A viral video featuring a woman serving an entire spaghetti-and-meatballs dinner on her huge, white marble kitchen island is making its rounds on the internet, and generating no small amount of outrage along the way. Captioned “ULTIMATE SPAGHETTI TRICK!!,” it seems to have originated on the Facebook page Josh and Lisa, which is created by a couple who appear to really, really want that influencer life, and who attempt to attain it by filming themselves doing practical jokes, and making questionable food creations, like bacon s’mores. (Although, honestly… those look pretty good.)
The counter-pasta video in question seems to be a mash-up of the two genres — a three-minute-long video featuring questionable food that just has to be a practical joke, doesn’t it? In it, Lisa starts the shenanigans by pouring an enormous jar of Prego marinara sauce directly onto her otherwise pristine countertop, while a friend makes comments in the background, using her best ASMR voice, giving off a very audio-porn vibe, as my coworker pointed out: “Oh my gosh… Holy cow…” Lisa then dumps dozens of meatballs directly onto the sauce, then unleashing a blizzard of shredded parmesan cheese, before finally scooping — with her bare hands! — glob after generous glob of spaghetti right out of the pot and on top of the sauce. When her friend asks what’s next, Lisa cheerfully responds, “Well, you gotta mix it up girl!” and proceeds to fold the entire mixture into itself. Once it’s all mixed up, she instructs viewers that they can add a little salad, before throwing a bunch of lettuce and dressing on there, followed by some big Olive Garden-style breadsticks.
“Yup, all my friends are coming over,” Lisa explains her decision to forgo dishes, adding that she does this all the time. “This is the easiest way to make spaghetti for a crowd… And you don’t have to worry about dishes or a mess or anything like that!”
“But it’s all over your counter!” her friend exclaims in mock horror.
The internet, though, was more genuinely horrified. “Too bad humankind hasn’t invented a receptacle in which to cook sauce in,” Sophia Smith Galer, a video journalist, wrote on Twitter, adding: “In my part of Italy I am 95% sure you would face a war crime tribunal for this.” Ryan Marino, a doctor, wrote: “I sure as hell didn’t survive a pandemic just to risk it all for Prego sauce on someone’s nasty ass counter.”
While I understand the desire to perform disgust at viral food videos, if you ask me, it’s too bad that more people’s minds aren’t open to this type of communal countertop experience. I say: Have some imagination, my friends. As much as it’s clear that this particular video was made for shock value, there are actually a few points in favour of serving and eating your Italian-American dinner directly off the kitchen island.
Consider: First, Lisa is right, there is actually less cleanup involved. When serving a dinner as huge as this one, you have to wash a whole bunch of big serving platters — to say nothing of actually having to own them at all. Seems like a big waste of time and cabinet space! It’s unclear exactly how Lisa plans to serve this feast, but presumably all she’ll need is individual plates and utensils.
Second: If the proper precautions are taken, a clean counter appears to be no less sanitary than a clean serving dish. I mean, did I miss the part where marble or quartz or whatever is somehow dirtier than glass, ceramics, or wood? Ask yourself why you hold the belief that you can clean a dish but not a counter.
It is key to keep your counter clean, but that’s something you should be doing anyway! As the Food Network reminds us about sanitary counter-cooking conditions: Do not defrost meat on your countertop, remember to disinfect surfaces with a spray or wipes, and, of course, wash your hands. If you do all that, then nowhere (nowhere!) does it say not to serve already-cooked meatballs off said counter. In fact, certain countertop materials can even help prevent food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses, including formica laminate, quartz, and recycled glass. The biggest risk with Lisa’s strategy is the higher likelihood of some of the food falling onto the floor (and into the mouth of your dog, if you have one). But there’s a simple enough fix for that: Set up some type of buffer at the edge of the counter if you plan to try this. But otherwise, as long as the counter and your hands and utensils are clean, the nastiness is all in your head.
Another thing this outrage overlooks is that not every culture uses serving platters for every meal to begin with. Filipino kamayan is a communal-style buffet feast eaten with your hands off banana leaves, a substitute for plates or placemats. You might eat fried fish, shrimp, lumpia (a type of egg roll), longganisa (sweet sausage), and more, with plenty of rice and sauces, this way — all absolutely delicious and anything but unsanitary.
As far as traditional Italian-style cooking, however, it is true that Lisa’s method doesn’t seem to be the norm, even though she insists that this is what "real Italians" do in the video. “This is the definition of family-style,” she proclaims.
But, when I queried my family’s group text, the Italian side had some strong feelings. “What? Why?!? Unless you are feeding a whole army, why do you have that much spaghetti? And cleaning that counter is gonna be a nightmare!” says my sister-in-law, who regularly makes giant pots of pasta. “Very sad. The lengths that people will go through to get noticed on social media,” commented my father-in-law, who swears by his pasta-maker and has gone on tours of Italy to learn authentic Italian cooking. My mother-in-law had the most issue with the Prego: “I will take our homemade pasta over this any day. Sauce from a jar??”
I agree that the most offensive part of the video was probably the use of Prego. But spreading your sauce and everything else right on the counter, thereby liberating yourself from hours of dishwashing, and allowing yourself to instead enjoy glass after glass of wine with friends after dinner without feeling guilty? I’m all for it! Why aren’t you?