Rewind to my first semester of college when I took college writing. Our third paper was to choose an organization and debrief it in a paper. The twist to it, was that it had to be about food.
I chose Slow Food USA.
Their roots can be traced back to the Spanish Steps as they were protesting an intended site of a McDonald’s. The easiest way for me to explain their mission is to say they are the complete opposite of fast food.
Slow Food values food culture that isn’t just about eating that merges with convenience. It delves deep into the importance of food culture. Something that, admittedly, as an American, I lack.
Never would I have guessed that first semester of college, that I would be studying within walking distance of the Spanish Steps. Heck! When I first heard the name a few weeks ago, I thought it was in Spain.
In Florence, this past weekend I had a chance to hang with my good friend Anthony. He’s been there since January and is doing an internship at a wine company.
He’s Italian American and this was his first time in Italy. It was amazing to see his completely different take on the food culture. He describes his experiences with cuisine-culture shock when he went to Alabama and now when he’s been in Florence.
“In California, we have very diverse food cultures with tons of food, especially in LA… Asian foods, Mexican Foods, American foods, Italian foods, you know all these different backgrounds of foods. In Alabama, you have more of a Southern comfort type food… a lot of very unhealthy food. Here in Italy, you have healthier Italian foods than you find in the states… and the biggest difference would be the food culture.”
If you had asked me the most notable differences I saw in Italy’s culture, I would note all the social ones. But, Anthony? He caught the nuances of the food cultures as a chef would to misplaced spices.
I saw his intrinsically “Italian” roots come out as he rightfully, and passionately discussed the food culture in Italy.
“I love traditional Italian food made the right way. Made in the right way in regards to origin. Italian food a thousand years ago, was regarded as poor people’s food. Italian food in general is pretty young.”
One would think how can Italian cuisine be superior if it’s the same essential ingredients used over and over again? Pasta, bread, prosciutto, or pork, and cheese are prevalent in so many different dishes.
It’s a matter of quality over quantity.
Trusting a chef that has meticulously created a dish over and over again, is a lot easier than trusting a chef that has variety of different ingredients and dishes blended together (something very common in California).
When something is revered as highly as food is in Italian culture, it is no wonder why their cuisine is so elite.
“When you go up to Florence, you have the Bistecca Florentina. That’s because you know, there’s a lot of cattle grazing in this area. When you go up to Piedmont, or northern Italy… rice wasn’t native to Italy, but it was grown along this river that was crossed into Northern Italy. That’s why you have risottos in northern Italy, in Southern Italy you have tomato dishes… Limoncello is originated in Naples. That’s where the dishes come from, they’re rooted in what kind of produce they grew there.”
Italian dishes are like distinct family heirlooms. They can be traced to each specific region. Like family heirlooms, they’re almost one of a kind.
And let me tell you, the steak in Florence is just as Michelangelo’s David, a masterpiece that makes even more sense in person.
This is not to say that each regional dish is the best version of each one, because that is completely up to the taste buds of the critic.
But, the amount of heritage and culture that each family has invested to the harvesting, preparing, cooking, and most importantly, enjoying, is unparalleled throughout the world.
It isn’t so much about the seasonal broccoli that’s put into a dish but the fact that there’s an established relationship with different families involved.
As an Italian, you know that your produce is going to be fresh.
With that knowledge and almost guarantee that the dish is going to be superior in quality from the start, it is no wonder Italians take food very seriously. All my Italian meals I’ve had last at least an hour and a half, compared to my 20 minute dinners in America, this is extensive.
It is no wonder than even growing up thousands of miles away, in a country that dilutes cultural traditions to blend the melting pot even finer, Anthony’s Italian culture permeates through his love for food.
A foodie at heart, but not by the traditional, professional Instagram photographer standard I know back in California. But, by appreciating and savoring food in its most germane forms; Anthony gives me insight on his Slow Food movement inspired perspective.
“If you’re going out to eat to drink wine… do your research. Don’t go to somewhere that’s just there to be a business. Go to somewhere that has someone that’s passionate about the food they’re giving to you… it’s not because of money. The person selling you the food, should be proud to sell you the food. You end up with a lot more quality food and a lot more interesting people making your food.”
It’s more than just about making sure you’re full. It’s about what you’re eating and who was involved in the process. If you learn to just be aware of these things in the future places you eat, you’ll begin to grow a reverence and appreciation for the food around you.
Just a friendly reminder that sometimes faster isn’t better, slower food is more enjoyable for those who get to prepare it, you, and your love ones around the dinner table as well.
Buon appetito ragazzi!