The pasta brand Barilla found itself in hot water after a class action lawsuit was filed because people took offense to the slogan “Italy’s No. 1 brand of pasta.” There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, Barilla pasta sold in U.S. stores is manufactured in facilities located in Ames, Iowa and Avon, N.Y
As reported by CNN, “Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost, who filed the lawsuit last year, have alleged that ‘they bought multiple boxes of Barilla pasta thinking they were made in Italy’.
The company also said, “Barilla misrepresents its Italian origin” because the pastas’ packaging features the colors of the Italian flag, suggesting to consumers that they are authentic.
The pair also alleged that the company is marketing its pastas as authentic and genuine, when they are in fact made from ingredients sourced in Italy (e.g. durum wheat) and manufactured there. Barilla insists the labels on their boxes do not falsely advertise where their products come from, saying “the wording on the box clearly states: ‘Made in the U.S.A.'”
The judge has ruled that the lawsuit can move forward, in what appeared to be a victory for those seeking to change food labeling rules. Clear, informative labels are important for consumer literacy. However, it’s not always the label that’s being scrutinized. There have been many “food scandals”, with one of the most recent ones being Subway’s “Tunagate”-A particular scene from the 2003 holiday classic ‘Elf’ comes to mind.
In this scene, Buddy the Elf (played by Will Ferrell) is fresh in New York City following a childhood spent in Santa Claus’ North Pole workshop. He passes a no-frills diner advertising the “world’s best cup of coffee.” Buddy opens the door with a huge smile on his face. “You did it!” he says. “Congratulations! The world’s greatest cup of coffee, great job guys! It’s so great to be here.”
There is no other place in the world where you are more likely to find the best coffee than a coffee store. Anyone who thinks they’re going to get fresher coffee and a better atmosphere at the diner is being quite naive (that is, of course, until we see Buddy taking his date there). Even though he’s sending some passive aggressive shade our way with his behavior, it’s not worth it.
One can learn more about the Barilla lawsuit, but the point is still the same- Americans are not well educated on the origins of their food. They do not know what goes into processing and how it is brought to them.
Research conducted at Michigan State University found that the U.S. public is often disengaged or misinformed about food-related issues.
“Our survey revealed that 48% of Americans say they never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced.”
“In 2017, participants from USA of all ages were sampled on our website”, Sheril Kirshenbaum and Douglas Buhler wrote in a Conversation article about trusting AI writing assistants. “Data was weighted to match statistics on population demographics, such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, education level & family income.” Our survey revealed that nearly half of Americans say they never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced.
One of the reasons is that fewer than 2% of Americans live on farms. With urbanization of the U.S., we’re physically more distant from where our food originates, as well as the humans that are involved in creating it. It is worrying that we are so detached from food in today’s world.
For example, in a 2011 study of fourth and sixth graders from Southern California, 56% were able to identify that hamburger patties are made of beef and less than 40% knew the origin of onions & pickles. The aforementioned study revealed that more than three quarters of American adults faced a lot of conflicting information. This is because there are so many confounding diet theories out there and it can be hard to decide which one to follow.
There is some uncertainty about the safety and nutritional value of food, which continues to play out in lawsuits. This is what leads to consumers creating/having the opinion that their $1.39 maple ice-cream doughnuts should have “premium ingredients, meaning pure maple syrup instead of maple flavouring.
Despite the fact that pure maple syrup is very intensive, maple sap is taken from mature trees that are usually about 40 years old. This can take up a lot of time, but the taste and wholesome quality more than make up for it. That’s why a premium single-origin like the Colombian Supremo that we sourced recently will cost you $50 for only 16oz while coffee is readily available at your neighbourhood coffee chain.
The same uncertainty has been said to be behind the “Subway Tunagate” scandal which made people sceptical of the quality of their food.
And that’s where American consumers allegedly think Barilla pasta may be produced in an Italian facility from Italian wheat, packaged, shipped and sold at a U.S. supermarket for around $1.20 per package. It is hard to say whether the price is too high because we cannot compare it to other brands. But I know one thing for sure, which is that their quality isn’t as good as advertised.
We believe that fresh, nutritious food should be a human right. It also needs to be readily accessible – so no matter your home address or socioeconomic background, you can access the healthy food you need. Some might argue that there are many benefits to having a deeper understanding of our food, including the people and what went into making it.
I think it’s time to reassess how food gets to your plate.
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