i’ve been thinking a lot about what i eat recently. bean, i know you’re thinking that’s not exactly a new situation – the family joke is how often we discuss our next meal while we’re currently eating) but i’ve been thinking specifically about what i eat and where it comes from, how it’s produced, how the production affects the world around me, and what it does to my body. these are all ideas i’ve considered before, but have recently all meshed together into a (yes, this sounds over dramatic but it’s true) life-changing mindset. i’m changing the way i eat, fueled by traveling, reading, talking to friends, listening to really smart people, and of course, a lot of eating. the upshot of all of this is a new diet – not a diet in the sense of i’m-only-eating-splenda-and-drinking-slimfast, or only-cayenne-pepper-and-lemon-juice-is-allowed-in-my-stomach, or cabbage-soup-and-cabbage-soup-ALONE-will-make me-skinny, but in fact the complete opposite.
it’s a diet of real food, not processed food product. if at all possible, a diet of food that is local, organic, sustainable. of fruits and vegetables and other food that comes out of the earth. of dishes prepared with love and care that come from a culture, a history, or someone’s creative mind. meat, sometimes, if it’s raised and killed thoughtfully and with respect for the animal, my health, and the environment. that’s just the starting point, and the whole idea owes credit to so many people and places. as i write, i’m realizing the depth of all these influences and that this post would be pages and pages long if i tried to discuss them all at once. so i’ll start with the influence that affects me on a day-to-day basis because of where i am and thus how i eat: travel.
i’m lucky enough to travel all over the country and a little bit internationally for my job. not only have i visited a number of different cities on the company credit card, but too many hours wedged into airplane seats and trapped in mindnumbing airport lounges have allowed me to book several overseas vacations with frequent flyer miles. i’ve observed the different meal patterns and perused the grocery options and experienced the various food cultures (or lack thereof) in dense urban coastal cities, wide open midwestern farmlands, and narrow cobblestoned european capitals. in the past month, i’ve hopped from italy to san francisco to dallas and back to san francisco and doing a little comparing and contrasting a la high school english class between those three cities illustrates a number of points about food and the way people eat.
we’ll start with what is currently my favorite place to eat in the entire world: italy. it’s amazing how many books i’ve read and people i’ve heard who hold up italy as the pinnacle of eating and food culture, but believe the hype. there’s a reason that slow food originated in italy and everyone talks about italian ingredients and it’s because EVERYTHING IS MORE DELICIOUS THERE. i’m not kidding. i’ll start with a few standouts, and they include: olive oil. hot chocolate. yogurt. eggs. artichokes. prosciutto. parmesan cheese. milk. pasta. tomatoes. gelato. oranges. mozzarella. pizza dough. even coca-cola, which is supposed to taste the same no matter what, is better in italy, and that’s because it’s made with cane sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup (not because it costs four euro). the only thing that wasn’t noticeably better in italy was the bread, because according to my friend in florence, tuscan bread is traditionally made without salt. (this means that tartine bread is still unrivaled as best in the world. why am i moving when i live literally upstairs from the best bread in the world???).
now the list above isn’t even talking about how good the restaurants are, or how well italians can cook. this is just talking about ingredients. yes, some of these ingredients came from a local butcher or alimentari or the jaw-droppingly amazing mercato centrale, but a whole bunch of them came straight from the supermarket, and they’re still better than anything you can buy in 99% of U.S. supermarkets. why is this? based on what i’ve seen and what i’ve read, it’s because of pride in production, enduring food traditions, more locally grown fruits and vegetables, and locally raised and butchered meats, specialization of food production roles, and LESS PROCESSED SHIT. my friend in rome says the milk goes bad in less than three days. containers are smaller, fridges are tiny, and everything has fewer or no preservatives. it’s all designed to be bought and immediately consumed, not to be manufactured in a factory in indianapolis, trucked across the country in four days, sit on the supermarket shelf for another four days, and then sit in your fridge for a week or your pantry for a year. there are shops selling meat and pasta and cheese and sauces and sundried tomatoes and marinated artichokes on every block, or two to a block, so you can buy from your favorite places on your way home from work every day instead of driving twenty miles to the superfuckingwalmart once a week.
i’ll get to how much i love the italian way of eating tomorrow, because it’s time to go to sleep. night green bean.