Too Gay For Our Pasta? Barilla Gets Spagbol On Its Face

I spend a large part of my working week faffing around on blogs keeping up with the food industry news. Some of it is ho-hum, some of it is ha-ha (see my Hilarious Headlines posts here and here) and some of it is oh-no!  The latter tends to results from unsavoury discoveries (think horsemeat!), or from moronic statements that a gormless company exec lets rip through one of his orifices in public.

This post is about just such a shit storm, although it is not, strictly speaking, “news” anymore. The contentious utterance seeped through the airwaves a month ago. I wanted to watch the response unfold on the interwebs, and it was worth the wait.

Guido-BarillaSo, who said the stupid thing?
Guido Barilla, chairman of Italian pasta and pasta sauce maker Barilla, during a radio interview. (Barilla is the world’s leading pasta brand.)

What did he say?
Well, in response to a question regarding company’s advertising strategy, which, so far, had centred around a traditional family setting, with the mother serving food to her wedded husband and their bright eyed, bushy tailed offspring, he stated that the company would steadfastly continue to portray the “classic family” in its adverts.

Is that it..???
No. If only he’d left it at that…!

On further prodding, he said he would never use a gay couple to advertise Barilla pasta. He didn’t see things they way they did, so he continued, and if they didn’t like it, they could choose another brand of pasta.

And because his trotter clearly hadn’t sunk into the steaming pile quite far enough, he also stated that he was against homosexual couples adopting children.

(To be fair, he did say something about being in favour of gay marriage – which still lacks legal recognition in Italy – but the roar of the incredulous masses drowned that bit out.)

So, what happened next?

Well, pretty much this:

KidAnd that:

Fork

Almost immediately, the calls for a boycott started. There’s facebook page, of course there is!

But… is his opinion all that surprising?

No, there is nothing surprising at all about individuals holding these kinds of views. Nor was anyone expecting that a major food company, be it Barilla, Nestle, Kraft, Unilever, Danone or whoever, was going to feature same sex couples canoodling over their noodles or exchanging cheesy grins while spoonfeeding each other Philadelphia.

Bland and predictable continues to be the word. Let’s face it: Taking a light sabre to societal norms is not the natural terrain of companies vending kitchen cupboard staples. Grannie flashing a bare knee at gramps as she spreads Bertolli on his cracker is as edgy as it’s ever going to get.

But what I fail to understand is this: The execs of large companies are, above all, seasoned PR experts, trained not to volunteer any personal opinions or strategic data that could possibly compromise the mothership’s sales. And while a large company may ostensibly be aiming its products at a mainstream audience, WHY ON EARTH would a company boss actively go about alienating part of its consumer base?

Homosexual people, contrary to some sources, are not a mythical tribe inhabiting the deepest recesses of the Brazilian rainforest, shunning the evils of human civilisation, and in particular, dried bits of dough twisted into droll shapes. They are everybody’s family members, work colleagues, friends… In fact, a team of dedicated anthropologists who’ve been observing this species very closely in its natural habitat, aka The Real World, reported that its members eat pasta…and sometimes even TOGETHER with the “classic” people! ‘They’, one should imagine, also make up a fair number of Guido Barilla’s 14,000+ employees.

Anyway, how coming out with ill-conceived statements like these on public radio is going to bolster Barilla’s market share – which is every commercial company’s ultimate goal, surely! – remains a mystery.

Needless to say, after the public outcry broke, there was the oh-so predictable “I’m sorry if I offended anyone blah blah” fauxpology.

On the upside, the consumer backlash to such gaffes is usually quite creative. I’ve picked out a few amusing images for you:

bigotoniPutinBarillaMAD-Magazine-Barilla

"Here's what our traditional family has to say to Barilla" - posted on facebook

“Here’s what our traditional family has to say to Barilla” – posted on facebook

Some were quick to seize the glaring business opportunity:

Barilla 2GayPasta[I’ve collected these at random from various sites, if anyone would like attribution/credit for creating them, please leave a comment below, and I’ll sort it out asap.]

Is there anything more that Guido Barilla could do to smooth out the ripples in his lasagne sheets?
Hmmmm… he might want to follow the recent example of the CEO of an organisation with an even more conservative standing than his own, which manages to maintain a consumer base of around 1.2 billion, by issuing the following statement: “If a person is gay and seeks Go(o)d pasta and has good will hard cash, who am I to judge?”

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68 thoughts on “Too Gay For Our Pasta? Barilla Gets Spagbol On Its Face

    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      But then… if Barilla goes down, what’ll happen to its employees when unemployment is already rife in Italy. Let’s hope it won’t come to that, and that the discussion this has generated will have some lasting impact.

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  1. Anna

    Ha. Reading this I was gonna comment that “Barilla sales in Russia will probably skyrocket” (not really – I checked it out in the store a couple of months ago and it is UNGODLY expensive here, comp. even to NYC prices), but that Putin satire beat me to it!

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      1. Anna

        I’ll tell you this – Russian pasta is a little bit…um…crap, after you’ve lived ‘in the west.’ I dont think they intend for it to be cooked ‘al dente.’ It’s serviceable at best. But I thiiiiink I have seen cheaper import brands as well (I dont cook – almost ever – so it’s a bit hazy).

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        They may be using a high proportion of the ‘wrong’ kind of wheat (i.e. not durum wheat, which is expensive). That kind goes straight from hard to soggy, bypassing the ‘al dente’ stage.

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      3. Anna

        Yeah, it’s sort of thick and mushy. So I was gonna buy Barilla, cause I wanted to make some pasta (that’s one thing my fam doesnt cook) and then I looked at the price and balked (and at the risk of sounding spoiled – I rarely balk at prices bc I live at the family apartment, thus no rent, and pay 13% income tax, and until the dacha construction begins, I am fairly relaxed about my disposable income. so the fact that I even noticed the price, and then converted it to $$ (as I do w/everything), and then was like OH HELL NO – that means something).

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      1. Anna

        I am SO happy my dad is the open-minded sort bc there’s a post coming up that has to do with sex talk… (OH, and he emailed me the other day saying he went thru all the archives, and “Anna…you can write.” 😀

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      2. Anna

        No no no, I am just sticking to an editorial calendar, thus spacing out posts about food, culture, pretty pictures, important issues, etc.

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      3. Anna

        That’s different. I can probably draw my ex-brother-in-law’s privates based on how much I have heard about them from my sister.

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      4. ladyofthecakes Post author

        It’s these that get me into trouble…
        Cheers for the support… though it might push my inappropriatenesses to dizzying new heights, and I might not survive the return journey.

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  2. camparigirl

    Barilla is not going down and it will blow over but when I saw this last week I couldn’t help and wonder at the stupidity (I am leaving bigotry alone for the time being). Why aleniate an entire segment of your customers? How about keeping that trap shut? Sometimes I despair of my compatriots.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      They won’t go down, I agree… it’s not quite on a par with the “Ratner” effect 😉
      But it sure stirred things up a little and got a discussion going. Somebody in his position, though, should have been waaaay more diplomatic about this.

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  3. ruthincolorado

    I also wondered why on earth he would stick his foot in his mouth and piss off so many customers. Maybe he really is not in touch with modern society? It’s a mystery to me. Love your image collection!

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  4. barbedwords

    Hadn’t heard about this, will see what Italian friends make of it. I just buy whatever pasta’s on offer, haven’t quite got into the whole ‘certain pasta shapes go with certain sauces’ thing.

    I have had the penis pasta (was a gift – honest!) and I found it a bit hard to swallow…

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  5. TBM

    Somehow I missed this controversy. Did enjoy the Putin poster though. You know the PR people cringe whenever someone has to make a statement. Seriously, he couldn’t just let it go … had to buy the shovel and keep digging. Back in the day this would have got me irate. Now I just shake the head. I’ve heard it so many times and from people a lot closer to me.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      The Putin pic sure made me chuckle 😉
      I guess, I’ve never really understood the problem in the first place…can’t people direct their hostility towards things that are actually damaging to society and the world? No, it seems to be far easier to make people’s lives difficult by demanding irrational conformity, at any cost.

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      1. TBM

        I don’t get it either. But there will always be some form of this. People fear things–they always have. I wonder what the next big fear will be.

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        I don’t think there are any new fears… they’re just the same old ones, recycled over and over again, for millennia. It’s the human condition, I suppose.

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      3. Anna

        Fear of any kind of Other is also amplified in time of economic uncertainty and insecurity, and we’re nearly the eye of a storm with that one in the Western economies.

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      4. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Unfortunately, I think you’re right… but I think we’re very far from having hit rock bottom.
        My mother asked me if I felt safe in the street here in Spain, considering the massive level of unemployment. She worries about crime. The truth is, that crime isn’t a big issue here – the societal fabric remains amazingly stable despite the crisis. Once it hits Germany, in another 5-10 years or so, it will be a different story. That society won’t be able to function with a Spanish level of unemployment, and I dread to see what’s coming.

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      5. TBM

        What are the differences between the Spanish population and the German? Why do you think Germany will have a harder time with unemployment. I know in the past, unemployment has caused major issues in Germany, especially in relation to blaming certain people–I’m thinking of the 30s and then after 1989. But would like to know your insight to the situation.

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      6. ladyofthecakes Post author

        I’m not sure I have any valid insights… but it strikes me that societal networks (i.e. family ties and support) in Spain are much stronger than they are in Germany, and that this is how they are weathering the crisis without the country descending into total turmoil. I mean, there’s plenty of turmoil and angry demonstrations, but the whole thing is not imploding.
        The Spanish are quite happy to bend the rules to survive, while Germany has some very rigid structures in place, which work amazingly well as long as people have economic security. But these rules are, essentially, hollow pillars, and when economic security is threatened on a large scale, the whole edifice crumbles in an instant, and people will lash out violently like wounded animals.

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  6. TBM

    I think your points are very valid and I had a feeling you might refer to the rules there. It’s amazing to watch Merkel and how she tries to bend the rules some but she just can’t do it completely. She’s a biologist and German–lots of rules. It’s hard to determine where the economy will go in the next decade. Not looking good right now. Still the government shutdown in the US and the Euro is not solved. It will be depressing to watch, i think.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Yes, she tries very hard, I think, and at the bottom of it, she’s a good person with a conscience. But there’s only so much she can do, and you can’t please everybody.
      That darn shutdown – I was trying to access some USDA data yesterday, and they’ve closed the site! Ahrgh – like it would cost them any effort at all to keep it running! Don’t update things while you’re on strike, fair enough, but keep the bloody thing switched on!!! End of rant, lol.

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