Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Italian Table & The Venus Flytrap

I grew up in a home where most of the meals were made from scratch. We didn’t eat a lot of frozen anything, except for ice cream. And we didn’t live in a time when processed foods were as prevalent as they are now. So, when I went to Italy for the first time, it wasn’t the revelatory experience it might have been for the average American. Most of the foods were pretty familiar, with a few regional exceptions. None the less, when I went to Italy, and I went a lot, I always looked forward to dining at the Italian table.

And at those tables, whether they were commercial enterprises like a restaurant or a trattoria, or a farm side or village meal, made by the local people who were involved with the farm or lived in the villages, it always seemed to be an uplifting experience, compared to what I was experiencing back in the US when working in the wine trade. Mind you, I had to eat at a lot of Italian restaurants in America for business. But they rarely achieved the heights of enjoying a meal in Italy.

You see, dining in Italy had seduced me into thinking that I was eating the best, the freshest, the healthiest food I could ever, would ever, put in my mouth. And it was so delicious! For years, I’d anticipate and salivate over going back to Italy, not just for the wine, but the food.

And what kind of food? The bread. The cheese. The pasta. The vegetables. The seafood. The desserts. The pizza. The salumi. The Prosciutto. The everything.

Now, I’m finding out some of those foods are not too friendly to my insides. Not allergic. Just not right, all the time. Things like bread and cheese and pasta and pork and sweets, to name a few. Which makes it terrifically difficult, seeing as I love all of those things.

But they don’t love me.

Add to that all the wine, which now we are finding that too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing.

But still, for years, I dreamt and planned and waited and anticipated about going to Italy. To eat like one could not eat anywhere else in the world. Imagine Sicily, or Abruzzo. Or Trentino. Or the Langhe. And then, Emilia-Romagna. My God, what have I done? I’m going into shock just thinking about it.

So, how did this happen? Did I develop an eating disorder? Did Italy over-influence me, override my innate sensibilities with its delicious, scrumptious, mouth-watering delicacies? Yes. Yes. And yes.

One of my Italian dining mates said it best. “Alfonso, the Italian table is like a Venus Fly trap. It seduces you. It beckons you. It draws you nearer and nearer. And when you are comfortably seated, it goes about turning the tables. And it traps you. And then, it starts eating you.”

Like a frog in a pot of cold water, the temperature rose slowly, until it was too late.

Well, almost.

At least, in my case.

What happened to me was a number of things. First and foremost, Covid restricting travel. I haven’t been to Italy in three years. And that’s not a complaint. Just a fact. I’m an introvert, so travel isn’t a lifestyle necessity. Health, peace, normalcy and consistency are higher on my priority list. I miss Italy. But I’m not dying to go to Italy.

I reckon I gained a half pound for every trip I made to Italy in the last 35 years. So that would roughly be about 30 pounds. It’s not that the food wasn’t healthy or wonderful or delicious. In fact, that might have been one of the reasons I gained the weight I did. Because it was healthy and wonderful and delicious. But just the wrong sized portions.

How many lunches and dinners that lasted for hours and hours, course after course, wine after wine, sitting, resting, rusting? Again, not complaining. But not a healthy regimen, year after year. I’m just saying.

We romanticize it, people want to be in that position, to be able to travel and eat and drink, and be schlepped around and looked after. I get it. People want to feel wanted. They want to feel love. And food (and drink) fills a void in many of us.

But portion control.

I know, we all think we’ll never know when we’ll see our next meal. It was like that for hundreds of thousands of years. A hard habit to break. And when you see a wonderful spread, laid out so artfully, it’s hard to resist. You want to jump in head first. I’ve been there. I jumped as often and as deep as I could, whenever I could.

But now I wonder, next time, what will I do? Will I succumb to my old habits? Or will I be a little less like a fly and try and resist the Venus fly trap? I know I want to. I know I’ll try. I know it took me years to take off those 30 pounds from those 60 trips, and I know what a challenge and sacrifice it has been. A privileged one, for sure. But, nonetheless…

But the bread. The cheese. The pasta. The vegetables. The seafood. The desserts. The pizza. The salumi. The Prosciutto. The everything.

It will be interesting to see if I’m a fly, or a frog. Or simply a person who has lived long enough to test and know his limits, when one is thrown into an alimentary garden of Eden. We’ll find out someday. What about you?


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