Italian Food Standards

Italians have a much higher standard for food than Americans do. In general, the food here is of very high quality.

Gelato:

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For the most part, I think that food of similar quality does exist in America. The difference is that Italians always eat well, while for Americans it’s more of a special occasion. Often in America, we eat just to get food in our stomach and don’t always care how it tastes. Personally, I think the best food in America can at least compete with the best food in Italy (don’t tell any Italians I said that). But the bad food gets way worse in America, than the absolute worst food in Italy.

Take pizza for example. America has pizza places which are on par with the good pizza I’ve had in Italy. (So far. Granted, I haven’t yet been to the pizza capital of Naples.) But Americans in many cities typically get their pizza from garbage chains like Papa Johns or Donatos where the cheese tastes like rubber. Maybe a few times a year they go for “artisan” pizza or they go to Little Italy, and it’s really good.

Italians don’t accept this. All food is good, all the time, everywhere. It has to be, or they won’t buy it. In the States if you are shopping at the mall and you want a quick sandwich, you go to Subway and it barely tastes like anything at all, but it gets the job done. In Italy, I went to a department store called La Rinascente, which was similar to Macy’s. I got a sandwich at the “food court” and it was delicious. The bread was fresh, the meat was fresh, the tomatoes were ripe and fresh. The “food court” also had many other options available. The same is true for airport food. All food is good, everywhere.

My sandwich at the department store:

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The Italian government is far more strict on food standards as well. In the USA, the government regulates for safety. In Italy they regulate for safety but also for quality. They also protect the names of various types of food like “Parmesan Cheese” or “San Marzano tomatoes.” You can’t just make any old mediocre cheese and call it Parmesan like Kraft does. In order to slap that label on a hunk of cheese, it must be made in or around Parma, and it must be made following a certain process that for hundreds of years has been known as Parmesan. This is done to protect both consumers and business owners.

This:

kraft-parmesan

is not the same as this:

Parmesan cheese wheels

Italians unfortunately do not have a very good idea of “American food.” Many of them think we eat pasta with ketchup and all of our pizza tastes just like the cardboard box it’s served in. Or worse, they think we at McDonald’s every day. I try to contrast their stereotypes. I tell them that I do in fact know how to make pasta and tomato sauce properly but I think a lot of them are skeptical. At one point I was very annoyed because so many students were asking me about fast food, but eventually I learned to just accept it.

Italian-Americans are known for, at times, being snobby about the food that other people in America eat. I see this same attitude in Italy every day, so clearly this trait was passed down through the generations. The bad side of how good the food is in Italy is that I think many people are a bit closed minded about other food. If I tell my students about a certain type of food we have in America, Chipotle or Tex-Mex for example, half of them will make a face like they are grossed out before they even know what it is. (Often they say “che schifo” which can be translated as “disgusting.” Some of you may know it as “skeeve.”) I’ve seen Italian-Americans behave similarly, from time to time.

Italians are the original “foodies,” long before it was a thing in the USA. They are always sitting around talking about how good the cheese is or how good the oranges are or where the best place to buy them is. Food is highly valued in their society, and people’s attitudes reflect this.

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