02 February 2011, Podere Conti, Lunigiana, Italia
In Italy, food is the nucleus of all things good. In fact, I can’t cite a situation in the world where food isn’t, than a land of famine, or maybe a clinical rehab for eating disorders. Even there, however, the focus is food and how to maintain the integrity of its purpose, rather than to continue an abuse pattern inflicted on one’s self. Yes, food glorious food is a double-edged sword, both precious sustenance and addictive evil, depending on the relationship. But isn’t that true of all good things? How does it go so terribly awry? I believe the relationship is formed in youth.
I am sitting in the main house, happy baby wiggling his arms and legs about, and a young Tibo home from school with a fever. I myself am not quite well today, perhaps the chill of the wind having gotten into my bones, or maybe a body cleanse carrying out yesterday’s toxin in today’s new dawn, depending on school of thought. In any case, I am feeling rotten from head to toe, and the early signs of Spring are taunting me from outside the window. What to eat this morning is a challenge, since nothing seems appetizing whatsoever, even after staring into a full refrigerator of delicious quality foods. I just closed the refrigerator door for the fourth time and noticed one of the many schedules attached, clip magnets working overtime for a seven-person household. On closer examination, I have discovered the lunch menu for the children’s school, and took it down for a thorough gander at what Tibo is missing today.
Herb ravioli in Tuscan oil, chicken breast with lemon, grated carrots and fresh seasonal fruits. That is today’s menu at the school in Filattiera, Italy. Determined to unearth something dreadfully unhealthy, I investigated further into yesterday’s, only to discover it was Minestrone with barley, local cheese from the Lunigiana region, seasonal vegetables, and yogurt with fresh fruit for dessert. Public school. And if Tibo will be well enough for school tomorrow, he will be having an herb torte, turkey scaloppini, and fresh fruits. In my recollection, canned peas of a brownish hue were a staple on our sectioned trays in grade school, and “sloppy joes” were a food group of their own, canned “Manwich” sauce in great abundance in public schools, even in privileged areas. Red fruit punch stained our lips nearly daily, a single fruit inside impossible to identify beneath the heaping cup of added sugar per ounce of water. And of course there was the syrup-soaked cling peaches, reeking of metal from a lifetime of canned imprisonment. How long had it been since the peach had seen the light of day? And that was thirty-two years ago, when Nixon’s agricultural legacy had only just begun to wage war on the American population, trust in government’s involvement in nutrition sealed in earlier incarnations of 1992’s Food Pyramid.
It was just this morning that I decided to surf the American news, to dip a toe into the [sic] “real world.” I have vowed to read U.S. news only once in a great while, and I believe three weeks is ample time for a check-in. The fist article I found, outside of reports on the Egypt crisis of which we are well abreast here, was that the FDA had rejected yet another drug to combat obesity. Really? Could it be a coincidence that the FDA and its appointed political affiliates are the ones who created obesity to begin with? Is there no money in a healthy America? It was particularly interesting to read related news, defenders of fast-food super-sizing and readers speaking out about removing people’s rights by reversing the epidemic of obesity through regulation of fast food chains. One woman claimed that she “likes to eat super-sized meals,” and that if they removed them from fast food menus, she would “eat three or four regular meals instead,” and that it was her “human right to eat as much as [she] wanted to eat.” Well, in theory, it is a basic human right to make one’s own choices. But clearly it isn’t working, for so many people are destroying themselves and the very narrow world around them with the lack of common sense they are exhibiting. What’s worse is that the marketing of “healthy convenience” is right there on-site to drive the last nail in the proverbial coffin. Hence, death to common sense and the assault on the human body.
We read of government tyranny elsewhere and think we are the Land of the Free. Political parties scream and yell and twist the constitution’s mandates to suit their individual agendas. We cling to a document that was created at a different time in the Earth’s evolution, a time when Government without religion was a novelty, yet with lingering religious leftovers masked by the text of freedom. What have we done with these alleged choices, when the same government “giving” the choices is creating dependency for its own profit? At the end of it all, there are no choices. We have just been made to believe we are free. But how free is a society whose food system is tainted by big business?
Adult children populate society, completely manipulated by words and imagery. Even worse, taste bud manipulation is stealth warfare on the senses, sugars, fats and starches inserted into nearly everything on the shelves that will last longer than one day, “For Your Busy Lifestyle.” Children’s cereals are “fortified with essential vitamins” while the sugars jolt their little systems, cartoon characters befriending them on the television like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And, of course, my personal favorite, the candy bar advertised as something good to curb your hunger and fuel your day, when in all reality it will spike you and crash you, creating the need for more, more, more to follow.
When left to our own devices, we self-destruct. One could argue that it is our right to self-destruct, and to regulate those rights is fascism. But isn’t pumping food with chemicals and genetically-modified scientific sugars behind closed doors a fascist approach to controlling the public? Is lobbying FOR High Fructose Corn Syrup on national television during prime time “Real Housewives” not a bold-masked-as-subtle suggestion that eating blindly what is on shelves is perfectly okay?
Sadly, the message is that health is no longer a birthright. In the United Sates, normal food (by other countries’ standards) is considered gourmet and is priced accordingly, leaving chemically-produced products to the masses. It is cheap to pack in 1200 calories in a sitting at McDonald’s, and you get to help the corn industry while you save money feeding your entire family. Of course the health care you require when your pre-existing diabetic condition overtakes you is not available, and the long-term cost of that extra-value meal far surpasses the economical meal planning that was marketed as a complete balance of food groups at a bargain price. It begins in schools, where canned, mass-produced and sweetened “savories” are trained into us, and we have a palate now that expects these toxic tastes. A conventional jar of spaghetti sauce is case in point.
Am I a fascist to believe that people cannot be left to their own choices? No, because the illusion of “choice” is where the problem lies. When people are left to their own choices within a limited set of choices, the real fascism is what is hidden in how those choices are controlled and dispensed to a public of little exposure. Unless doing one’s own personal research is an interest, face value is the basis of choice, starting where it counts: in the wallet.
Being nestled into a foothill and listening to the tinkle, tinkle from the bells of local goats being fed whatever occurs here naturally brings tonight’s cheese home for me, literally. And if I am truly blessed, I will meet the vendor on a typical errand, and find him charming, as I have with the ricotta man. And then I will further understand that my food is truly a life force on its own, and a sin to waste, as the ancients preached. My wish is for every American to have a passport, and for them to use it to explore other lifestyles, more intimately than the tour bus will allow for, and make decisions for themselves based on the virtues of experience. It is unquantifiable richness, for it is deep satisfaction. And it heals. Education, travel, and exposure. It can save a mind, feed a soul, and offer a rich life.