Thursday, May 18, 2006

Food, Wine, Culture -Why all the fuss?

Recently I have been somewhat pungent with regards to US restaurants and food suppliers. I am confident that many have thought, “Who cares, these guys are just trying to make a buck?” My return to the US has been somewhat traumatic. The country I remember is no longer here. It is true, I was only 19 when I left and my perspective was different but there are some very visible changes.

Obesity has become a widespread problem, general health must have deteriorated significantly because everyone seems to be taking some kind of pill, and esthetic quality of kitchens has become more important than functionality. I understand how people can turn their head on the fact the lower 1/3 of our population has to work two jobs to pay the rent. I understand how we can be apathetic regarding political corruption. I even understand how one of our favorite past times can be talking about some television show but I cannot understand how we can not be concerned about the quality of food we eat.

We all have to eat, at least 1 time a day. If we do not we will die. At Thanksgiving last year I made a fresh pumpkin pie. That is, actually from a pumpkin and not canned pumpkin. My mother thought it was good but she could not understand why I would take the time, it is so convenient to just open a can!

Recently one of Raffaella’s colleagues asked her to try a new product from weight watchers. It was a small lemon sponge cake type desert saturated with some type of syrup. The company intended to begin carrying this product and wanted her opinion. That evening we split this mini cake.

The lemon flavor was evident and the syrup reminded me of an Italian Baba’ so while we would not purchase this it was not that bad. Five minutes later both of us were struck by the side effects of industrial production, sugar replacements and preservatives. An intense burning sensation, stomach rumbling and intense thirst! Raffaella’s coworker offered a suggestion, “Perhaps your stomachs have not been tempered enough.”

Frozen, freeze-dried, or other industry prepared foods are a business. The corporations that prepare them are always trying to decrease costs while maintaining sales. This process results in more and more synthetic elements most of which, over time, we have found are very bad for us. To compensate for the lack of flavor they add sugar or sugar supplements increasing the caloric content of the foods. Obviously this means that we eat, take on a lot of calories and, in the end, are not necessarily satisfied.

Industry will tell you that they have to do this otherwise people will not buy their foods. Using quality products would result in a cost that cannot be supported by the market. I think the Whole Foods and Central Market business models have disproved this. People will pay more for quality foods but our desire for corporate profits have eliminated local producers thus we no longer can get fresh fruit, except in rare occasions.

Try this experiment, buy two peaches, place one on the counter the other in the fridge. After three days the one on the counter will have gone bad without maturing. The one in the fridge will start showing signs of going bad but will not have matured either.

So, to the reason of my rants, in order to appease the consumer the producers are placing Italian names on their products. It is common knowledge that the Mediterranean diet is one of the most healthy diets in the world. Unfortunately, for us, the Mediterranean diet is based on fresh fruits and vegetables, something very difficult to find.

My message in all of this, tell our industry that we want wholesome foods, not just in name. Stop the false advertising, however innocent it may seem, our future health, and that of our children depends on it.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Stouffer's Macaroni & Beef.

3:41 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Caro Malcolm - I am, in no way, criticizing your taste in food. I do think that given your strong preference for Stouffers it would be a great thing if they actually used food and that it was not necessary for you to have a degree in chemistry to understand the label. Perhaps this would limit the number of medicines you will have to take as you get older.

5:35 PM

Blogger Asian Sweetheart said...

I lived in the U.S. for 10 years. People are so fat. I started to get used to it. But then when I moved back to Thailand I thought how nice it was that most people are so slim and pretty. But it is changing even here. It is all the western food. Many kids are getting fat now. I am sad.

6:04 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Asian Sweetheart - So many people struggle with weight here. I believe it is a consequence of the ingredients in industrial foods and the ever diminishing number of people who actually cook. Most people I know are trying to beat the weight issue but our current culture makes this a losing battle.

Thanks for stopping by.

6:18 AM

Blogger AY said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:32 AM

Blogger AY said...

Hear, hear!

But I think, without the demand, there'd be no supply at such grotesque volumes.

It goes back to education. The French and the Italians know better - they 'target' kids at kindergarten level and feed them real food. In Italian schools where lunches are provided, I understand that the law goes as far as to stipulate that ingredients must be organic.

If children are taught to appreciate wholesome food, they will unlikely go down the fast-food track.

But, I must also say that the obesity epidemic is not merely due to bad food, but esp. due to excess eating, in general. The irony being, when you eat bad food (with little nutritional value), you're invariably hungry again after a very short while - and will need to replenish!

8:34 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

when i return to texas, people often exclaim, "you eat pasta EVERY DAY?! how do you not weigh 300 pounds!?" the habits here are so different. it is a RARE moment that i eat processed food, but even the convenience foods like roasted jarred peppers contain only peppers and water. even in austin, i rarely consumed something that i didn't cook from fresh ingredients myself--though, it is more difficult and more expensive if you want quality.

i agree with you, and that picture of the obese kids makes me very sad.

but like you said, skinny is out, right? ;)

10:52 AM

Blogger Kevin Leary said...

Fast-food is similar to everything else in life. In moderation, it will not turn you into a pudgy dough-boy (or girl). Furthermore, a large part of the obesity epidemic is American's lack of exercise. We are all slaves to the automobile, and the spare tire which adorns the trunk of our automobiles soon finds it's way around our waists. I was frankly blown away by how much weight I lost (and I'm not anywhere near obese) when I gave up driving to campus and simply walked where I was going. Great points in this post and in several of the comments as well.

11:33 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Tracie b. - my hope is that with the attention to healthy foods the farmer's markets will return.

My brother would come and visit us in Italy and by his admission "eat like a pig" and loose 10 lbs. in 3 weeks. He was amazed!

Many have taken this post to mean that I am criticizing Americans in realty I am saying that it is very difficult for the normal joe, or jean, to stay in shape without spending numerous hours a day in the gym.

I found the picture of the kids about 10 days ago and it really bothered me thus the rant. Hopefully someone will have understood my message.

11:35 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Kush - I agree that lack of exercise is an important piece of the puzzle. I too walk a great deal and that helps me eat what I would like and not become the Hindenburg!

Thanks for stopping by, I always appreciate the comments.

2:39 PM

Blogger ChickyBabe said...


Nothing beats a Mediterranean diet using the freshest ingredients. Lifestyle also comes into it, with the European way of maintaining a life-work balance.

9:41 PM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

david, you're right. rightrightright. there are some of us americans who really care about quality, but the truth is, even if many don't want to hear it, the average american is out of control and has lost touch with what is real on the table.

the truth hurts...

12:46 AM

Blogger a.c.t. said...

That photo of the overweight is appalling - what I'd like to is where are his parents and why are they letting him eat this crap despite his obvious health problems?

The link for the Vespa didn't work Travel, can you try again?

6:43 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Tracie b. - My intent was to get people to think a bit about what is a real problem. I think you are right that we are out of control. Unfortunately I think we already know that and do not care (most of the "Mommy bloggers" were really offended!)

ACT - The photo is not an exception, it is now the rule. A recent study of grade schoolers shows that 43% are obese! This will have serious consequences for these kids throughout there lives, and for what? So we can make corps richer? Or Dad and Mom can "expand their horizons?"

7:14 AM

Blogger a.c.t. said...

It's disgraceful - they are practically murdering their children or leading them to an early grave.

3:12 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

ACT - Most families have little choice and it is not intentional. An example, insulation greatly increased the quality of life and reduced the cost to heat and cool homes resulting in healthier people. Later we found that asbestos causes cancer and is extremely dangerous. Does this mean that everyone who insulated their homes intentially placed their families at risk?

Our culture is constantly changing, in order to survive we are facing new challenges every day. Various cultures have different lessons they have learned. My hopes are that someone will think about where we are and perhaps find some value in the things I write.

4:05 PM

Blogger a.c.t. said...

Is it really that difficult to buy fresh fruit and veg in the US?

I'm sorry to say this but there really is no excuse, whatever the circumstances, for a parent to let their child (who is as obese as that one in the photo) eat
Macdonald's when it is obviously a health risk. When you have children you should do your very best to bring them up to be as happy and as healthy as possible.

12:33 PM

Blogger AY said...

a.c.t. - agreed! i wasn't even allowed to eat McDonald's until I was in my teens (soon after, we turned vegetarian). granted, my parents were super-strict. but i can't say i missed much.

10:40 PM


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