Friday, May 16, 2008

Italy or Bust

As I write this, the second blog of my career by the way, I am headed off to Italy to work. Now that I am into this blogging thing, which I resisted for so long, I sort of like the idea of having a place to share my thoughts with you and to pass on any cool and snazzy information about food and health that comes across my desk. (And yes, you may even find a recipe or two that I might be experimenting with…but you have to promise to let me know how it turned out for you when I do.)

My husband and I spend a lot of time in Italy as a part of what our work…we host healthy vacations…you get to see all the sights but my staff and I do all the cooking so you go home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

I love walking the local markets for the freshest ingredients and planning the menus for the group as I go. I am as surprised as they are some evenings…in a good way!

One of the things that strikes me…every single time I am there…is that Italian people are so connected to their food. (I am sure other cultures are, too, but Italy is where my experience lies.) And I don’t mean obsessed in that neurotic way that we are. I mean, connected to it as their source of life, family, community and sharing.

Here in America, we race through the market getting shopping done as quickly as possible. I have been guilty of it myself. In Italy, shopping for food is part of the sensuous experience of dining, to be savored almost as much as the meal itself. Haggling over the freshness of the greens and fruit is common; warm bread just from the oven is the first to sell out; serious-looking women direct the butcher’s hand to the freshest-looking piece of meat, cheese or fish in his case. It’s all part of dinner, so to speak.

I feel so strongly that if America is to truly find its way back to robust health and quality of life, we need to find our way back to the kitchen and gather at the table for meals. Dinner has to stop being a burden; the interruption of tv viewing or video game playing and become the time of day when we gather together and share nourishment and love. It needs to become the time of day when we connect and find our hearts in each other.

It sounds sappy and anyone out there who knows me knows that I am not. But I find myself tearing up when I am sitting under the grape arbor of our dear friends, Alessandro and Maritalia, with friends and family around us, laughing and talking over each other as we enjoy a feast of fresh ingredients brought together by the loving hand of the cook, designed to feed our bodies and our souls.

I wish for each and every one of you the experience of this kind of dining. It may not be fancy, but the food you create in your own kitchen and serve at your own table is the most delicious.

I’ll try to write from Italy, but with cooking and travel, who knows? I promise a full re-cap of the trip…maybe even some photos if I can figure out how to post them when I get back. Til then…as we say in Italy…ci vidiamo…See ya.’

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

All Things Considered

I was driving out to the suburbs to teach a cooking class the other night, listening to my favorite national public radio show, ‘All Things Considered.’ They were featuring a story about food prices being affected by inflation and how we have seen beef prices soar because of fuel costs, but now even chicken and pork prices are expected to increase, maybe even double. And while the beef price increase was no surprise, the chicken and pork increases were being seen as the harbinger of doom. At the end of her piece, the reporter stated, with some dismay, ‘American consumers will be forced to eat further down on the food chain.’

I smiled to myself thinking that inflation may be the worst thing for our fiscal health, but perhaps the best thing for our physical health.

It’s funny to me that ‘eating lower on the food chain’ is synonymous with being poor and unfortunate. As a society, we have come to associate affluence and abundance with all of the foods that are robbing us of health. I just finished, ‘The Blue Zone’ by National Geographic reporter, Dan Buettner and while the book is fascinating on many levels, here is the piece of information that really made my jaw drop. Since the time of ancient Rome, the human life span has increased. Sanitation, health care, better living conditions, enough food have all contributed to extending our lives. Until now. For the first time since ancient times, we are beginning to see the human life span decrease once again. And for the first time in human history, that shortened life span is linked to having too much food, as opposed to too little. Yikes!

For the last twenty-five years, I have lived a vegan/macrobiotic lifestyle and for the last twenty years, have worked as a macrobiotic cooking teacher. For the last ten years, I have hosted a vegan/macrobiotic cooking show on public television. In that time, I have seen an incredible a lot, most notably an increase in disease and degeneration, much linked to what we choose to eat. In the philosophy of macrobiotics, we take the little axiom: ‘You are what you eat’ pretty literally and hold the belief that you can create or destroy your health largely by the food choices you make.

The great irony in modern society is that the very food that can restore the health of humanity: whole grains, beans, seasonal, organic (and local if possible) vegetables and fruits are the foods considered to be ‘lower on the food chain.’ These foods, filled with life-sustaining nutrients and energy have taken a back seat to the processed ‘food-like substances’ (as Michael Pollan, author of ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ refers to modern convenience foods) which are destroying humanity.

If that sounds dramatic to you, consider this. Since the Industrial Age, modern man has moved away from nature and away from natural foods. In that same time period, humanity has seen an increase in degenerative disease that is unprecedented. We now have entire hospitals devoted to cancer in children; wings of clinics just for the treatment of diabetes; television commercials for pharmaceuticals to treat diseases we could never imagine. Obesity has become a national epidemic.

And if the statistics are correct…and I suspect that they are; then nearly two-thirds of the chronic diseases that plague our modern world can be prevented and even reversed by changing the food we choose.

A diet with its foundation based on whole grains, beans, bean products, lots and lots of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds and excellent quality oils will not only sustain us deliciously, but can change the course of the natural health disaster that we face as a nation. And only we, each and every human, have the power to make that change and enjoy robust health and vitality.

We walk for the cure, for lung and prostate health, for diabetes. Maybe we should all just eat a little ‘lower on the food chain’ and exercise for the fun of it.