At the moment I am mainly reading two books: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2007) and Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme’s My life in France (2006). I have realised that this is quite a good combination of books to be reading together because one balances the other. Julia Child’s adventures and memories of falling in love with food and France rekindle my own passion for food and make me want to cook. In contrast, Pollan’s latest critique of the Western diet makes me ill thinking about industrial food and North American eating habits. At the end of the day I have a healthy but reflexive appetite.
Perhaps my own food culture is somewhere between Child’s and Pollan’s; I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where cooking was my mother’s passion and where we ate nearly all whole foods. We had a huge kitchen garden only metres away from the kitchen door where I often dirty my hands, watched things grow and got in my mother’s way. My mother only bought or made whole wheat bread and her cuisine explored the far reaches of East Asia as well as French-Canadian traditions. Both my mother and grandmother have been my culinary inspirations and for me good food has just been an everyday part of my life as long as I can remember. What I read in books about food often just seems obvious to me. Sadly, I realise that this is not the case for most. I thank my lucky stars for my healthy food culture and that exercise if part of my daily life. The question is how to communicate something that seems self evident? How to do we get people to rethink the way they eat without killing the pleasures of the table?
I have to say I nearly broke out in uncontrollable laughter in a bookstore in Turin the other day when I noticed a copy of Jamie’s Italy on the shelf (translated as “Il mio giro d’Italia“). Don’t get me wrong–this is a great cookbook and I quite like Jamie Oliver. It just seems ironic that an Englishmen is telling Italians how to cook Italian cuisine. Well, I guess Jamie has been to the other side and truly understands the importance of good ingredients. Don’t bother cooking Italian food if you don’t have fresh seasonal produce because that is what it is all about, keeping it fresh and simple. If you don’t get that, you don’t get Italian food. I know this sounds really harsh but, hey, this is the key to success.
As Italians increasingly head to the frozen food aisle rather than the farmers’ market, they need to be reminded by Jamie what that leads to–nothing good!
… and I am not talking about the weather. The Right’s decisive win in the Italian elections yesterday is not good news for the economy, intellectuals, freedom of speech and immigrants.
This is truly sad and depressing news. It is hard to see a place you love go in such a bad direction.
For more on the Italian election results see the Guardian.
The latest dose of Italian ignorance is brought to you by the Lega Nord (surprise, surprise). In the above posters, the far-right group the Northern League equates the immigration situation in Italy to that faced by Native Americans in the colonial period: “They had immigration and now they live on reserves” and “The Indians could not stop the invasion.”
I am loathe to talk about the elections in Italy but the time has come with voting taking place today and tomorrow. For weeks I have been announcing my presence to friends and colleagues by stating that I am not interested in talking about politics. So you may be asking yourself why all of the fuss? Well, Italian politics make me sad and slightly nauseous. The thought of four more years of darkness (another Burlusconi-led government) inspires me to pack my bags immediately. Does no one here remember that Italy’s lack of economic growth (one of the EU’s worst performing countries) started during Berlusca’s reign? Does no one recall all of the lawsuits against this criminal? I better not get started.
Much in the same way I have never heard any Americans I know admit they voted for Bush, no one I know here in Italy has ever voted for Berlusconi. Unfortunately my left-leaning American and Italian friends are not a majority it would seem. All I can say is the future looks grim in this country. The electoral system (and so many other things) is in need of a drastic overhaul. A strong government is necessary to get Italy back on its feet and I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon. Stay tuned for a post-election post-mortum rant.
Dr. Solomon Katz, University of Pennsylvania
“The Causes and Consequences of the First Global Food Crisis in 2008″
17:30 – April 23, 2008 – Aula Magna – Cascina Albertina–University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italy
Until the last year nearly all previous food crises have been caused by wars and/or centered in part on crop failures in various regions of the world. Now first the first time a combination of crop failures (associated with climate change in water resources), increases in human population size, changes in diet, and the sudden diversion of food from the human food chain to the large production of fuel have caused a catastrophic increase in food scarcity. These events have driven up the cost of food well beyond many people’s ability to pay for it is causing a whole new source of global hunger that is now forcing between one hundred and four hundred million people into the ranks of food insecurity.
Dr. Katz has served as the founder and Chairman (1984-1986) of the Task Force on the African Famine for the American Anthropological Association which produced a series of monographs, symposia and reports on food security in Africa. Katz was the Series Editor of “Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology” Gordon and Breach Publishers (with a dozen books in the series) from 1986 – 1995 and is Editor-in-Chief of the “Encyclopedia of Food and Culture” published by Scribners (Gale) in 2003, which was awarded six major national and international awards and prizes including the Dartmouth Medal (US) and the Emerald Award (UK) in 2004 for the best reference publication of 2003. In 2007, Katz was elected as a trustee to the Council for a World Parliament of Religions with an emphasis on integrating science and religion into the CWPR.