Monday, October 02, 2006

Americans are Stupid!

Do you feel stupid? I do not feel stupid, sure I still have a great deal to learn and I am completely ignorant of many subjects, but I really do not think I am stupid. Americans are stupid, at least this is what corporate America has been saying as of late. So while Italian Wine Guy is lost in the Italian Twilight Zone, many of us are looking for ways to win the fight of obesity, take care of our health and find some balance in our life. Italy has become the most visited country in the world because its culture reflects many of the attributes we, and other advanced nations, are looking to re-introduce into our life. As US culture moves more toward a healthy and natural lifestyle, corporate America has jumped on the bandwagon. No, they have not changed the quality of their products or services, simply they are presenting their wares as if they were Italian. Wendy’s has a Frescata sandwich, Jack in the Box has its Ciabatta Burger, Stouffer’s has its Chicken Carbonara and now Applebee’s has hired TV chef and personality Mr. Tyler Florence to promote its wholesome Italian food.

Tyler Florence of Real Kitchen on Food Network:

"I love serving up this classic penne pasta tossed in my own traditional spicy Italian tomato cream sauce mixed with ripe tomatoes and green peas. I top it off with hearty, sweet Italian sausage..."

"My own traditional", this is the perfect example of false advertising; either it is "your own" or it is traditional, since Italy does not have a "traditional" food, instead each region and town will have antique recipes based on local vegetation and game. I understand why Mr. Florence would not talk about his traditional New Jersey style tomato sauce. I could explain why a spicy tomato cream sauce would not be mixed with ripe tomatoes and green peas but I doubt the company would have any idea of what I am talking about.

"This juicy whole chicken breast is crusted with a tasty mix of crisp, flaky Italian seasonings. I serve it beneath a fresh baby arugula salad mixed with grape tomatoes, rich mozzarella..."

Ok, I am really confused now. Italian seasoning? Does that mean something? Out of the 10,000 herbs and spices which one are we talking about? Is he trying to say Sicilian, Neapolitan, Foggiano, Romano, Bolognese, Friulano, Piemontese or Lombarda? Or perhaps he is talking about American-Italian that has little to do with Italy. And please explain to me how a seasoning can be flaky, unless he is saying the seasoning is so old that it has gone bad?

To reinforce that this is a healthy choice, the advertisement shows Mr. Florence shopping at a local vegetable market, carefully choosing the freshest of ingredients. Unfortunately the chefs of Applebee’s, and any other chain restaurant for that matter, have never seen a fresh fruit and vegetable market, at least not while on the clock. The business model of a franchise requires the local establishment to buy its ingredients from the company’s distribution centers. The distribution center buys from some huge auction then treats and stores the fruit or vegetables. In other words these products are not, by definition, neither fresh nor ripe.

Health concerns are serious. Americans are trying to make informed and appropriate choices yet as long as this type of irresponsible action is allowed, we are fighting a losing battle. I am not saying to not eat at Applebee’s, Wendy’s or Jack in the Box or not to buy the myriad of “Italian” industrially prepared foods on the market today just to be aware that these companies think you are stupid and that your health is less important than their profits!

To Mr. Florence, you state that your real kitchen is dedicated to “Culinary Honesty,” I guess we know how much your honor actually means to you.

Download CDC Obesity data in PDF file




Blogger Jose said...

And to this day I still haven't tried any of those sandwiches with Italian names you mentioned. But I did notice the trend in Italian names for sanwiches in the fast food industry.

10:39 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Jose’ I am not really upset about the name, it is done to promote an image in various economies. It disturbs me that as the market is looking for healthier foods and people are trying to take on serious health issues, these companies, and the well known spokesman, knowingly deceive the public, making claims that are just not true and insinuating benefits that are not there. They are intentionally taking advantage on a poorly informed public and for insignificant amounts. On a 12$ plate Applebee’s could use chickens that are not pumped up with sodium phosphate at cost of about 30 cents per plate. Sourcing fresh fruits and vegetables from local sources may cost them another 50-60 cents. They should be promoting this, healthy foods, fresh ingredients, but only when they are actually using them.

11:48 AM

Blogger Italian Wine Guy® said...

Me ? Lost? and I thought you were my friend....

By the way.. that meal that we ordered, it was Veal Piccata, and there were 4-5 servings of the meat and 4-5 servings of the pasta, on one plate!

and no, we didnt eat it all...

Marion Nestle had a great op-ed piece in the NY Times Sunday, if you have access, here's the link...

October 1, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Trans Fat Nation
THE proposal last week from the New York City Health Department to require restaurants to use cooking oils free of trans fats was a no-brainer. Trans fats — which are not natural in food but a byproduct of the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils — raise the risk of heart disease, can easily be replaced and should have been out of the food supply a long time ago.

But eliminating trans fats will do nothing to help New Yorkers prevent obesity, which is the greatest food-related threat Americans face. Trans fats are what nutritionists like me call a “calorie distracter.” Removing them from your diet can lull you into forgetting that foods have calories. When it comes to obesity, how much you eat is more important than what you eat.

Lost in the hoopla over the trans fat decision was a second proposal from the health department that might have a far greater impact: to require restaurants that offer foods and drinks made from standard recipes — McDonald’s and Starbucks, for example — to display calorie contents on menu boards.

For doing something about obesity, it’s the calories — not the trans fats — that count. Labeling restaurant calories is a good idea because nobody, not even a trained nutritionist, can compute the number of calories in a meal without knowing the type and weight of every ingredient that goes into it.

Some fast-food companies and family-style chain restaurants have this information because their products are standardized, but usually you have to ask for the numbers or need a computer to find them. You might think twice about asking a Starbucks barista to make you a venti Caffè Mocha with breve milk and whipped cream if you knew it contained 770 calories, one-third of the daily calories needed by an average adult.

McDonald’s does list nutrition information at its restaurants, but on the bottom of the tray liners, where you are likely to find it only after you have eaten your food. (Last year the company announced it intended to start labeling the packaging of some products in 2006, but those packages haven’t arrived at my local McDonald’s outlets.) You might choose smaller portions if you knew in advance that three pieces of McDonald’s Chicken Selects contain 380 calories, but the 10-piece serving has 1,270 calories — more than half the calories most of us need for an entire day.

This is something that chain restaurants can do. And they should. People who eat in such places tend to be heavier than people who don’t, and the chains’ pricing strategies often encourage customers to choose larger portions.

The challenge is to deal with fancier restaurants that typically change their menus all the time. Computing calories would be truly impossible for such places. In them, you are on your own. You won’t know how many calories you are eating but it’s a good guess that they are higher than you can possibly imagine. A tablespoon of butter or olive oil contains 100 calories or more, and these add up quickly, especially with the enormous portions typical today. In nonchains, your only caloric recourse is to eat less.

I can’t think of a better or more practical way to teach people about calories in food than to list them right next to the prices. If restaurant companies really want consumers to be healthier and to make better food choices, they should support both the banning of trans fats and the listing of calories, in New York and across the country.

Marion Nestle, a professor of food studies and public health at New York University, is the author of “What to Eat.”

12:44 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

IWG C'mon, although I was pleading for help to lend you a tether back to reality, we both know you were just hypnotized by that laguna scene, the fiat bolted to the ground and that wonderful Caprese!

1:14 PM

Anonymous Jennifer said...

I'm not sure which is worse ... the pretend healthy sandwiches the ast food places are promoting, or the approach of Burger King ... to just throw in the towel and revel in their greasy, fat-producing food-like products.

I guess the pretenders are worse, because people actually think they are eating healthier than they are.

3:20 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Jennifer I agree with you. When someone chooses a plate with a thought of healthy it means he is trying. When choosing a BK calorie bomb they advertise it as just that.

I see it like choosing a plumber to install your gas line:

Would you prefer one who tells you exactly what his capabilities are or would you prefer one who tells you he has certifications/qualifications that he really does not have?

3:55 AM

Blogger a.c.t said...

I'm always very weary when I hear the words "Italian seasoning". It could be anything! And as for "Italian tomato cream sauce"!! 'Untraditional' more like.

8:03 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

ACT When we first came back to the US, Italian meant "a lot of Garlic and Oregano!"

Today it is getting a little better with the number of Americans visiting Italy every year. That is why the Chain restaurants are trying to tie their menus to Italy and it is also why it bothers me so much when the big boys start advertising in this way. To get a short term bump in sales they will take the US back 10 years from understanding the importance of balance in the relationship of food, wine, and life.

I am not asking for much, just truth in advertising!

The US can beat this obesity problem without giving billions of $ to the pharma industry if people have the chance to make an informed choice, we are not dummies.

8:18 AM

Blogger annulla said...

And let us not forget the abomination that is The Olive Garden, which actually calls its never-ending bowl 'o' saturated fat "a genuine Italian dining experience." Honestly. As they say, their purpose is Hospitaliano!

11:43 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Annulla You are so correct. I wrote about my experience with Olive Garden.

Annulla writes an interesting blog about NY.

Thank you for commenting.

11:55 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Annulla I just saw the truth you exposed, "Hospital iano". Too funny! I guess the 95 degree has slowed me down!

3:00 PM

Blogger Miss Natalie said...

I love food, the good, the so-called bad, thre is a time and a place for all eg. a 3 hat restuarant in The Rocks Sydney or after a night of boozing, there's nothing better than a maccas cheeseburger.

10:55 PM

Anonymous Michael said...

Corporate America moving toward healthy food? Please spare me. You are being far too generous. *WE* are moving that way, so Corporate America is doing what it does best: Fooling us into believing they are moving there with us. I actually tried a Ciabatta Burger out of painful curiosity. You know what it is? A BURGER. Somethign tells me that as I stop in an Autogrill next week, the ingredients in my panino will be slightly more REAL than the Frescata sandwich at Wendy's.
Woudl you like fries with that?

6:23 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Natalie I am not against any food. When Raffaella and I return home from Italy it has become a tradition to stop at Sonic for a greasy burger and tater tots with Chilly and Cheese! I love TexMex, not the high-end stuff, the food you find in the hole in the wall place.

My problem is the false advertising! Instead of showing pictures of the chef searching diligently for fresh vegetables why don't they show the big truck that arrives with stuff that was picked 3 weeks ago? I applaud their choice to go healthy, I just wish they would actually do it!

Michael I agree with you completely. I try, with my blog, to give a different perspective on life. To help myself, and others, understand why we long for change but things always remain the same.

Michael is a traveller and write a blog about Umbria and Lazio, you should check him out.

7:58 AM

Blogger Tracie B. said...

what the hell is chicken frescata? anyway, i lost any respect that i might have had for tyler f. when, on his show, "how to boil water," he demonstrated how to make ragu' alla bolognese. he, that bologna what one of those hill towns in tuscany. PEOPLE ACTUALLY LISTEN TO HIM!

1:26 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Tracie b. When we heard Frescata, we looked at each other, sighed and then forgot about it. For Mr. Tyler Florence I think Bologna is one of the small towns in New Jersey where he learned to his traditional spicy Italian tomato cream sauce...

I am seeing more and more advertising putting Italian in front of anything they want to promote a good and fresh. Latest example Tom Thumb calls its "100% guarantee", whatever that means, produce Savor Italy.

To sell its 2.99/lb ground beef it starts a full column with Viva Italia and then publishes a Lasagna recipe made with eggs, cream cheese, garlic salt, cheddar and block mozzarella...

It must be from the same area as Tyler's Bolognese.

1:49 PM

Anonymous Frank said...

As a first generation Italian-American, I have spent the better part of my 51 years trying to educate friends of the true meaning of Italian food. FRESH and SIMPLE! I too, cringe at the assumption, that if you add a so-called Italian adjective, and a glob of cheese to a dish, that it makes it Italian. The sad state of restaurants in this country is that, there are fewer independent restaurants opening/surviving than ever before. The corporate chains are taking over and they are deciding, what is ITALIAN. But that is the way of the world. The last time I was in Rome, it broke my heart to see so many McDonalds.

4:24 AM


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