Last updated on March 8th, 2023
We asked 28 Italians for their opinions on American food and dining. Some of them have visited America, others have interacted with Americans here in Italy, and the remainder shaped their opinions based on television shows and pop culture.
At the end of it all, it was clear that Italians do have a pretty good understanding of American food, but what surprised me most of all was how aware they were about the fact that many of the negative sides to American food culture are due to lack of education and lack of resources to obtain and consume healthy food.
I would also like to point out that the people we spoke to were making gross generalizations. Most people admitted that it’s hard to define American food in one way. But, from a foreign perspective, these were the biggest generalizations they made.
Here’s what they said:
Note: ‘American’ in this article is referring to the United States. Italians speak about US citizens as ‘americani.’
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Americans Only Eat Fast Food
When asked this question, one Italian said “Non avendo la giusta cultura sul cibo si abituano a seguire la massa e il cibo “veloce”, il cibo cucinato senza ricetta, snaturando i prodotti e il loro benefici alimentari”, meaning that not having the right kind of education or knowledge about food, many Americans just go with the flow, with what everyone else is doing, and tend towards fast food, or food cooked without any thought or recipe, resulting in food that is devoid of any nutritional value and character.
Americans Eat Junk Food Because It’s Cheap
This is true. Many Americans choose fast and junk food because it’s economical. Unhealthy, processed food is often cheaper and more accessible than healthy and nutritious food. It’s important to note, one person said, that it’s really a pity because so much of America doesn’t even have access to healthy food. Junk food or processed food is the only option for them.
Good Food in America is a Luxury
One mom we know works at a winery, and she said she works a lot with Americans and from their stories, she has come to understand that if you have money and time you can eat well; if not, you are forced to buy inferior products and produce which is consequently, less healthy.
Unfortunately, I believe she is correct. In many poor communities and rural areas, “food deserts” (places with extremely limited access to affordable and nutritious food) are a real problem, and if you don’t have the right resources, it’s hard to break the unhealthy food cycle.
American Dishes Have Too Many Ingredients
Many Italians told us that they thought American recipes have too many ingredients, resulting in a dish that is too complex to dissect by only taste. This also makes it hard to appreciate the ingredients’ natural tastes.
Americans Don’t Eat Enough Fruits and Vegetables
It certainly depends on where you live in America, as in many parts of the country, it is hard to find affordable produce.
There is Too Much Meat in the American Diet
The phrase “no meat, no meal” doesn’t come from nowhere. For many Americans, this is very true.
Americans Eat Too Much Sugar
They certainly do when compared to Italians. Italians will typically have fruit or something small for dessert. Some of the Italians noted that their memories of American desserts are memorable, to say the least. One friend pointed out that a small ice cream in Italy is just one scoop, a moderate amount, just enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. In America, a small ice cream is literally almost a pint!
There is Too Much Fried Food in the American Diet
For Italians, it’s true Americans do eat a lot of fried food by their standards. While Italians do enjoy fried food such as pollo fritto (fried chicken), braccioline fritte (fried veal), or la cotoletta milanese (fried pork), they don’t have it every week. Fried food is something Italians rarely eat, maybe once or twice a month.
American Food Tends to be Sweet
This is something my Italian husband says every time we go to America, and when you don’t live in the States, and you aren’t used to the food, everything actually does taste slightly sweet. Even something like sandwich bread has a slightly sweet note to it, which I never noticed until I came back to the USA after extended periods of not returning and tasting the food for the first time. I am not a chemist, so I cannot say what is done to the products to make them slightly sweet, but they just are.
Americans Use Too Much Salt and Too Many Condiments
Again, in comparison to Italians, Americans do use a lot of condiments. Take a hamburger, for example. Italians love them but maybe only put a light squirt of ketchup, a bit of mayonnaise, and a slice of tomato. They will never add cheese, bacon, mayo, ketchup, tomato, and lettuce to one burger, as many Americans would.
When talking about commercially produced foods and fast food, there is a lot of salt, but home cooking isn’t necessarily any saltier than Italian cooking.
Americans Make Some Italian Dishes Incorrectly
This was a huge theme when we asked around among our friends and family. Italians are horrified by the idea that Americans like to play with their traditional recipes that have been developed throughout history and cultural changes. Partially, it’s true, I admitted to them. On the other hand, many Americans do enjoy cooking authentic Italian dishes without American twists.
American Food is Appetizing But It Has Too Many Calories
American food is perceived by Italians as appetizing. But, for example, something really flavorful and comforting like french fries and a hamburger is too caloric to eat regularly. Italians enjoy a hamburger just as much as any American. Still, for them, it’s something special to have, something to splurge and indulge in, not a regular food they eat.
Tomatoes in America Have No Flavor
This is true in comparison to Italian tomatoes and Italian produce in general. Every time I return home to Florence after a long trip to the USA, I always forget how much better the fruits and vegetables taste here.
Italian produce, by law, cannot be GMO and is grown regionally. In the USA, it is often GMO and is grown primarily in California or Florida or imported, ensuring that fruits and vegetables are picked weeks, if not a whole month, before they hit your table. For produce to taste good, it needs to be picked ripe and get to the supermarkets or final destination within a week, and this is just not how the mass American food chain was created.
American Food Doesn’t Tell a Story
“Credo che manchi il racconto di come nasce e si trasforma un prodotto, l’amore nel vedere un seme diventare pasta e l’attenzione del dettaglio.” said a friend of ours. She believes Americans don’t have an understanding of how food changes over time, how it grows and how it fuels us – from the seed to the table. Growing food is a passion and must be done with care and love, something she thinks is lacking in American food.
Americans Are Too Disconnected from What They Eat
Another big topic that we saw come up, again and again, is that many Americans aren’t aware of where their food comes from, how it’s prepared, and how it is or isn’t going to fuel the body. Because so much food is grown outside of the USA and imported (in Italy this is not the case – most food is grown and produced domestically), many Americans have lost any connection that they once had with the farmers that used to supply local communities.
Americans Don’t Care from Where Their Food Comes
In Americans’ defense, I don’t think it’s that they don’t care from where their food comes; it’s more that many Americans don’t understand the difference it can make in the taste of their food, and so they just have no idea that the place of origin is important for both the flavor and the nutritional value of the food.
Americans Eat Too Much
Now I am not certain Americans always eat more than Italians, but since the food is generally a lot less healthy than in Italy, it takes much less eating to do quite a lot of damage and create numerous health problems. Italians perceive Americans as being very unhealthy because of what they eat; I couldn’t deny this completely. Unfortunately, many recent health issues affecting greater America are likely at least partially due to poor diet and lack of healthy food.
American Food is Really Tasty But Only in Small Doses
“Il cibo americano è molto buono. Sono sempre molto contento di viaggiare in America perché il cibo è talmente diverso dal nostro ed è proprio come lo vediamo nei film. Detto questo, non lo potrei mai mangiare tutti i giorni come fanno loro!”
I would say this last quote by a father in my son’s third-grade class encompasses much of what Italians think: American food is actually really good, and they do enjoy eating it because it’s exactly what they see in the movies. Still, it wouldn’t be realistic to eat like that in the long term.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing what some Italians think about American food. Remember, this is just a small sample, and these are opinions, not facts!