History: The McItaly   Leave a comment

In January of 2010, McDonald’s Italy launched its McItaly burger, billed as “A meeting of tastes: the unmistakable taste of McDonald’s® meets the tradition of typical Italian ingredients.” The launch of the burger took place at the McDonald’s restaurant at the Spanish Steps, where in 1986 the protest (against the opening of that same restaurant) that launched Slow Food had taken place. Present at the launch was Luca Zaia, the then Italian Minister of Agriculture. Zaia praised the McItaly, made exclusively of Italian products, and even gave the burger the ministry’s official patronage.

This unleashed a storm of criticism, both from Slow Food and other commentators abroad. Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, wrote a letter to the McItaly burger (and to Zaia) and even denounced the menu item as

Minister Zaia at the unveiling of the McItaly.

something anything but Italian: “Whose grandmother ever made something that looked like this?” he asked rhetorically on the RAI weekend show Che Tempo Che Fa. The Ministry of Agriculture issued press releases denouncing the gastronomic snobs and underlining the Italian-ness of the burger and its aid to farmers in Italy. The polemic continued for two months, until the (already planned) end of the McItaly promotion dampened further polemics.

The unanswered question is “What is Italian?” Is it the presence of Italian-made ingredients? If so, then practically all of McDonald’s products are Italian, as the sourcing is largely national. Or is Italian grandmum’s cooking, as Petrini implies? Modern dishes like spaghetti all’amatriciana are out, then, as they are largely post-war, meat abundance-induced dishes. Despite Italian opinions to the contrary, most of their food cannot be philological in the sense they want it to be, i.e. that “Our food is good because it’s the way we’ve been eating for centuries, a balanced diet based on a peasant diet.” More on “philological food” to come. ZN

View the original press releases of McDonald’s and the Ministry of Agriculture, Petrini’s letter in La Repubblica, and Zaia’s response.

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