Wednesday, April 15, 2015

McDonald's Italy disses pizza, causes gastronomic outrage

Insulting pizza is a big deal in Italy. Especially if you're an American fast food goliath.

Business Insider reports that the the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), representing the pizza chefs of Naples, the food's birthplace, are threatening to sue McDonald's for pizza defamation.

And it's all because of this ad:

You don't need to speak Italian to follow the story: Parents of a picky child are at a pizzeria, anxiously awaiting their child's choice from the menu. The waiter asks the boy what he wants, and he says "a Happy Meal." So the family leaves and takes him to McDonald's where he is happy.

The AVPN's VP is quoted in this imperfectly-translated statement:
Di porzio states that it is ignoble comparing two products very different from each other, especially if it is for discrediting those restaurants most loved by Italian families: pizzerias. Also, it is already well known that children love pizzas, especially for the taste. It is obvious that the American colossus is trying to discredit its main competitor, but speculating on children’s health is just too much. Furthermore, it is not the first time that Mc Donald attacks our culinary traditions, but this time we are willing to take some legal countermeasures.
North Americans may find it odd for pizzerias to attack burgers on nutritional standards, but only if they haven't had authentic Italian pizza. Unlike our doughy, salty and cheesy delivery versions, Italian pizze are all about fresh ingredients and restraint. Even though the dough is made from highly-refined flour, the Italian tradition of much stricter portion control makes the pizza less of a calorie bomb:
A standard margherita (with 250g of dough) has around 800Kcal, but children do not usually eat a whole pizza. So, if we reduce the size of a standard pizza and then we add a drink (without gas), we will reach 700Kcal per meal. A Happy meal has 600Kcal, which for a children are just too much. However, it is not about “how many Kcals there are per meal”, but it is a matter of “what kind of quality” they are! What kind of meat do they use to prepare their hamburgers and how many fats they have? What kind of oil do they use to prepare their potatos: colza oil? How much mayonnaise do they put on their hamburgers? And how about the preservatives contained in their bread? The true napolitan pizza, which is a product guaranteed by our international regulations, it is a “handcrafted” product which only uses selected raw materials, like mozzarella di bufala, fiordilatte, tomatos from Campania and extra virgin oil. In this way, pizzas results in a complete and balanced meal from a nutritional point of view. It is time for parents to control what their children eat: junk food might be ok if consumed now and then, but they should teach their children to eat clean everyday. They must. And eating clean means to follow the culinary culture offered by our wonderful Mediterranean Diet: it will supply parents with the right tools to choose among a great number of meals which are not only tasty and healthy but, above all, Italians.
If you're sensing a certain cultural pride here, you're not mistaken. McDonald's has only been in Italy since 1986, and its arrival in Rome's historic core was greeted with outrage. Designer Valentino even threatened legal action against his new neighbours over the smell:
According to Valentino, who this week began legal action aimed at closing the restaurant, which backs on to his Rome headquarters, the McDonald's created a ''significant and constant noise and an unbearable smell of fried food fouling the air.'' He has asked Italian magistrates to order it closed immediately on the ground that it is a nuisance.
McDonald's stayed, and expanded. Now, it can be found among the historic attractions of Venice, Florence, Milan, and —yes—Naples.

I live in Italy for several months-long stints in the 90s, and McDonald's by then had become a shibboleth for whether one was "cultured" or not. Since food is a massive part of Italy's many regional identities, the arrival of American fast food was bound to cause a reaction. In fact, that Roman McDonald's was the barbarian at the gates of Italian culture that caused Carlo Petrini to found the now-international Slow Food Movement.

There is a certain amount of pretentious Anti-Americanism in the AVPN complaint, but I can see why they are so upset. Defaming pizza in Italy (especially in Naples) is a really obtuse move by McDonald's marketers. Especially since the corporation has been trying so hard to adapt to the demand for more local foods elsewhere in Europe.

1 comment:

  1. I, as Italian, can assure you there is no Anti-Americanism in that complain. It's just a complain against a possible competitor.
    A similar complain was done a few years ago by the same association against an ad from an Italian company whose product was a frozen pizza (and as such, not subjected to the same high quality standards of handcrafted pizze).