Monday, April 27, 2015

This organic tomato sauce may or may not contain severed head

My friend Gord sent me a link from Good that points out a pretty hilarious packaging gaffe. Or is it?

Tropical Traditions, originally a coconut oil importer in the US, has branched out into organic packaged foods. One of them is an Italian pasta sauce line, with labels showing women from Renaissance Italian paintings.

Organic Spicy Tomato & Roasted Garlic, for example, features Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, but without the breasts:

Organic Tomato & Basil uses Raphael's Woman with the Veil:

Organic Tomato and Grilled Eggplant gets one of my favourite portraits, Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo:

OK, the weasel is a little weird for a food label. (Assuming the sauce doesn't have much weasel in it.) 

But let's move on to the final jar, Organic Tomato & Porcini Mushroom:

What is with that woman's face, anyway? She doesn't look too impressed. Perhaps we should have a look at the uncropped painting, which is Caravaggio's... Judith Beheading Holofernes?!?

That's right, it's a decapitation. In the apocryphal Book of Judith, the eponymous heroine is a righteous Hebrew who saves Israel by talking her way into the tent of Assyrian general Holofernes, then hacking off his head after he passes out drunk. Since Christians love them a good grisly death, this scene has been portrayed by several artists over the centuries.

But why choose it for a food label? Especially a food that itself kind of resembles gore?

There is no way the designer was unaware of the painting's context, as she or he would have had to research a public domain version of the whole work from which to crop the label.

In fact, I believe what we are seeing here is a clever little prank. A designer who counted on his or her client to be ignorant of the source material. The Botticelli and Leonardo portraits are well-known enough that they probably sold the idea of using Renaissance Italian paintings of women to give the sauces a note of "old-world authenticity." But a severed head, spouting arterial blood, is probably one of the last things I want to think about when I pour this on my spaghetti.

Friday, April 24, 2015

@ProteinWorld vs. "sympathisers for fatties"

The Drum

Oh, dear. A fitness supplement brand in the UK has taken it upon itself to become the patron saint of body shaming.

The Drum reports that, faced with online criticism over its "are you beach body ready?" ad campaign, Protein World decided not only to be unapologetic, but downright nasty:

That particular exchange was started by blogger Laurence Hebbard, who wrote about their confrontational social media engagement on Social Media London. Here are some of the curated exchanges:

Someone even made a fake Dove response ad:

As of this writing, the protein shake maker is completely unapologetic. They seem quite happy to bask in the negative publicity (as well as the many Tweets of support from fans).

Is this an example of the tired cliché "there's no such thing as bad publicity"? That remains to be seen. While this kind of obnoxious brand behaviour is bound to ingratiate it to a certain segment of the fitness market, they're also trying to sell weight loss products. Is it really such a great idea to shame people who might actually be interested in such things?

Adopting "being an asshole" as a brand strategy is a risky move, but not an unprecedented one. Now it's just a matter of seeing how many assholes are willing to self-identify by buying the stuff.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

China's LeTV Godwins Apple with Hitler poster

Via The Verge
According to The Verge, this poster for Chinese internet video site Leshi TV (LeTV) is making a rather awful comparison of Apple to a dictator who caused millions of innocent people to be murdered.

LeTV's founder, Jia Yueting, posted the image to his Weibo page. The Verge explains:
The text across the top of the poster compares the attributes of the Android and iOS ecosystems — "Crowdsourced, freedom vs arrogance, tyranny" — while Jia's accompanying post argues that Apple's approach to the smartphone industry is stifling innovation and harming the interests of users.

Apple is certainly worthy of criticism on its proprietary shenanigans, but Hitler?

Dangerous Minds has delved into the strange world of "Hitler Chic" in Asian countries, including China. One quote, from the manager of a clothing shop in Hong Kong that received complaints from tourists about a Nazi-themed window display was especially telling: “This is Hong Kong, and Chinese people are not sensitive about Nazism.”

I suppose it's not that far-fetched to see the Holocaust as something very distant from the experiences of people in China. But does that make this OK? Not for their Western neighbours, anyway.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Canadian Subway restaurant welcomes "screaming kids" after competition doesn't

As a parent, I love this.

It all started when a seafood restaurant in New Sydney, Nova Scotia, decided to let the town know that they are NOT child-friendly:

The local and social media outcry was immediate and effective, and the restaurant issued an apology. 

I'm sure not everyone will agree with me, but I feel very strongly that children have a right to be in public spaces. Their parents have a responsibility to keep them from unnecessarily disrupting other people's peace-of-mind, but the really young ones — especially babies — often cry. Deal with it. You were one once, too. 

It amazes me what a truly family-unfriendly society we are, when I visit countries where children are cherished by the society as a whole. It seems like a much healthier environment for them to grow up in.

Anyway, kudos to local Subway franchisee Kirk MacRae, who told CBC: "We've had a few [screaming kids] and hope to have a lot more, and don't have any issue with it whatsoever."

Let's hope this goes viral in the good way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

McDonald's Italy disses pizza, causes gastronomic outrage

Insulting pizza is a big deal in Italy. Especially if you're an American fast food goliath.

Business Insider reports that the the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), representing the pizza chefs of Naples, the food's birthplace, are threatening to sue McDonald's for pizza defamation.

And it's all because of this ad:

You don't need to speak Italian to follow the story: Parents of a picky child are at a pizzeria, anxiously awaiting their child's choice from the menu. The waiter asks the boy what he wants, and he says "a Happy Meal." So the family leaves and takes him to McDonald's where he is happy.

The AVPN's VP is quoted in this imperfectly-translated statement:
Di porzio states that it is ignoble comparing two products very different from each other, especially if it is for discrediting those restaurants most loved by Italian families: pizzerias. Also, it is already well known that children love pizzas, especially for the taste. It is obvious that the American colossus is trying to discredit its main competitor, but speculating on children’s health is just too much. Furthermore, it is not the first time that Mc Donald attacks our culinary traditions, but this time we are willing to take some legal countermeasures.
North Americans may find it odd for pizzerias to attack burgers on nutritional standards, but only if they haven't had authentic Italian pizza. Unlike our doughy, salty and cheesy delivery versions, Italian pizze are all about fresh ingredients and restraint. Even though the dough is made from highly-refined flour, the Italian tradition of much stricter portion control makes the pizza less of a calorie bomb:
A standard margherita (with 250g of dough) has around 800Kcal, but children do not usually eat a whole pizza. So, if we reduce the size of a standard pizza and then we add a drink (without gas), we will reach 700Kcal per meal. A Happy meal has 600Kcal, which for a children are just too much. However, it is not about “how many Kcals there are per meal”, but it is a matter of “what kind of quality” they are! What kind of meat do they use to prepare their hamburgers and how many fats they have? What kind of oil do they use to prepare their potatos: colza oil? How much mayonnaise do they put on their hamburgers? And how about the preservatives contained in their bread? The true napolitan pizza, which is a product guaranteed by our international regulations, it is a “handcrafted” product which only uses selected raw materials, like mozzarella di bufala, fiordilatte, tomatos from Campania and extra virgin oil. In this way, pizzas results in a complete and balanced meal from a nutritional point of view. It is time for parents to control what their children eat: junk food might be ok if consumed now and then, but they should teach their children to eat clean everyday. They must. And eating clean means to follow the culinary culture offered by our wonderful Mediterranean Diet: it will supply parents with the right tools to choose among a great number of meals which are not only tasty and healthy but, above all, Italians.
If you're sensing a certain cultural pride here, you're not mistaken. McDonald's has only been in Italy since 1986, and its arrival in Rome's historic core was greeted with outrage. Designer Valentino even threatened legal action against his new neighbours over the smell:
According to Valentino, who this week began legal action aimed at closing the restaurant, which backs on to his Rome headquarters, the McDonald's created a ''significant and constant noise and an unbearable smell of fried food fouling the air.'' He has asked Italian magistrates to order it closed immediately on the ground that it is a nuisance.
McDonald's stayed, and expanded. Now, it can be found among the historic attractions of Venice, Florence, Milan, and —yes—Naples.

I live in Italy for several months-long stints in the 90s, and McDonald's by then had become a shibboleth for whether one was "cultured" or not. Since food is a massive part of Italy's many regional identities, the arrival of American fast food was bound to cause a reaction. In fact, that Roman McDonald's was the barbarian at the gates of Italian culture that caused Carlo Petrini to found the now-international Slow Food Movement.

There is a certain amount of pretentious Anti-Americanism in the AVPN complaint, but I can see why they are so upset. Defaming pizza in Italy (especially in Naples) is a really obtuse move by McDonald's marketers. Especially since the corporation has been trying so hard to adapt to the demand for more local foods elsewhere in Europe.