Sorry, Foodies. The Only Problem With the “Disneyland of Food” Is the Marketing.

Slate's Culture Blog
March 21 2014 12:01 PM

Sorry, Foodies. The Only Problem With the “Disneyland of Food” Is the Marketing.

103748277-atmosphere-during-the-eatalys-grand-opening-on-august
Eataly New York.

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

In late February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Eataly, an international chain of food emporiums, is planning to open a theme park devoted to food in Bologna in 2015. “Promoters of the project, which would be named Fico Eataly World and cost about €40 million ($54.9 million) to develop, describe it as a Disneyland of food,” the Journal’s Alessia Pirolo reported.

That moniker stuck. The phrase “Disneyland of food” has appeared in virtually every article about the planned amusement park, and it seems to be the impetus of virtually every negative opinion of Eataly World cited in said articles. “Sounds like something for tourists,” a Roman woman told NPR, “We Italians have no need for such a theme park.” Hugh Merwin of Grub Street snarked, “The chief executive of the fund-management company backing the project says Eataly World should be generating the equivalent of $118 million in revenue by 2019, which means we can definitely expect to have Eataly-branded spumoni water-skiing in Tampa by 2025.” A commenter on a Daily Beast article on the topic earlier this week wrote, “I am very disappointed in Eataly doing something so centralized and soulless.”

Advertisement

But no one should be surprised by Eataly’s announcement. Eataly World—and the phrase “Disneyland of food”—hint at the paradox that has so far served Eataly very well (in the U.S., at least). Eataly has tried to have it both ways: It is a multimillion-dollar corporation that projects the image of being a high-quality, rarefied specialty store. Eataly’s enormous outlets, which boast internal restaurants, bars, butchers, fishmongers, and much more, are already mini-Disneylands. When Eataly opened in Manhattan, the New York Times’ Sam Sifton asked,

Is Eataly a menace (so big and corporate) or an answered prayer (OMG, they sell Barilla bucatini)? Does it represent a step forward for Italian food at the upper end of the economic spectrum of New York, or is it simply a mass-market retail play that capitalizes on the fame of its most visible partners, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and his mother, Lidia Bastianich?

Sifton answers yes to both of these questions. Eataly has always walked a fine line—and one of the main reasons it’s enjoyed a reputation among Americans as a foodie mecca is that it’s so inaccessible. The only American branches of Eataly are in New York and Chicago, which means that New Yorkers and Chicagoans get to feel like they’re part of a special club.

Eataly’s mistake in announcing its new venture, then, was not in the idea itself: A theme park for foodies is simply a logical extension of what Eataly already is. The problem was the way Eataly framed the message: Disneyland, to most Americans, connotes populist, materialistic excess—everything that the kind of people who shop at Eataly like to pretend they’re immune to. If Eataly had kept the idea the same but announced Eataly World as a “gastronomic education center,” I doubt the reaction would be so negative.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. What Exactly Is Holding Us Back?

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 6:29 PM Here's Who Voted to Fund Syrian Rebels and Get This ISIS Conflict Really Cooking
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM Should Men Still Open Doors for Women? Or is it ungentlemanly to do so at all?  
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 5:56 PM Watch Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, and More on New YouTube Channel
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 5:26 PM If Fixing Global Warming Is Free, What’s the Holdup?
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?