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In praise of Ercolina

  • 19 February 2024
The heroine of last week’s most diverting news story was a cow. She and her minders were refused entrance into St Peter’s Square in Rome. They went there to seek Pope Francis’ blessing. The cow was named Ercolina after Hercules, the Greek strong man, hero and God. The name was appropriate. A little way before she had been photographed outside the San Remo concert hall during Italy’s most popular music festival. Twenty years previously her mother had gained admission to St Peter’s Square.

Ercolina’s mission was to protest against the low prices and excessive regulation of farming In Italy. Throughout Italy and Europe farmers were coming to town with their products in similar protests at a perceived threat to the future of small farms. Some Governments had made concessions. Although Ercolina may not have received her desired papal blessing, her owner, a factory proprietor, gained great publicity for his cause by milking her and distributing her milk for free. 

In recent weeks, too, the Australian media published stories of supermarkets putting pressure on farmers and others to accept lower prices for their produce at a time of rising costs. In Australia, small farms have more extensively been aggregated with an associated loss of families from small rural towns. Economically more efficient production has come at a cost to a way of living. 

The farmers’ demonstrations in Europe revealed to city dwellers the rich network of relationships involved in providing food to people. They included relationships to animals known by name, to green fields, hedges, villages, and to local communities. They invited us to ask whether the lower prices that might come from more economically efficient and profitable farming justify the loss of culturally rich local communities and of a way of life. What do you think? Did Ercolina and her mission deserve a Papal blessing?




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: (Getty images)