found in close proximity to “Wolff” on the printed page. His anti-Murdoch crusade does not disappoint in any of these respects.

Wolff established his credentials as chief Murdoch-baiter with a biography which, when it came out over 2 years ago, had the satisfying effect of all but sending the usually unflappable old boy into a fit of apoplexy.

Since then, every twist and turn of what Wolff likes to call the Murdocalypse (that is, the phone-hacking scandal and its aftermath) has been chronicled with gleeful and sardonic attention to detail on the pages and website of AdWeek.

Here’s the man in action, just after the Murdochs, père et fils cadet, had made their woeful appearance before our parliamentary select committee a couple of weeks ago….

James in prison in just a few days time, and the old boy himself safely behind bars by the end of next year – doesn’t pull his punches, does he? Of course, it’s nothing personal, he just hates the bastard and all he stands for. In the land of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Tea Party partisanship, what could be fairer than that?

I mention all this in the light of Wolff’s pièce de résistance on the Murdochs, out this week, in which the family is convincingly portrayed as a mafia clan. No idle parody this – Wolff creates some compelling parallels. Here’s a short extract that gives the flavour:

Both the New York Post and Fox News maintain enemy lists. Almost anyone who has directly crossed these organizations, or who has made trouble for their parent company, will have felt the sting here. That sting involves regular taunting and, often, lies—Obama is a Muslim. (Or, if not outright lies, radical remakes of reality.) Threats pervade the company’s basic view of the world. “We have stuff on him,” Murdoch would mutter about various individuals who I mentioned during my interviews with him. “We have pictures.”

Vito Corleone to a T. And who’s the urbane young fellah with him? Michael? er, James?

What all this may be doing for AdWeek readership I’m not sure. Wolff, whose father was an adman, has a seigneurial disdain for the dull, grubby detail of everyday adland which, if not exactly ignored, is relegated to the nether reaches of the site map. He seems intent upon recasting AdWeek as Vanity Fair, with only a nod to the business readership which has, in some measure at least, loyally supported the title these past 33 years.

Adweek’s current publisher, Prometheus Global Media, appears to be 100% behind Wolff’s mission to expunge “robotic trade journalism” from the title in the cause of creating broader readership.

Which is just as well, because the danger is the title will lose all relevance outside those interested in Wolff and Wolff’s chosen hobby-horses.

Personally, I hope Prometheus has very deep pockets. Long may it subsidise Wolff’s zealous mission to excoriate, educate and entertain. But I rather imagine the commercial department is tearing its hair out as it watches the last vestiges of market share trickle over to humdrum old AdAge.

Coming shortly: The Borgias – A modern-day makeover, with Lis as Lucrezia.

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