Barilla pasta stepped onto a land mine when chairman Guido Barilla said he'd never create advertising featuring gay families. Gems like, "They can eat other pasta" ensured a boycott. Since, Barilla has apologized and created a movement to publicly change. Can a company come back from publicity like this?
Photo credit: Konstantin Kamenetskiy/ iStock/360/ Getty Images

This fall Barilla chairman Guido Barilla, the 55-year-old great grandson of the company's founder, said, "I would never make a spot with a homosexual family," and that gay families "can eat other pasta." This social media land mine quickly imploded and for many, the response was singular: boycott.

First steps

Barilla rallied quickly, apologizing and creating a campaign to publicly show change. Mr. Barilla was quoted saying, "It is clear that I have a lot to learn about the lively debate concerning the evolution of the family. In the coming weeks, I pledge to meet representatives of the groups that best represent the evolution of the family, including those who have been offended by my words." GLAAD — a U.S. advocacy group for the LGBT community that asked officials at U.S. supermarket chains to speak out against Barilla's comments — called Mr. Barilla's pledge to meet with his critics a "good first step."

Barilla's next step was to reach out to a representative of the LGBT community to partner — to work together — toward voicing Barilla's change. The response is mixed. Some feel that steps toward each other is the only way to create change and others feel like it's too little, too late. We spoke with members of the LGBT community who are with Barilla and those who are not.

Share The Table

Through our Share The Table movement, we want to inspire, empower and support families of all kinds to share more meaningful meals together.

The program is called Share the Table and the concept is simple: families sharing mealtime selfies dubbed "fammies" — via social media with the hashtag #ShareTheTable. Barilla says they're dedicated to keeping mealtime a special time for all families everywhere, with the emphasis on "all families." As part of the Share The Table initiative, Barilla will provide 10 meals to Feeding America — a nationwide nonprofit organization that helps feed communities across America — for every #ShareTheTable photo shared on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Talita Erickson, General Counsel, Barilla Americas & Chief Diversity Officer, says, "Barilla has a more than 135-year heritage built on family values, and we realize the definition of family has evolved. Through our Share The Table movement, we want to inspire, empower and support families of all kinds to share more meaningful meals together. We are proud to partner with bloggers from diverse, modern families, who are sharing their unique stories and perspectives about mealtime and encouraging others to do the same." It's this partnering with bloggers from diverse families of all kinds that has split support.

Being a part of change

Vikki Reich and familyVikki Reich writes about the intersection of contemporary lesbian life, parenthood and pop culture on her personal blog Up Popped a Fox. She's also one of the bloggers that Barilla reached out to partner with. This fall, when Guido Barilla's comments were shared — and reshared — Reich was, of course, disappointed. She explains, "My initial reaction was disappointment, but not at the specific comments made by Mr. Barilla, more about the current cultural climate and how much work is still to be done. This was a reminder that marriage equality is a great step forward but the LGBT community and allies need to continue to educate and advocate for our families."

But she did decide to work with Barilla as an advocate and as a mom. Reich says, "I believe Barilla has made a genuine effort to make amends for the comments. For example, they reached out to LGBT groups and created a Diversity and Inclusion Board within the company. On a personal level, I want to model forgiveness for my children and focus on moving forward. Plus, LGBT visibility is a powerful force for change and this was an opportunity to be a part of that. My partner and I have long been committed to shared family meals so Barilla's Share The Table program was a perfect fit for us."

We have both had family members who struggled to accept us and believe that patience and compassion are essential in helping others move towards acceptance and celebration.

Reich's bottom-line belief is that working together is the path to change. She says, "My partner and I are like-minded in our general philosophy. We have both had family members who struggled to accept us and believe that patience and compassion are essential in helping others move towards acceptance and celebration."

Photo credit: Vikki Reich

Open to the conversation

Susan Goldberg
Photo credit: Susan Goldberg
So much of parenting is forgiving and maybe learning something from our own and our kids' mistakes, and then moving on to — hopefully — creating something better.

Some members of the LGBT community and allies have gone through the same emotions as Reich — disappointment at the initial comments but open to the new conversation. Susan Goldberg is a freelance writer, editor and blogger based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and one of two moms to two boys, ages 9 and 6-1/2. Goldberg's thoughts and feelings have paralleled Reich's. She says, "Barilla did something hurtful, but now they're trying to make amends. And they're doing it with real actions, not just paying lip service to the ideas of "inclusivity" and "diversity." And while I'm still a bit skeptical ("Do they really mean what they say?"), and while part of me definitely wants to hold a grudge, I know that particular mindset doesn't serve me well, as a person or as a parent. So much of parenting is forgiving and maybe learning something from our own and our kids' mistakes, and then moving on to — hopefully — creating something better. As a parent, I try to do that daily, sometimes hourly, and I often fail. So I applaud — and aspire to — Reich's capacity for forgiveness, as well as her integrity and openness. I know that she didn't make this decision lightly."

Too soon to tell

Casey Carey-BrownBut others aren't so sure and are looking for Barilla to do more of the fixing leg-work themselves rather than rely on the LGBT community to do it for them. Casey Carey-Brown is a lesbian parent blogger raising her daughter in Boston. She posts daily at Life with Roozle. Carey-Brown says, "People and companies make mistakes. I've seen it. We've all seen it. Over and over again. Damage done to the LGBTQ community can be corrected and worked on, but having bloggers write on their own sites to promote Barilla feels like too little too late. I'm disappointed in Barilla's response and will not work with them. I won't tell my audience it's OK. It's not. They need to do that themselves."

Photo credit: Casey Carey-Brown

Harnessing the power of social media

The power of social media is the sheer speed and volume with which word travels when companies — and individuals — make mistakes. The time elapsed between Mr. Barilla's comment made in a radio interview in Italy to the first whispers of boycott on Twitter was less than 24 hours. Liz Jostes, online marketing consultant and co-founder of Eli Rose Social Media, LLC, says, "In general, social media intensifies everything. So the sheer number of people aware of the initial event or mistake is so much higher than what it would have been pre-internet and social media."

The sheer number of people aware of the initial event or mistake is so much higher than what it would have been pre-internet and social media.

But the flip side is that steps toward fixing mistakes, toward creating change, can happen just as quickly. Barilla's apology and inklings of the Diversity and Inclusion Board within the company also happened within less than 24 hours. Jostes explains, "The benefits of social media mean you can also start to attempt to correct for your mistake much faster, and can hope that at least some of the people willing to share your poor decision, will also share the social media updates that explain how you're trying to make a correction. A brand also has the added benefit of searching for and reaching out to influencers related to the issue, and utilize them to help spread your message, much like Barilla did with their blogger outreach."

And then the proverbial ball is back in the — in this case — consumers' hands. Do we move forward with Barilla or do we hold onto the mistakes they made? What do you think?

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