Me in the vineyard
I recently had the privilege of taking a trip to Italy to be a guest speaker for a group of Wake Forest University students studying abroad in Venice, Italy. It was my first time to Italy and only my second time abroad (my first was 22 years ago when I studied abroad in college). This was an once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was so amazing! I came back saying that it was life changing and it was because I was reminded of how big this world is and how we usually only see one small part of it. To be able to just sit, observe, and take in another culture opened up my mind in ways that it hasn’t been in quite some time. Italy is a country rich in long history and be amongst the old buildings, beautiful churches, and breath-taking landscape is something that I hope that I can remember forever. Since I was there partly on a business trip, I did still have my dietitian hat on and so my observations about the culture tended to focus on food. I wanted to share some of things that I noticed about the Italian food culture:
· Yes, they eat more pasta than the American diet. However, one thing that I noticed is that the portions of the pasta were considerably smaller (probably 1/3) than the American portions. The restaurants did not offer “never ending pasta bowls” or meals that included multiple pasta dishes as one single meal.
My portion of lasagna. Notice that there is white space on the plate and the portion is appropriate.
Khloe Katula (9 years old) was our guest at one of our dinners out. There was no kids menu so this is the regular portion of pasta and again you can see how the pasta is not filling up the plate.
· Bread was offered at the table but it was an extra cost. I thought that this was interesting but it definitely made you more mindful before grabbing the basket of bread. It made me stop and think, “do I really want that piece of bread” before I reached for the basket. And yes, I did eat the bread at some of the meals but I was able to eat pasta meals without the bread and be completely satisfied too.
· When dining out, the focus is on the meal being a more relaxed, leisured experience. The wait staff was not constantly tending to your table making you feel rushed or hurried. They want you to sit, relax, and enjoy the food in a mindful manner. Funny story-there was one particular restaurant that we dined in that informed us on the menu that for our dining pleasure, they would be playing music and we would be charged one Euro for the music.
· Rarely did I see people walking and eating, with the exception of gelato. This goes along with my theory that Italians sit down and enjoy their food while doing nothing else.
The gelato was amazing!
· Foods tend to be served solo and not as a meal with sides or extras. For example, I went to a restaurant to eat lunch in Florence. I ordered a ham and brie sandwich and the sandwich did not come with a side of chips or fruit. I ordered fruit anyway and the waiter did not serve the fruit with the sandwich. When I asked about my fruit, the waiter informed me that they were bringing it to me as my dessert. You can see from the picture, that the fruit was presented beautifully and it included all fresh fruit.
My side of fruit that was served as a dessert
· For my whole trip, I only saw 2 McDonald’s so there were significantly less fast food establishments in Italy.
· There were not convenience stores as we know them in America. I saw small stores that carried fresh fruits and vegetables on the streets so there was less availability of packaged crackers, cookies, and other high-fat, high-sugar, high-sodium foods.
Italy’s version of the convenience store. Notice the fresh food and lack of processed, packaged foods.
· All the hotels that I stayed in offered a continental breakfast but it was very different from the traditional American breakfast. There were fewer choices at breakfast including the number of foods available and within the food groups. For example, there was yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, pastries, and salami at breakfast and only hard-boiled eggs (not scrambled and hard boiled) with one type of yogurt with only 2 flavor choices. Large varieties of high-sugar packaged cereals, pancakes, waffles were absent.
· I went into a local grocery store when in Venice. I first noticed how fresh their produce appeared. Of course, they had a good variety of fresh tomatoes. The eggs were in the produce department and not in the refrigerated section. Apparently, in Italy there is a difference in the way the eggs are processed and treatment for salmonella that allows them to be kept at room temperature. Their cereal section was about ¼ of the section that is in our local grocery stores. Not only were there less cereal choices available, but most of the sizes of the boxes were like the smaller cereal boxes in American. I did not see the large “family size” or “value size” boxes of cereal that you find among all the choices of high-sugar cereals in America. Their pasta section is about the size of the cereal section in our stores and includes different shape pastas that we don’t typically see in America. Lastly, the potato chip section at the store was very small and had limited varieties of chips and flavors.
Produce department at the local grocery store in Italy
Cereal section at the grocery store. Notice how there are only 2 varieties of Special K cereal!
The pasta section of the grocery store!
The trip to Italy allowed me to see some beautiful sites but also allowed me the opportunity to experience another food culture. I loved how fresh the foods were, how appropriate the portions are, and how the Italian culture wants you to enjoy and experience your food in a non-rushed manner. Oh, and I enjoyed the wine too of course! Since there are no cars in Venice, I walked everywhere so I enjoyed the daily physical activity that wasn’t in the gym. One day, I racked up 27,000 steps and climbed 63 flights going over all the bridges in the city. I will be forever grateful to Dr Jeff Katula for inviting me to speak to his class, Marcie Moore for being our student travel guide, and my friend and travel mate Mollie Moore for this trip! The next question is-where is the next trip?
My Caprese salad was so fresh and delicious!
My first pizza in Italy. It was as good as I anticipated it to be
Our first course of bruschetta
We had to do a gondola ride! Here are my friends Mollie and Marcie Moore.
Produce boat that comes to Venice twice a week