In January of 2011, I planned to stay in Italy for four months, do a bit of research and head back to North America to resume my life. That changed about three months in for several reasons, but a major one was the food, or more precisely Italian attitude to food. Yes we have heard of the passion, the love, the importance of gathering around a table with friends, but the science of how an average Italian approaches food is what fascinated me.
Italians, as a population, are quite scientific about what they eat, when they eat and the order in which they consume their food. If it goes into your tummy there seems to be a perfect time, place and season for it. Also, they are well informed about the quality of the ingredients and often how it was grown or raised — the slow food movement was born in Italy.
The Italian lifestyle around food is based on living a healthy life. Food is the first “drug”, the first thing you take in to your body for better living, clear thinking, energy and to, above all — be great at being — well, Italian.
Being born into an Italian family gave me a head start but it was not until I lived here — and now living through “an interesting moment”, am I fully appreciating the Italian lifestyle which is fully based on creating and living the fullness of life in every area — starting with “la Salute” or one’s own health.
It’s often been joked about, but Italians will tell you that their liver is sore because of what they ate last night, or know the instant their stomach is off. They have body and health awareness (and vanity) and are very much interested in the state of “benessere” or “stare bene” of being and feeling well. Part of their lifestyle means knowing how to slow down and often that means taking the right amount of time to eat and savor food — and by extension — life.
What has been remarkable to me is how I have seen my fellow Italian citizens respond in this particular moment. They understand the severity, they understand the necessity and they act in a civilized and respectful manner. This starts with being completely ok with slowing things down, staying at home, eating well and following the guidelines put in place for everyone’s safety.
How could this not be the case? What visitors see when they come to Italy must seem like utopian dreamland, where surroundings are beautiful and time for work, be with family, eat well and experience life in a way that begins with honoring the food they take into their body and the health that it offers them for a complete life in balance.
Of course, this country is not without its problems; people do eat junk food here and the political system is less than desirable as it is in other parts of the world. What I am taking away from this moment is the fundamental importance of the lifestyle you choose. I am seeing it play out before me; that while Italians are locked in their homes they understand and some even embrace it, as a time for reflection, for love and to reconnect with the essential parts of life that fuel our bodies and our minds.
The ability to respond in these circumstances is a testament to the Italian way of life, that has given Italy a reputation for creating excellence while maintaining balance and taking one’s time to enjoy life.
Many of my North American or Northern European guests are taken aback and even a bit shocked at how the service is not so prompt or things don’t happen as fast as they should in Italy. I can tell them that this is not laziness. It is a unique and beautiful way of life, which when applied to moments like these, allows us to utilize each moment for whatever it is meant to be. The well-established Italian lifestyle is one which is created and matured, like a fine Italian wine, cheese, prosciutto, meal, city or art — over just the right amount of time.