September 13, 2007 / 1:38 PM / 10 years ago

Don't pay a penne more for pasta!

<p>A member of an Italian consumer association (L) gives free pasta to a man during a demonstration in downtown Rome, September 13, 2007. Consumer groups handed out free packets of spaghetti while calling on Italians to boycott buying and eating pasta on Thursday, in protest at an expected spike in the price of the beloved national staple.Tony Gentile</p>

ROME (Reuters) - Many Italians excluded their beloved pasta from their supermarket shopping Thursday in protest at forthcoming price rises and consumer groups hailed the boycott as an excellent result.

Italians are in a state of outrage that rising wheat prices mean a plate of spaghetti in the next few months will almost certainly go up, even if by only a few cents, as many families eat pasta every day of the week.

"Pasta, bread, milk -- these are the most important things. We are not protesting for perfumes or jewels, but for pasta and bread," said one of demonstrators, Marisa, at a Rome protest.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

Justice Minister Clemente Mastella promised to support the cause by skipping his favorite Neapolitan dish of pasta tubes stuffed with tomatoes and ricotta.

But there were few signs of his compatriots making a similar sacrifice at lunchtime, with hungry workers eating their usual pasta dishes at Rome restaurants that ignored the boycott.

HITS EMOTIONAL NERVE

"The pasta strike is symbolic, a call for Italians to make a sacrifice -- to sacrifice something we can't give up, even when we travel abroad," said Carlo Pileri of the ADOC consumer group.

Summing up Italians' passion for pasta, 14th-century Italian sea captain, Baciccino Parodi, wrote in his ship's log: "I can manage without a compass, but I do not feel like setting out without lasagne."

Pileri said the rise in prices could prevent families from "saving money to buy other products, such as such as shoes, clothes or cars ... " -- three other Italian passions.

Consumer groups said a straw poll of shoppers leaving supermarkets in six cities showed nearly half had not bought a packet of pasta by midday -- hailed as an excellent result.

Demonstrators in Rome held up yellow banners showing a sharp rise in prices, and gave away free packets of pasta.

The jump in bread, pasta and dairy product prices will lead to an estimated annual 7 percent rise in food prices overall, they say, with further price hikes feared to be on the way.

A more than doubling in wheat prices over the past year is to blame, spurring Italy's biggest milling group to raise flour prices by more than 50 percent by year-end. Barilla, the world's largest pasta maker, has signaled it will raise prices soon.

All of that translates into a rise of only a few cents on a packet of pasta since a kilo costs well below a euro. But the move has touched an emotional nerve among Italians weary of steadily rising prices and higher taxes.

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