By Desmond O'Grady, Rome
January 7, 2006
A BAKER who has put a McDonald's out of business has become a hero of Italy's Slow Food advocates.
Macca's ran into big trouble when Luca DeGesu (his surname means "of Jesus"), opened a bakery specialising in local products next door in Altamura.
The city, with 65,000 inhabitants in the heel of the Italian boot, is renowned for its bread, which is sold throughout Italy.
It is said to keep fresh for a week, is yellow from the durum wheat, and has a crunchy black crust.
The DeGesu family have been producing it for five generations.
Luca DeGesu did not plan to run McDonald's out of business when he occupied a space next to the fast-food shop in Altamura's main square five years ago. But that is what happened.
He just wanted to earn a crust.
As well as bread, he made pizza using local olive oil, and toppings such as distinctive mushrooms. He also used a particular type of oak in the oven.
It was the backyard against the global. McDonald's had 10 staff, whereas Mr DeGesu was a one-man show. Mr DeGesu, 35, admits that he was helped by the mad cow scare, which convinced some customers to abandon meat and McDonald's.
His success has been welcomed by French bakers, who are threatened by industrial-scale baguette makers, as well as the Italian Slow Food movement. It is also welcomed by the newer Slow City movement, which wants to preserve historic city centres by excluding cars and conserving small shops.
For the past decade, the administration of Abbiategrasso, 25 kilometres from Milan, has banned supermarkets.
Some towns are nuclear-free zones, Abbiategrasso is supermarket-free. Thanks to this, its small shops have survived but there are supermarkets within easy driving distance.
Pizza is a fast food, and Mr DeGesu's success comes because of his use of local products. The foods are grown without chemical fertilisers.
The production may not knock out many of the 310 McDonald's, or supermarkets, but they are affecting them. Supermarkets now carry a greater variety of breads, and some fast-food shops are introducing ethnic and local dishes.
Meanwhile, back in Altamura, Mr DeGesu has doubled his staff to two, and is talking of opening a bakery-pizzeria in Rome or Milan.
Next could be a McGesu chain.
Yay! there IS a God.