Editor's Letter: Basta, Barilla

The prejudice shown by Barilla’s chairman isn’t just intolerant, it’s really bad business.

BY Matthew Breen

September 26 2013 7:08 PM ET

Barilla is everywhere in the United States. I’ve seen reports that it has approximately 25% of the pasta market in this country. Barilla makes sauces too, and I’ve purchased both in the past. (Most of us who still eat carbs in this country have likely done so.) But as of this morning, the privately held company has lost me, and a whole segment of its customer base over some bigoted remarks by its chairman. And that’s bad news for them, because as LGBTs, our buying power is molto grande.

In a recent radio interview, Barilla Group chairman Guido Barilla said he “would never do [a commercial] with a homosexual couple, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them,” and that “ours is a classic family,” according to a Reuters translation. He continued, “If [gays] don’t like it, they can go eat another brand.”

Based on the proliferation of stories abut this news, and the social media response both in Italy and stateside, plenty of gays are taking Guido Barilla up on his suggestion. The backlash and calls for boycotts of the company’s products by LGBT rights groups and even Italian politicians are only to be expected. And Barilla, the company, has already taken notice, to try to repair the damage. They’ve gone to Twitter to apologize already. Sort of.

Google translates this to read, “I apologize very much for having offended the sensibilities of many. I have the deepest # respect for all # people without distinction. Guido # Barilla.”

The rub, for Guido Barilla, is that he simply could have said nothing insulting about gays, and we’d hardly be the wiser about his views. But the damage is done. He chose to make those bigoted statements, and we now can choose not to patronize that company.

It’s difficult to assess someone’s sincerity when profits are on the line, so what to make of the apology? A translation of his statement posted to Facebook reads, in part, “With reference to my statement made yesterday … I apologize if my words have generated controversy or misunderstanding, and if they have offended the sensibilities of some people.”

“If you were offended,” (my paraphrase) and “the sensibilities of some people” don’t constitute an apology. It’s simply a way to say, “You people are so sensitive that you choose to be insulted by my benign comments. I’m sorry you are so touchy.” An actually apology would be to acknowledge that his statements were offensive, and the offense doesn’t depend on the sensibilities of the listeners. Based on those post-interview statements we can, without reservation, skip their pasta.

Barilla’s remarks are not only an insult to LGBT consumers, but they’re bad business. A “classic family”? That’s one translation for his exact words, “la famiglia tradizionale.” A “traditional family” is another, and might be closer to his meaning. But what both potential translations reveal is that Barilla thinks we can’t constitute a family, a real family that could shop for food and sit down to dinner together.

Furthermore, Barilla was blatant in his view that gay people are unsuitable as parents. In the same interview, Barilla said, “I have no respect for adoption by gay families because this concerns a person who is not able to choose,” according to a translation from London's Independent.

His rejection of families that include children adopted by gay parents contravenes the research that shows gay and lesbian couples make great parents who raise healthy, well-adjusted children. In response, the Famiglie Arcobaleno (Rainbow Families) group in Italy responded, “Che dire? Noi pensiamo che tutti gli esseri umani sono fatti della stessa pasta, ma lei evidentemente no!” which means, roughly, “What can I say? We believe that all human beings are made of the same pasta [stuff], but evidently he doesn’t.”

Sticking to your retrograde ideas in the face of evidence to the contrary is one thing, but Barilla’s ignorance of the gay and lesbian market sector is just bad business. This year, as LGBTs, we’re estimated to have a collective buying power of around $790 billion — and that’s just in the United States. That’s more than the gross domestic product of Iran, or Sweden, or Turkey, or Norway. Imagine what our market power is worldwide, even just among the pasta eaters of the world.

Let the bigots cry foul, with their misunderstanding of free speech (someone’s bound to cry “censorship!”). We understand and embrace free speech. Barilla is free to say what he likes, and we are free to reply in kind, and more imporantly to an international brand, to speak with our wallets. We are loud when we speak together. 

Still have some Barilla pasta in your cupboards? Consider donating it to a food bank. You’re already paid for it, but it’s still edible. Someone in need will appreciate it, and you can shop for a different brand next time you’re at the grocery store. Here’s one brand to consider, a suggestion by the fantastic queer musician Doria Roberts.

 

 

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