ROME - Fast food chain McDonald's has teamed up with the Italian government to cook up a hamburger with a national twist, but the unusual initiative is giving some food lovers cultural indigestion.
The "McItaly," hawked with the slogan "McDonald's speaks Italian," is made entirely of Italian DOP products (Protected Designation of Origin) and the meal's ingredients make up the colors of the Italian flag -- red, white and green.
"We're out to defend our identity and the 'Made in Italy' trademark," Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia said in a statement, adding that the venture was designed to "promote the taste of Italy," particularly to young people.
"We want to give an imprint of Italian flavors to our youngsters," he said.
But the flag-flying burger, which comes with a choice of artichoke spread and Asiago cheese or onion, lettuce and smoked pancetta, has come under heavy criticism by food critics both in Italy and abroad.
Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement that promotes quality food, genuine ingredients and local produce, accused the government of undermining Italian cuisine.
"Globalizing a taste does not promote it but rather standardizes and homogenizes it," he said in an open letter in an Italian newspaper.
"This isn't about supporting Italian farmers and products, it's about making money by working with a multinational that actively takes power away from local producers," Petrini, who in 1985 failed to stop McDonald's from opening its first restaurant in Italy, told Reuters.
But Zaia, the agriculture minister, defended McItaly as a healthy option which would use 1,000 tons of Italian agricultural products a month, giving a "huge boost to farmers."
The minister, a member of the center-right Northern League party, accused critics of being motivated by leftist agendas.
After Matthew Fort, food writer for the left-leaning British newspaper The Guardian, described the McItaly as a "monstrous act of national betrayal," Zaia accused him and the paper of "baying at the moon" and being in thrall to Stalinist ideology.
In a letter to the Guardian, Zaia wrote "With regret, we are forced to deliver bad news to this kind of left: Stalin is dead. And we can safely bet he never set foot in a McDonald's."
Zaia said he hoped the McItaly burger will convince European youngsters "to forget about junk food and choose a healthier and better quality food."
"We are sure it will work. Then, we will become modern Jesuits and try to 'convert the infidels' of the left, who have never dirtied their hands by working in the fields."
However, so far the burger may not have been as successful among the young as the minister hoped.
Rachel Diacono, 17, on holiday from England, said she wished she'd gone for a pizza instead.
"I love trying out different McDonald's in every country I go to -- France is great -- but here it's like they couldn't be bothered to make the effort. They should have put mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes in or something," she said.