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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Aug 28 - Sept 3, 2002

Opinion Columns

Slow Food: A recipe for healthy eating

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

… the slow food movement is not limited to Italy but is on the march across the continent.

Since my return from, Italy I have given a lot of thought to the savory food of that country. During one notable meal in Florence, I noticed a book sitting on the bench next to me. It consisted of restaurant listings for all of Italy, with capsule reviews of location and cuisine. I noted, with a smile, the title, Slow Food. At the time I thought it was representative of an Italian way of looking at the pleasures of dining, as opposed to the American penchant for fast food. However, a friend who has spent a lot of time in France told me that the slow food movement is not limited to Italy but is on the march across the continent.

At any rate, one of the best things about living in Italy almost needs no articulation, but I must repeat it: the food. The only time I had a "bad" meal was in Venice the night we arrived there on a holiday Monday when most of the restaurants were closed and we were sufficiently famished to settle for the only one open in our neighborhood. It looked comfy from the outside, but the service was lackadaisical and the food below average. The fact that this pizzeria is in the center of one of the most heavily touristed and thus expensive areas in Italy may be the cause of the poor meal. Other than that one time, I truly found delectable, fresh and healthy food wherever I traveled. Even pit stop restaurants along the autostrada display gourmet cheeses and meats and offer consistently delicious cappuccinos. I never got a less than spectacular cup of that beverage anywhere I went in that country, even at wayside spots almost empty in the winter.

One of my fondest memories is of the server in Siena’s Nanini coffee house/bakery, who got to know me when I stopped in on my way to language class. He always added a flourish of chocolate in the shape of a heart atop my cappuccino. His smile and friendly demeanor enriched my time immeasurably.

All of these fond memories are being recalled when American courts are hearing the first class action lawsuits against fast food franchises. I am appalled in general at our lack of individual responsibility when we sue businesses for feeding our addictions. I love French fries as much as the next person, but no one pulls me physically toward a fast food franchise, ropes me in, and forces me to buy and then consume them. I find dubious the claims that McDonald’s or Burger King is responsible for the raging obesity our country is just beginning to recognize. We are prosperous and, I’m afraid, fat.

The latest studies show that a hefty percentage of young children are overweight. While I decry the greasy offerings they are given, I place the blame more on their parents than on McDonald’s. When I heard a mother whine to Oprah that she just wanted to make her already chunky son feel better by giving him cookies as rewards for good behavior, I wanted to go stick my finger in my mouth.

I am the last person to be judgmental about addictions. I have experienced the consequences of overindulgence in my long life enough so that I dare not be too smug. But I don’t think I have ever blamed 31 Flavors for making a delicious Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, nor would I think of suing anyone because I am 10 pounds overweight. I know that a food addiction is especially difficult to get under control because we must eat to live. One of my friends who has struggled with obesity all her life says it is like an alcoholic being served drinks with every meal and having to say "no" several times a day. Or, another friend told me she opens her refrigerator several times every day to the tiger within. I understand, I really do. In spite of being told I shouldn’t eat dairy products, the peccorino cheese I could buy in any Tuscan market was too tempting and I often indulged.

Nonetheless, I despair of a society that blames others for our weaknesses. I am tired of hearing, in essence, that the Devil made me do it. "I had a bad childhood" becomes the excuse for adult abuse. "My teacher scolded me" is why one becomes aggressive, or "The kids bullied him" an excuse for shooting innocent teenagers.

I think there is also another benefit to the concept of "slow food." The term can be applied to the way we approach the time we spend eating. When I was a girl I was always the last one to finish a meal and was never forced to eat huge amounts. Perhaps that’s why my nickname was "Bitsy." My mother used to laugh imagining a grown up me, perhaps becoming obese and waiting tables in a diner with a nametag bearing that moniker. Now I’m no longer the skinniest person around. I and most of my countrymen demand instant service, race through meals without savoring them slowly, and accrue the extra pounds that result from gobbling down our meals. One famous nutritionist claims that keeping weight off is partly a matter of eating slowly and with consideration. So what’s the big hurry?

I vote for "slow food."



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