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By Dan Mitchell
April 13, 2015

McDonald’s has besmirched the reputation of Neapolitan pizza, and Neapolitan pizza — as a whole — is fighting back. A TV commercial in Italy shows a young boy rejecting the gooey goodness of the traditional Italian grub in favor of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Amusing? Sure. But actionable? Maybe. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) — or True Neapolitan Pizza Association — is threatening a lawsuit, calling the Italian-language TV spot a “dishonorable attack against one of the symbols of the Mediterranean Diet.”

That claim may also be problematic: the Mediterranean Diet (the caps are AVPN’s) is perhaps the most healthy in the world, but it’s a stretch to credit cheese pie with that distinction. A better symbol might be a fish, or a head of lettuce.

The commercial depicts the boy and his parents at a fancy pizzeria. The waiter asks the kid what kind of pizza he wants, and he yells, “Happy Meal!” The family, apparently powerless under the spell of the boy’s unsophisticated palate, is suddenly transported to a McDonald’s, and all is well because, as the commercial informs Italian parents: “Your child has no doubts.”

This amounts to the “American colossus” that is McDonald’s “discrediting” the whole Italian diet, AVPN explains. And although the campaign is already over, the group might yet file a lawsuit. One pizza chef in Naples told The Telegraph that the commercial amounted to “blasphemy.”

McDonald’s reportedly hasn’t heard directly from the AVPN.

Legal action seems like overkill, but that doesn’t mean McDonald’s didn’t err culturally. Imagine Taco Bell running a commercial in Baton Rouge declaring that its burritos are better than the local gumbo.

The backlash shouldn’t come as a surprise to McDonald’s. If it wasn’t already obvious, Italians, and especially Neapolitans, take their pizza very seriously, and the AVPN is serious about protecting its reputation. The group has created a “certification” program that requires any pizza anywhere in the world calling itself Neapolitan to adhere to a strict set of criteria.

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