Food theories: I ask “What about the Italians?”

Since I’m posting about cooking here I thought I’d occasionally mention some of my general thoughts about food and diets.  I’m old enough to have been through the phase when pasta was fattening, followed by the phase when pasta was the diet food of choice, followed by pasta being possibly the devil’s food and when eggs were good for you and then bad for you and then back to good for you.  So I consider the opinions of scientists and doctors to be pretty malleable.  I never imagine that the latest pronouncement will be the last word.

I don’t believe in any one size fits all theory of food.  I presented my four basic rules in a long ago post on the other blog.  And I’ve also discussed my feeling that what you believe about your food is probably more important than the food itself.  I’m going to add another one to those as I’ve been using this for years now.  Whenever someone starts touting a particular diet, from food combining to raw foods to no/low carbs to …. I ask myself “What about the Italians?”

Now you can substitute a wide variety of other cultures–and I often run everyday French cuisine through my mind as well–but the point is, if a theory about food or a diet is universally true then my thinking is that there should be no culture of healthy, slender, long-lived people that violates that rule.  And so far every dietary theory I’ve encountered is violated by those slender, healthy Italians on a regular basis.  Same for the French.  And I’m speaking of those cuisines in general, over time.  I don’t doubt there are individual examples of ailments that stem from something in their diet.

Carbs are unhealthy?  They have a whole course just devoted to pasta.  And bread on the table with everything.  Raw foods only?  Other than salads, the only vegetables I encountered in my various travels were cooked — and sometimes on pasta…  Never combine meat with wheat?  Pasta with meat sauce, steak with bread…  Or beef bourguignon over croutons (to be a little French…)   No sugar?  I give you tiramisu or tartufo.  Well, you’ve got the idea.

I’m not sure what the Italians do about portions in eating but I know the French keep those slender figures in spite of eating EVERYTHING because they limit portions to very small amounts.  Their total calorie intake, even with eating everything, is not that high because they don’t eat super-size portions.

The big thing I see in common between Italians and French (besides lots of wheat and dairy products and combining all kinds of stuff) that differs from Americans is in the attitude toward food.  Americans have the most tortured relationship with food that I’ve ever encountered.  I’m not sufficiently familiar with every food culture to know whether we’re the only culture with that tortured thing about food but I’m willing to bet we’re in the upper three.

In France and Italy, on the other hand, food is celebrated.  Great long meals with friends and family are important occasions and they enjoy it all.  Besides portion control, my feeling is that their attitude that food is wonderful and a happy part of many great moments in life is the greatest factor in their ability to eat cuisines that don’t follow all these dietary rules.  They enjoy their meals without having to divide the menu into evil and good and stuff that violates this or that diet.  They believe it’s good for them and so it is.

Hmm…  now I’m wishing I could have some calamari in Ischiaporte or wild boar at Catene in Orgia or chocolate gelato anywhere over there or ribollita in Siena….  Gotta go.  Hungry.  And I happen to have made some ribollita…ish.

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4 thoughts on “Food theories: I ask “What about the Italians?”

  1. Pingback: Raw food, greens and things | Scribblings from the Bluegrass

  2. Pingback: The Italian Food Diet 101 | Gracie's Ravioli

  3. Great post. I’m Italian living on a French island and you are 100% correct on the way we view food. Very little processed or fast food ever in our diets. thats the trick! I also question whats up w/north americans & food? It’s all those diets that are actually doing more harm. 😉

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    • Yes, I’m fascinated by the question — since everyone here came from somewhere else (except Native Americans) how did all those great attitudes toward food morph into this tortured thing? Occurs to me I don’t know a lot about English attitudes toward food — just that I don’t care for their cuisine. And they’ve had a mighty big influence here!

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