Maria Rainier, a free-lance writer provides this remarkable guest post about a semester she spent at a farmstead in Italy. Her comparison between our American approach to food and the Italian approach to food is well worth a read.
Thank you Maria for taking the time to share your story!
Buonissimo: Italian Slow Cooking
America is the fast food nation—this is where it all started. We’re busy, busy little bees, and the very idea of sitting down for two hours for wine and conversation with lunch is a waste of time. We have our morning breakfast smoothie in the car ride to work, eat fast food lunches in wi-fi areas so we can read e-mails while we munch, and we come home to microwave dinners because, as two working parents with kids, no one has time to cook anymore. We even have Bluetooths in our ears over a family dinner so that, at the push of a button, we can be “at” the office. This is what we believe makes us productive, wealthy, and able to live worthwhile lives.
It is not America but Italy where I learned to truly live.
Wine, Conversation, and Slow Food
This isn’t to say I learned to slack. There was much work to be done in the vineyards and farmstead on which I worked to earn my bed, and much studying to be done to learn of agricultural history and regional mythology of the Tirolean hills I called home for my semester abroad. I worked and worked, being the busy little bee I had learned to be in America.
The first month I was in Italy, my legs itched at every meal for which I sat down to eat. I ate quickly and found that my fellow students and I still had an hour to waste before resuming work in the vineyard or afternoon classes. We twiddled our thumbs and sat awkwardly around the table while our Italian hosts sipped their wine and wondered if, judging by how quickly we’d finished our meals, they had overworked and starved us.
Like the manner in which it is eaten, the majority of real Italian food—the kind you find in humble trattorias and local homes, not upscale restaurants in New York—is slow food. It comes from their own gardens and trees, so it takes years to cultivate and maintain. It comes from local farmholds, and the trucks that bring them to the market are rickety and little. It’s seasonal, so they use certain foods only so many months a year, when they’re cheapest and at their highest quality. It’s made with cheap and simple ingredients with simple cooking techniques, and often takes patience on the dining company’s behalf. Food, however, was never worth the wait more than it was in Italy.
When Food Goes Wrong
Fast food is always expensive. Items from the dollar menu may cost you only a dollar at drive-thru, but will cost you thousands in hospital bills if eaten regularly. Cheap corn and soy—what factory farmers feed ruminants (natural grass-eaters) that end up in burgers along with chicken feces and antibiotics—are destroying American farmers and landscapes. Just ask the three-eyed fish popping up in cesspools you’ll find outside any CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) because the waste created by these abused cows and pigs are too toxic to give to local corn farmers as fertilizer.
In Italy, I grew used to eating beautifully austere home cooking—panzanella (bread and tomato salad with fresh mozzarella), arugula salad, and a lone, juicy sausage—with a glass of red wine or grappa in the company of friends for hours. I never worried about chemicals in my food or my cholesterol because I didn’t have to. We cooked our meals and local farmers raised produce and meats the healthy way—the slow way. Eating slowly made my body happy, and conversing with friends over a meal for two hours gave me peace that no busy-bodying could. When we left the table to return to the vineyards or to classrooms, it was always with an eagerness to return for another meal that would warm our bellies and our hearts. I suspect the secret ingredient to our host’s cooking was love—and as everyone knows, love takes time.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.