Harvard University Dining Services has decided to stop serving Barilla pasta in Harvard dining halls after Barilla’s chairman Guido Barilla told an Italian radio station that his company would never feature a gay family in its advertising.
“Our family is a traditional family,” Barilla told the host. “I would not do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect toward homosexuals—who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others—but because I don’t agree with them and I think we want to talk to traditional families.”
Barilla also expressed indifference toward the effect of his remarks on gay consumers. “If gays like our pasta and our advertising, they will eat our pasta; if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta,” he said.
The interview sparked a torrent of protest on social media and resulted in a flurry of online petitions urging consumers to boycott Barilla.
For HUDS, the decision to make the switch was an easy one. HUDS is now purchasing Ultragrain pasta instead of Barilla, the world’s leading pasta manufacturer.
“When the media shared the comments that were made, we felt like it was the right thing to do,” explained Crista Martin, HUDS director for marketing and communications. “We found out what pastas were available from our vendor, did a quick test to see what could be substituted, and made the switch.”
When HUDS decided to switch providers, Harvard community members had already begun to consider Barilla’s remarks.
Avik Chatterjee ’02, a BGLTQ tutor in Dunster House, read about the controversy one morning in the Huffington Post. Later that day, he noticed Barilla pasta in the dining hall.
“I mentioned it to some students in the house,” Chatterjee said. “Students did seem to think it wasn’t fair for Barilla pasta to be served in the dining halls. One student wanted to draft a letter to the [Queer Students and Allies] to talk about a meeting to discuss what could be done.”
A little over a week later, Chatterjee noticed that Barilla signage had disappeared from the dining hall. When he inquired about it, Dunster dining hall manager Maureen Russ told him that HUDS was finishing up what was left of Barilla and switching to a different brand.
“They knew about the news story. They got a directive from the head of HUDS saying they were going to change over,” said Chatterjee. “They also said they had not really heard much about it from students, which means that HUDS made the change independent of student pressure.”
Students expressed appreciation for the gesture, but noted that there is still much left to be done to achieve equality.
“Structural opposition to the representation of diverse sexualities in advertising is a problem,” said QSA cultural diversity chair Kirin Gupta ’16. “There are bigger problems, but I think HUDS’ decision is a powerful statement in solidarity with the LBGT community, which is wonderful.”
In a Facebook apology the day after the interview, Barilla said he respects gay marriage, but continued to defend his marketing strategy. “Barilla in its advertising has always chosen to represent the family because this is the symbol of hospitality and affection for everyone,” he wrote.
Facing continuing criticism, Barilla released a video apology on the company website, pledging to meet with groups “that best represent the evolution of the family, including those who have been offended by my words.”
—Staff writer Maddie Sewani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @maddiesewani.