updated 6/3/2008 5:44:17 PM ET 2008-06-03T21:44:17

For presidents and premiers at summits, delicacies washed down by fine wines are all part of the agenda.

But the puff pastries with corn and mozzarella, pasta with pumpkin and shrimp, and rolls of thinly sliced veal served up Tuesday at a U.N. conference on fighting hunger were a contrast to bleak accounts of starving people around the world.

The menu was in French but the fare was strictly Italian, served in a dining room at the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The repast was accompanied by a chilled white wine from Orvieto in the hills of Umbria north of Rome.

"It's pretty standard stuff," said FAO spokesman Nick Parsons, describing the meal as "pleasant, light and nutritious."

For decades, the FAO has striven for a sober culinary touch since an embarrassing moment during a similar summit called in 1974 amid a food crisis and oil shock.

The foreign minister of Bangladesh, which had suffered a severe famine, addressed a nearly deserted conference hall as most of the delegates nibbled on canapes at a nearby cocktail party.

Commentators howled hypocrisy.

But in Rome, one of Europe's premier gastronomic capitals, it's hard to deliver a spare meal — and while they are here delegates will be eating such specialties as cheese mousse, parmesan risotto and lemon mousse with raspberry sauce.

The top delegates — heads of state and government — were invited to the luncheon in a special dining room. Everyone else ate in the cafeteria.

"Leaders can eat what they want as long as they take decisive action to deliver the policies and the aid in agriculture that is needed to ensure that poor people who are suffering from high food prices are helped," said Alexander Woollcombe, a spokesman for the British aid group Oxfam.

The FAO headquarters was intended to be a ministry for running World War II dictator Benito Mussolini's African conquests, but the regime collapsed before the building was finished and it was later turned over to the U.N. agency.

The FAO luncheon was not the only food game in town for delegates.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi was co-hosting a state dinner Tuesday evening with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Villa Madama, a Renaissance villa.

Berlusconi aides said they planned what they call a "Tricolore menu" — a meal that evokes the green, white and red of the Italian flag and has become a standard of formal dining under the patriotic premier.

For the Tuesday dinner, guests were being served pasta with pesto, cheese and tomatoes, a beef steak with a tricolore side dish of vegetables and pistachio, and vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

The wines, of course, will be Italian, as well as the after dinner drinks — grappa and limoncello.

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