Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An Open Letter To Ethnic Food Marketers

Now, let me preface my little rant with this...

Those who know me, or have been to a restaurant with me, are familiar with my self-imposed culinary restrictions and lack of sense of adventure towards new foods. Yes, my diet is largely composed of complex carbohydrates and yes, I've eaten more potatoes than your average Irishman. I don't eat meat, fish or anything that would probably break me of my girlish figure. I'm aware of this and I'm fine with it.

You might say that because of this I don't have a foot to stand on the subject of culinary critique. However, you should also be aware by now that I expect the highest quality of ingredients and the best method of preparation of the few things I do eat. I can be quite critical of even the simplest dish if the ingredients aren't done justice. In my mind, a poorly prepared dish, either because of substandard ingredients or inaccurate doneness, doesn't deserve to be eaten. Food should always be enjoyable and a source of great pleasure and never just something to fill your stomach until the next meal. And this my friends, is the basic Italian philosophy towards eating. A philosophy that I embrace fully and hence gives me the right to rant about the following subject.

I'm talking about the continued proliferation and immensely popular mass marketing of "authentic" Italian food products by American restaurant chains.

As an Italian I am forced to take a stand against this cultural injustice and set the record straight. You've heard me cringe at Olive Garden commercials as they repeatedly use old Italian stereotypes to pimp their new "genius" comestible concoctions. You've also probably been on the receiving end of one of my lectures about how there's no such thing as Alfredo sauce in Italy and how it's purely an American invention. I'm sorry, I can't help it. If you were in Germany and someone told you that David Hasselhoff represented the essence of American rock music you'd have to set them straight, wouldn't you? So when I see a Wendy's commercial for their new "Frescata Italiana sandwich" I have to vent about how there's no such word in the Italian language and nobody's ever heard of Genoa salami and what the fuck does Wendy's know about Italian food anyway?!?

It's just the latest of completely fabricated "authentic" Italian dishes. Jack In The Box came out with the "Panido" sandwiches a while back which I guess was supposed to be their take on an Italian panino, which by the way just means sandwich...any kind of sandwich (I guess a peanut butter and jelly panino doesn't really fool anyone into thinking they're ordering something even mildly exotic). It's a slap in the face to anyone who knows better.

Pizza Hut constantly does this too, like they haven't completely destroyed the concept of pizza already. They just came out with their new "Sicilian Lasagna Pizza". First of all, lasagna is mostly a Northern Italian dish so I don't know what the hell it has to do with Sicily which is the Southern-most point of Italy. It's just something you would never see anywhere in Italy. And have you seen the commercial for it?! It's just insulting. And I don't get insulted easily; just ask my friends who habitually call me a wop to my face. I've got thick skin but when I see a large corporation perpetuating tired stereotypes it sickens me. They should know better.

What's even worst is when a restaurant is trying to pass off that they're "authentic" Italian and they mispell or misuse words on the menu. Mafiosa's in Nashville has something like eight mispelled words on their menu. Can't they take the time to make sure that at least they spell shit right? I mean they're gonna fuck up the food, but at least they could spell it right on the menu. They could run it by the Italian professor right up the street at Belmont University, probably for free. That's all it takes.

And I know that the notion that anything can be authentic without being consumed at the spot of origin is dubious but that's precisely why these restaurant chains should change their marketing approach. Just say that you made the shit up and market it as Italian-inspired but completely made in America. And stop using Italian stereotypes as your spokepersons.

The thing that gets me about those stereotypes is that they're using early 20th Century Southern Italian stereotypical behavior so it's not even accurate or comprehensive of the whole nation. You want more accurate and up-to-date stereotypes? There's a bunch. Italians are mostly neurotic, fad-obsessed and love their cell phones. Those aren't as fun but at least they're more encompassing of the inhabitants of my country.

But whatever. I should've expected it from a country full of cowboys who love war, guns and hamburgers and whose hobbies include hoe-downs, Dukes of Hazzard car shows and flag saluting. I mean, that encompasses all of you right? I just wish I didn't enjoy The Sopranos so much...damn, that's a good show!

1 comment:

  1. wow... i agree that it's mostly impossible to get good Italian food in the states, but your countrified stereotype of Americans was a little bit aggressive, don't you think? I grew up in New Jersey. Even the Soprano-stereotype of New Jersians is over-exaggerated. I grew up in an Italian-American household on the Jersey shore and I go to school in Nashville. I don't speak with a Jersey accent, nor do I wear cowboy paraphernalia or have an overdeveloped sense of American pride. I'm well traveled, cultured and educated, and on behalf of the thousands of people in the state like me, I'd like to raise my hand and be counted!



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