Let’s face it: food is a contentious topic. Growing up in South Carolina, I witnessed more than a few verbal battles over the merits of North Carolina’s vinegar-based barbecue versus the classic SC mustard-based sauce. Still, while these debates might grow a little more heated than you might expect—especially given that mustard-based sauce is objectively the correct answer— they never erupted into violence, either. I should be thankful, then, because if Zach Champion’s Twitter account @ItalianComments is anything to go by, putting pineapple on a pizza in Italy might constitute a capital offense.
The shtick is pretty simple: As an avid fan of recipe sites like Tasty and Tastemade, Champion noticed that whenever an American would try to prepare an Italian dish in a creative (i.e., not particularly authentic) way, Italians would fling colorful insults at them in the comments section.
“All their crappy pasta recipes get these horrified replies,” he says. “People on the site were noticing, so you’d see replies mentioning all the ‘angry Italians.’ There was such a solid wall of great content that I thought it merited its own novelty account.”
Now, just over a year after starting, you’d think that Champion would start to run dry of usable material. Not so, he says.
“I have over 750 screenshots sitting in a folder that I haven’t even looked at,” he tells me. “I feel like if I wanted to, I could do this forever.”
Thanks to his painstaking research, Champion has identified several “genres” of angry Italian comment, and even a few tropes that they like to use.
“They love to say ‘go eat your cheeseburger.’ That’s the food item they fixate on, probably because of McDonald’s,” says Champion. “They talk about their grandmas a lot, and how they’ll all die at the sight of this video. They talk about the state of our public health a lot.”
In recent years, since the roiling stew of politics has boiled over into culture—and vice versa—it shouldn’t be a surprise that these Italians have a lot to say about certain political figures.
Ask any Italian, and they’ll tell you that there’s no substitute for real mozzarella—the kind that comes in a soft, pliable wad, rather than the hard wheel you bought for half the price at Publix. As it turns out, you don’t even have to ask them; judging by these screencaps, they’ll let you know.
The Pasta Patriots
Scroll through Champion’s feed, and it’s easy to see that these pasta problems are probably the most ubiquitous complaint that these loquacious Italians love to lodge on these videos. After all, the way they see it, it’s really easy: Just boil water, throw the pasta in, and that’s basically it. Extraneous additions like milk or garlic just complicate matters.
The Anti-Pineapple Contingent
If my experiences ordering pies at parties here in the States are anything to go by, the “pineapple as a pizza topping” dilemma divides even the closest of friends. To many Italians, however, it seems to ignite a degree of passion of unprecedented proportions.
It’s Not Just America...
The disdain for “experimental” takes on Italian classics extends far beyond the shores of North America. In particular, German and British cuisine tends to get a beating in these comments, especially their meat products.
According to Champion, it’s not so much that Italian people are angrier than any other culture over the continued abuse of their cuisine by Americans—rather, it’s the popularity and ubiquity of their food that makes their rancor so visible.
“If you look at any other video of somebody making food inspired by a certain ethnic cuisine, there are just as many people angry about what they did wrong,” he says. “The difference is that everybody in America loves to make pasta at home, and these Italian people are sick of watching you mess it up. A lot of them [argue] that if you cook pasta in anything but water, it becomes an indigestible paste. Just a solid brick in your stomach that’ll kill you.”
Champion is quick to note that more measured responses often accompany the comments that he posts, though he says the invective usually outweighs the civil. But more importantly, he argues, Italians are just so skilled at insulting those who tamper with their recipes. The fact that these commenters are still finding novel ways of calling Americans fat and undignified is a testament to their creativity.
“My favorite thing is when they [...] lapse [from English] into Italian,” says Champion. “Then they usually go into all-caps. They just get angrier and angrier. But when it comes to landing the perfect insult, they manage to be very precise. It’s very impressive.”
As far as the future of the account, Champion plans to continue posting as long as people continue to enjoy the fruits of his trawling through comments sections of food websites the web over. He recently announced a top-ten countdown to celebrate the end of the account’s first year. Number nine is particularly incisive, with the commenter saying: “You eat shit and blame God for you’re [sic] country’s obesity level. If you ate real food, then you would realize that you ate shit for your whole life.”
As somebody who went to McDonald’s twice last week, to this commenter, I say: Hey, fair enough.