I traveled to Florence and Turin last month as a US delegate for Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, an international celebration of good, clean, fair food for all. I wrote this post in the notes section of my phone on a train.
It was one of those “oh my gawd I have to write this down immediately or I won’t be able to remember the words to describe it” kind of things.
We ate some amazing food and saw some beautiful sights but what I really took away from our trip to Italy was the realization that we’re living our lives in fast-forward. Everything is so much slower in Italy, in the best way. Everything is savored—coffee, relationships, food, time, the earth.
It’s such a different and incredible way to live life.
1) If you don’t eat some combination of olive oil, bread, coffee, and gelato several times a day when you’re traveling, you’re doing it wrong.
2) We are slowly killing our planet. Ya, ouch. But you already knew that, right?
3) This is all about so much more than nutrition. At Terra Madre you didn’t really hear the world “health.” Yes, eating whole grains and healthy fats is important. But now when I think about buying organic and/or fair trade coffee or olive oil or apples or pasta, I’m not thinking solely about it having more nutrients.
I’m thinking about the woman who picked the coffee and whether or not she’s feeding her family. I’m thinking about the social and environmental implications. I’m thinking about supporting a product that grows in a way that doesn’t leave our planet more of a mess. This is a very big multifaceted picture and nutrition is a small piece. To think about purchasing organic only in terms of nutritional benefit is ignorant. So ask questions! Ask where things are from. Ask how things are produced. Where was that coffee roasted and why?
4) We need to buy local. Much more. The couple we stayed with in Turin walked or biked to the market daily. The arugula and tomatoes were more green and red than I had ever seen. Why? Because they didn’t travel from God knows where on a truck before hitting the shelf. There wasn’t a middle man. They bought them from the farmer. There’s a simpler system that’s so beautiful.
5) Growing and harvesting palm oil is killing the rainforests. And the environment. You know how acai preserves them? Well think of palm oil as the opposite. The pretzels we ate on the plane from Turin to Munich were made with sustainably harvested palm oil (unlike the palm oil in say, Skippy peanut butter), which got me thinking.
This matters because soon you will see partially hydrogenated oil replaced with palm oil. Better for your heart, perhaps…but better for the planet’s health? No. Global warming is very real. There’s tons of carbon stored in the tropical peat soil where deforestation occurs, and these carbon emissions aren’t helping the situation.
6) I need to eat more with the seasons. I do make an effort to cook seasonally but I could do a lot better. While I don’t cook zucchini in the winter or acorn squash in the summer, I still buy things like cucumbers and blueberries in the winter. No longer! Our host family thought it was so peculiar that at our market (um, supermarket?) we can get any and every fruit or veggie at any time. We live in a culture of overindulgence. We’re spoiled!
7) Sometimes we strip the joy out of eating. As much as we eat in America, we don’t enjoy it like other countries do. We want everything to be faster, cheaper, and easier. That’s not what good food is!
Eating dinner with our hosts was like an experience from another planet in the best way. First we drank wine. We sat at the table, sans distractions, and we talked. Then we ate a simple home-cooked meal. Maybe it was arborio rice with Gorgonzola cheese. Maybe it was fish with potatoes, capers, and tomatoes. Maybe it was pesto pasta.
There was always bread and there was always wine. We talked some more. Then we ate arugula and tomatoes with “Italian dressing,” i.e. balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
8) Our food regulations are twisted (I’d use a different word if we were having an actual conversation). Nothing new here, just wanted to reiterate. The food on the streets of Italy and in the airports isn’t like in the US. Because nothing in Europe has the artificial flavors, colors and preservatives allowed in American food, it’s by definition fresher, healthier, and tastier. It’s like there’s no “fast” food. Everything abroad is slooooooower. Like it should be. They don’t eat for utility or pure sustenance or speed. Food is meant to be enjoyed, savored, appreciated.
They don’t mind working till seven in Turin because they get a two-hour lunch break. Imagine that!
You buy bread on the street and get this! It’s HARD after a few days. Why? Because it’s freaking bread, not an immortal alien grain bastardized with datem and calcium propionate. Eating in Italy for a week kind of made me resent our food system like woah.
And at the end of the day, I still love America but I really wish gelato was more of a thing. Oh and two hour lunch breaks!