Thursday, October 17, 2013

An-tha-neeeee! Wednesday’s no longer Prince Spaghetti Day in Italy.

Okay, I realize it’s Thursday.

So I know that, even in the Italian North End of Boston it wouldn’t be Prince Spaghetti Day.

I’m not even Italian, but as far as I’m concerned, any day can, theoretically, be Spaghetti Day. Even if my spaghetti is seldom going to be Prince. And even if my spaghettis is seldom going to be spaghetti.

Me? I’m a farfalle, radiatori, ruotine, campanelle, fusilli, orecchiette kind of pastonian. (Or is it pastafarian?)

While any day can be spaghetti (broadly defined) day, I try to limit my pasta consumption to once or twice a week. And, when I’m limiting my pasta consumption, I try to limit my pasta consumption.

Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Pasta consumption is on the decline in Italy.

Ten years ago, Italian families ate an average of 40 kilograms, or 88 pounds, a year. But now Italians are spurning Italy's comfort food as foreign cuisine finally gains a toehold in Italy. Italians—particularly women—increasingly see pasta as fattening, boring and time-consuming. Pasta consumption in Italy has fallen to 31 kilos (70.6 pounds) per family, sending everyone from pasta makers to cookbook publishers scrambling to adjust. (Source: WSJ Online.)

I’ll concede that pasta can be fattening, especially if you cook up the entire box at once. (Which I, of course, would never do.) But boring and time consuming?

How can something that goes with sauce or oil and/or grated cheese and/or nuts and/or sunflower seeds and/or whatever veggies you have sitting around and/or butter or plain with a tiny bit of salt on it be boring?


And time consuming?

Boil it for 8-11 minutes and toss on sauce or oil and/or grated cheese and/or nuts and/or sunflower seeds and/or whatever veggies you have sitting around and/or butter or a tiny bit of salt be time consuming?

I guess it helps that I don’t make sauce from scratch, but just open a jar of Classico. Still, as a non-cook, one of the things I love about pasta is that it is so not time consuming.

"It's a perfect storm," says Cinzia Marchetti, head of consumer insights at Italy's Barilla S.p.A., the world's largest pasta maker, whose Italian pasta sales fell 3% last year. "A number of factors had been there for quite a while, but they are exploding all at once now," she adds.

First of all, “head of consumer insights”?

That has to be one of the gaggier retitles that are out there.

But I suppose that “head of consumer research” doesn’t sufficiently stroke the Almightily Insightful Consumer.

Although Italians are becoming more adventurous in terms of their eating – Chinese, sushi, hamburgers:

Even today, there are at least 500 pasta shapes in Italy.

500 pasta shapes? I think I’m in love.

…as well as hard-and-fast rules about which sauces go with which pasta. Pesto sauce, for instance, is typically served with linguine and carbonara with bucatini.

I don’t actually buy into those hard and fast rules, although I would never do carbonara with a shapey-shape pasta like radiatori or ruotine.

But, hey, it’s their national cuisine and pastime, so what do I know?

For decades pasta was synonymous with Italians' exemplary way of life. "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti," actress Sophia Loren famously responded when asked how she maintained her trim figure.

Take out the word “trim” and it’s how I maintain my figure, too.

But, as I cut back a bit on pasta, it must be the Italian version of folks like me who are responsible for the growing aversion to what in my cook book is a near-perfect food:

…today, few Italians would agree [with Sophia Loren]. The share of women between 26 and 30 years old who believe pasta is fattening increased 26% from 2008 to 2012, according to a Nielsen survey. And among 26- to 30-year-old men, the number who think pasta makes people fat increased 16%.

Barilla, which is the market leader in Italy, is countering with some new ideas, including signing:

…an agreement with McDonald's Corp. to make a series of new pasta dishes in the hope of recapturing young consumers. In a bid to appeal to Italians' nostalgia for their national dish, it has also launched gauzy ads featuring families sitting down to pasta dinners.

(Barilla, it should be noted, recently got into a bit of a hoohah when its president stated that he wouldn’t be showing any gay folks in those gauzy ads. He’s since done sort of a mealy-mouthed walk back on his comments.)

Meanwhile, restaurants are moving on-beyond-red sauce and carbonara. One top chef:

…has invented pasta dishes featuring cinnamon and honey, as well as caviar.

"Everything must change in order to survive." Mr.[Gualtiero] Marchesi says. "Cuisine has to be modernized too.

Yes, cuisine does indeed have to modernize, and I’m delighted to live in a world where the only cheese isn’t Velveeta and the only pasta isn’t spaghetti.

Still, some things shouldn’t really change, and pasta is one of them.

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