I like to think I’m a healthy balance of both ethnicities: My passion and temper are all Sicilian (much to my Papà’s pride). And my love of Kath & Kim, Vegemite on toast, and walking barefoot up the street make me a product of this beautiful sunburnt country. Not to mention the fact that I can recite the entire opening song to Round the Twist.
When I’ve visited Italy, Sicily in particular, there is a part of me that feels like I’m home. My soul feels connected to the land and culture, like someone who meets a long-lost sibling later in life but feels that instant connection. I love spending time there but imagine I could never live in Italy. Everyone moves soooooo slowly! Walking along the beach with the family after a big bowl of pasta is like the march of a 100yr old tortoise. When my cousins came to visit Australia, I took them to Taronga Zoo and kept them to a rather tight schedule to ensure that we saw as many animals as possible. They nick-named me The Sargent! In my defence, they spent 20 minutes watching a bear sleep. Um hello? The Bird Show was starting at 1!
There is one part of the Italian lifestyle that I really wish I could live by and that’s their relationship with food.
I feel like Italians treat food like the truest love of their life, while so many of us treat food like the cheap mistress we just slept with and are pushing out the side door before our wives come home and catch us.
I spent the majority of my life as a dancer and a singer so the word ‘diet’ was ingrained into me from a very young age. I remember being on diets and having nightmares that I would demolish an entire tray of cakes and wake up sweating, before feeling so relieved that it was just a dream I didn’t break my diet.
I lead a very health conscious life. I eat a large amount of vegetables and organic food, I limit my intake of sugar and processed foods, I don’t smoke, I only drink at special occasions and I exercise daily. But I’m the first to admit that I have an addictive personality and if someone in the office announces cake in the kitchen, I no longer a hear a word people say for the rest of the day, all I hear in my head is CAKE, CAKE, CAKE! Until I either give in and shove three pieces into my mouth then spend the rest of the afternoon berating myself or I distract myself by eating a hard-boiled egg.
(actual footage of my lack of restraint)
The older I get though, the more I count emotional and mental health as just as important as physical health, if not more so. It’s kind of a package deal, as one affects the other. I’ve become more flexible with what I eat in an effort to increase my enjoyment. When I go out with friends, I indulge a little more and try not to think how it will affect my appearance.
I remember reading an article once, where nursing home staff were interviewed about what people said on their death beds. The top ten included such sentiments as “I wish I spent more time with my family”, “I wish I stopped and smelled the roses more”. No one ever said “I wish I worked harder”, “I wish I didn’t eat that extra piece of birthday cake”.
How many of you eat breakfast standing up at the kitchen counter, or shove lunch into your mouth at your desk in between calls?
Italians do not.
They sit down and make a ritual out of a meal. Everything is laid out on the table like a feast, with the freshest, aromatic produce such as sliced tomatoes and bocconcini, covered in olive oil and basil, with crusty bread to soak up the juices. You would usually not eat alone either. You would have your family sitting around (enough people to fill a small village) and you would sit together and eat slowly, talking to one another, without the distraction of phones or television.
( The Sopranos had a few good meals together before killing each other off)
Remember the scene in Goodfellas when a few of the men were in prison and they had their wives smuggle in salami? They cut garlic finely with a razor blade and made a rich, tomato, pasta sauce and they all sat together and had a feast…in their prison cell. Ain’t nothin’ gonna keep an Italian away from a good meal.
I remember in my childhood, my mum laughing at my Papà because we’d be eating lunch and he’d already be planning dinner. I used to come home on a Sunday afternoon and the smell of garlic simmering in olive oil would be wafting down the street. My Papà would be in the kitchen sipping on red wine and singing Italian Opera music as he cooked. It was, and still is, his true enjoyment.
Another fabulous comparison of Italians v Westerners is from the character Luca Spaghetti in the movie adaption of Elizabeth Gilbert’s biographical novel: Eat, Pray, Love. Luca tells Liz (played by the beautiful Julia Roberts) as she whines about her guilt of eating carbs;
“You feel guilty because you’re American. You don’t know how to enjoy yourself! It’s true. Americans know entertainment, but don’t know pleasure. You work too hard. You get burned out. Then you come home and spend the whole weekend… in your pajamas in front of the TV. But you don’t know pleasure. You have to be told you’ve earned it. You see a commercial that says, ‘It’s Miller time’… and you say, ‘That’s right. Now I will go to buy a six-pack’. And drink the whole thing and wake up the next morning and you feel terrible. But an Italian doesn’t need to be told. He walks by a sign that says, ‘You deserve a break today’… and he says, ‘Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon… to go over to your house and sleep with your wife’.”
Perhaps this is why there is not a binge drinking culture in Italy. They don’t binge on anything. They enjoy everything, slowly.
It’s my aim to have a better relationship with food. After all, we are lucky to have healthy, nutritious meals at our fingertips daily when so many of our global brothers and sisters are quite literally starving.
I’ve started saying a prayer of gratitude before each meal. Though it doesn’t have to be to God if you’re not a person of faith. Louise Hay (author and Wonder Woman) used to bless each and every meal she ate. She would thank her food for giving up its life to nourish her.
My wish for you this long, Easter weekend is that you savour every morsel of food that you ingest. That you spend time with your loved ones and really listen to everything they have to say.
May you treat your food with the same regard that you’d treat Ryan Gosling lying on Japanese silk.