I don’t need to talk about how great the food is in Italy, nor do I want to, I’d consider it an accepted truth and skip it for here. Most purveyors of Italian culture and cuisine find it all deliciously appeasing to their foreign tongues as I have too, and I’m also fairly certain that we know the basic components of Italian meals are what make them so good: the company of family, friends, and neighbors, and more than just one kind of wine but a symphony of complimentary spirits which range from an evening aperitif to a dessert wine as potent as a bottle of whiskey. Having already experienced this lifestyle (I spent six weeks in the south of France two years ago one summer) I thought I had got it down pat: indulge, laugh a lot, and drink with the aim of rosy-ing your cheeks and making glossy your eyes. Then, keep doing this until, well, forever. As I dined all over Italy in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Tuscany my past self told my present self “you know the drill”. Naturally I followed these directions without a problem and really didn’t think about my food consumption until the very last night.
During the daytime my family and I must have walked ten or more miles everyday and our backs and feet had become “maimed”, as my parents put it, by the unforgiving surface of the cobblestone streets. So the miles we walked far outweighed our caloric intake, a term that feels utterly out of place in reference to Italian food. We also weren’t eating anything that remotely resembled “three square-meals”-an Americanism I suppose-it was more like cappuccino and croissant for breakfast, maybe pizza or sandwiches for a 4pm ‘snack’ and then a delicious two-three course dinner that happened sporadically between 8 and 9pm. Yes, gelato filled the gaps, but it as nothing serious, just a midday fling, a brief and fleeting love affair that was always there to pick us back up. Our dinner was our one true love. Logically I knew this way of eating shot the food pyramid to hell, but no one cared, besides, it’s much more exciting than the puritanical well-balanced meal. Towards the end of my seven-day stay I began to think more about food back in The States. Yes, there would be preservatives, frozen foods, packaged and pre-made items galore. I used them everyday because New Jersey isn’t known for the way its people pristinely live off the land. Disappointment and fear washed over me at the thought of having to choose an exercise regimen to stay healthy, “but then I’ll be hungrier during the day and I probably won’t be as busy at home, and I’ll go back to worrying about my weight”, I thought. I reached down and felt my stomach.
About three years ago I fully recovered from an eating disorder-one that I had for a very long time. For many of us with this history we all can soundly agree the invasive and menacing thoughts die long after the behavior does, if ever. I really couldn’t believe the thoughts had returned as quickly as they did when I had felt so carefree minutes ago. Misjudgment, guided by fear crowded my thoughts as I wallowed in a dreadful state of anticipation. Wait. I glanced around at the beautiful Italian women whom I admired. I didn’t see any of them clutching their bellies or pushing their plates away from them as they reclined in their seats making a “phew” sound, as is common table behavior for many American women. All I saw was groups of them in twos, threes, and fours leaning in towards their dishes smiling, talking and laughing with wine in their hand fearlessly bridging the gap between them and their food rather than trying to create one. They looked relaxed, content, and generally pleased.
The ladies here are fiercely confident and proud of their womanhood, and whether they mean to be or not it’s very obvious. They show that in their manner of dress, attitude and personality that they are most definitely and unapologetically alive. It’s evident in every slight detail about them from their wide, confident stance, to their flailing gestures, and loud, expressive speech. Perhaps, this too is also practiced in their eating habits. They eat deliberately for nourishment and enjoyment, period. And they do it everyday. They taste life and we taste guilt, anger, self-hatred, and shame. Then it made sense. What else is food but a sustainer of life? Why not grab hold of the scrumptious, sensual, seductive flavors that we are so fortunately allowed to embrace, taste, and create each day? I know that, years ago, as a tall, insecure, big-footed teenager my restriction of food made me feel like I could make myself smaller; and my binging and purging was a way of denying my tortured body emotional pleasures…by denying myself life.
I beg of you, those who can understand or relate to what I’m saying to simply try. Taste life instead of hiding from it. Touch it and feel it and most of all savor it because it is so wonderfully vibrant and exciting-full of love and healing. Give yourself the chance to be unapologetically alive.