I might sound stereotypical as hell here, but I’m Italian and I care a lot about food. I also think Italian food is the best food in the world, and I get mad if you bastardize Italian dishes with ingredients that have nothing to do with it. Like, why would you create a burger pizza? (I ate it, with pickles and all, and no, it had no reason to be.)
That’s why I was delighted when a friend (also Italian) pointed me to the Twitter account Italians Mad at Food. It’s a fantastic collection of comments by Italians watching video recipes of Italian dishes — and getting pissed off, really pissed off, the Italian way. Here are some examples:
I just love how passionate these people are. I feel their pain, their indignation, and seeing their comments pop up in my news feed always gives me a smile. So I decided to reach out to the person behind this, who tweets from the account @prodigis. To my surprise, the genius who created Italians Mad at Food is not Italian at all. His name is Zach Champion, a 25-year-old electronic music producer and writer who lives in Michigan.
We talked about how Italians Mad at Food came to be, how he runs it, and how the account is going to change in the future.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When and why did you start Italians Mad at Food?
I started it back in December. I was sucked up as much as anyone else in this pretty rapidly accelerating trend of sped-up, gimmicky recipe videos on Facebook, like Tasty and Tastemade, that just seemed to come out of nowhere and then they were everywhere. Gradually, I just started noticing that any time they’d post pasta or pizza recipes, they’d get this unrelenting torrent of vitriol from sometimes the same people commenting on every video — this pretty broad swath of very traditionalist Italian cooks and consumers.
So on my personal Twitter account, I started tweeting a couple of those and they didn’t really stick, but somehow I knew that this is hilarious. I read them to my friends sometimes and they agreed that it was hilarious. Even though my personal account didn’t get much traction, I had a gut feeling that there was a market out there for people who would enjoy this. So kind of embracing the more absurdist humor that I liked from elsewhere on Twitter, I put together the image one day and I found that picture of Luigi angrily cooking the pizza. I’m pretty impressed by how easily it came together as a concept. It was especially enticing to me because it’d be such an easy account to run. I can just let these people speak for themselves.
I wanted to keep the account as stripped down of personality as possible — the channel by which I can give people these funny reactions. The account often has a voice because I interject my own comments on things at times. It’s mostly just an effort to keep it as focused on the comments as possible. It is an account dedicated to watching Tasty and Tastemade, and seeing when people get mad at them.
The account is pretty active, which is why I think it’s successful. How do you go about finding these comments?
Oh gosh, I have sat for probably an unhealthy number of hours, I’ve pretty much watched or at least read the comments of every recipe video that talks about pasta or pizza or any other traditional Italian dish, from the beginning of 2016 / late 2015 on to the present at least. I just dedicated an afternoon to go check that I didn’t miss any funny accounts that are getting yelled at. Tasty and Tastemade alone have enough, honestly. I’ve got like 780 screenshots saved in a folder that are waiting to go up. I’m pretty much set for two years.
780 screenshots? I didn’t know Italians were that passionate.
Yeah. There are so many of them. They're very passionate. And you know, you’ll have one person make a top-level comment and then 90 people will get into this huge argument. You start breaking into that and content is endless. So I go in in bulk and just watch as many videos I can find. I don’t ever repost, not on purpose anyway. I schedule them out two months in advance, so I don’t have to think about them. I check the notifications every day, just because I love that. People have such great reactions.
What’s the feedback been?
I’ve been shocked really by the demographic variety. I have a huge following in Brazil that I never expected. So I get a lot of responses in Portuguese that I can read poorly translated interpretations of. It’s an even split between either folks from Italy or of Italian descent who relate heavily. I get a lot of, “this is me.” Some people [complain about] national stereotyping, which was not my intent. But I’d say the vast bulk of it is pretty positive.
I think people are just fascinated mostly by the ability of a lot of the commenters who are clearly writing with English as a second language to get their point across with extremely specific and concise insults. Even if some of the grammar and the vocabulary trips them up along delivery, the ultimate message of why exactly the dish sucks and why that person really needs to rethink their decision is always just so colorful. The most successful posts are usually the ones that are a bit outside of the norm, where it’s not just “my eyes are bleeding,” “my grandmother would die if she saw this.” Those are nice but it’s the ones where people go the extra mile to really get underneath the recipe skin.
Why do you think Italians are so passionate about it?
Well, in their own words, and I’ve come to agree on this with a lot of them, their cuisine is very much a part of their national identity. And places like America, while sure we have some sort of quasi-original cuisine, mostly we are an amalgamation of immigrant cuisines and regional classics and things like that. They raise the point a lot that somebody from a country like America — [where people] don’t have a heritage connection to what they eat, where it’s just what they need to live off of or what they think tastes best, where they can try a totally different classification of food every day if they wanted to — can’t really understand what it’s like to see all of a sudden in the age of the internet that the rest of the world has been cooking your food slightly differently every time until it becomes completely unrecognizable.
Have you ever been contacted by people who complained that you tweeted their comments?
No, I never had anyone reach out in a negative way. I had one woman, she just responded to a tweet that was of her and said, “hey, that’s me!” I was nervous about it at first because I wasn’t sure if it was too invasive. But then it kind of occurred to me that all of the comments I’m screenshotting are on public pages, and they’re usually the top-voted ones way at the top of the comment section. I mean, if anybody reached out to me and asked me to take it down, I would do so. I’ve kind of worked past that moral quandary for the moment on that justification.
What are your plans for the future of the account?
The current model of the account — just tweet out a couple screenshots every day — will continue for the foreseeable future until it stops being funny and nobody wants to pay attention to it anymore. But I want to tie in a bit of myself to the account intermittently. I mentioned that I make music and that’s something that I want to try to boost the visibility of. I might put together some sort of compilation — a 20-second-long best of the month, with original soundtrack. But things like that hopefully won’t subtract from the overall ethos of the account, but just give a more direct link to my own personal projects and my own personal account. It’s not without motive. I do this because it’s fun and I think these comments are hilarious and I’m glad that it resonated and people are having fun with it, but I am also still kind of an opportunist. I cannot deny it.Read more at theverge.com