How Italy Changed My Perspective on Food

photo by Brie Sandridge

photo by Brie Sandridge

By: Brie Sandridge

This summer, my eyes were opened to a multitude of things when I had the great privilege of studying abroad in Italy. Now, I could list everything I learned and every aspect of Italian life and culture that influenced me – but I am here today to talk about one very, very influential topic: food.

You always hear about how great Italian food is: the fresh pasta, the oven-fired pizzas, decadent olive oil, coffee, and, of course, gelato! I did not know how truly wonderful their cuisine was until I got to experience it myself for seven straight weeks this summer.

What you might not know, though, is the culture behind the food in Italy. No matter what city I was in or what meal it was, eating was a special event to be taken seriously. These people take pride in their food and all the ingredients that go into it.

I noticed that Italy is not full of chain restaurants and fast food joints like it is here in the United States. Families own local businesses, and you can truly taste the authenticity behind every dish. The parents and sometimes even grandparents work in the kitchen on their passed-down family-tradition recipes, while the kids wait on tables. Dinner can take up to three hours sometimes because it is considered rude to rush the customer whatsoever. You have to practically beg the waiter or waitress for the bill sometimes.

At first, I found this irritating. I found myself itching to get my order taken, to have my food brought to me, and to get the check. After a few days, however, I discovered how truly magical their culture is. They treat food differently than we do in America. Yes, they idolize food, but it’s in a completely different fashion. They idolize food for quality and for the experience that it brings.

In the U.S., we idolize food in an unhealthy way. We eat as much as we can, and it’s usually not high quality nourishment. Food culture here in America is defined by “the bigger, the better,” and getting through meals as quickly as possible so that we can move on to our next task. I would always, ALWAYS get weird looks from people on the streets if I dared to take something to go. In Italy, you do not even order your coffee to go. You go in early enough to sit and really enjoy it. If I ever was cutting it close to making it to class on time, I would cringe at the thought of carrying my breakfast sandwich and my coffee to-go cup through the streets. I might as well have been wearing a red white and blue shirt and had the label “I’m American” tattooed on my forehead.

I learned a lot about life and a lot about myself in this food culture shock. I think Italy redefined how I looked at food a bit. I have always been into healthy eating, but I have always struggled with overeating just as many Americans do. It’s become part of our culture to ”socially eat” or turn to “stress eating”, especially in college. I think we all forget one simple thing sometimes: food is energy for our bodies. It allows us to do all the things we do on a daily basis. We should give our bodies the top-notch energy it deserves. We should pay attention to what we are putting into our bodies, how fast we are eating it, and we should enjoy all our food in moderation.

I ended up losing weight in Italy without even trying. There was no calorie counting involved, and no super-intense workout regimen. (Although, I found myself walking a heck of a lot more some days). I never ever thought that would happen because of all the carbs, wine, and gelato that would be added into my daily diet. This happened because of my mindset with food. Of course, life is not about having the perfect body or perfect weight, but having a healthy mindset. Through a healthy relationship with food, one can better become a well-rounded individual. I now look at food for what it really is – sustenance for my body – instead of what our American society advertises it to be – something to be consumed in mass quantities without knowledge of its origins. I want to challenge you, reader, to do the same.

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