Thank you for joining the Partners in Health and Wholeness Book Club. You can officially sign-up here. Through it, we hope to engage people of faith in discussions over why our health matters. Our current choice of reading is “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver. We are posting updates through the PHW Facebook page, but our PHW blog page has the discussion posts in full with responses from staff. Just look for the picture of the apple on top of the books and you will find past Book Club entries.
Chapter Fifteen finds our author travelling to Italy and delving into their food culture. She describes in detail the several course meals that she and her husband encountered in every restaurant they frequented. The restaurants in Italy are designed to have you stay for a while; even “simple” country restaurants offered the antipasto, the pasta, the meat course, the salad, and finally the desert and coffee. After wondering how to possibly get through all these courses of a meal (if you turn down a course, the chef assumes something is wrong), she began to observe those around her. The norm was to enjoy a few bites of each course, with “slow chewing, and joy.” This sounds like a beautiful example of mindful eating.
Throughout Italy they did not encounter a bad meal, and I realized something I had never really thought about. Kingsolver points out that in the United States, we are surrounded by places to eat where “cuisine is not really the point.” Gas stations, movie theaters, snack bars, fast food joints — these establishments value convenience, calories, or some form of entertainment, while the food is just an (often lucrative) afterthought. “What we discovered in Italy was that if an establishment serves food, then food is the point.” I am so used to being surrounded by options that are convenient, unhealthy and low quality that I never even thought about what it would be like if they were not there. I also never thought about asking what the point really is, if not the food I am eating. We often fall into this trap, even in our churches; when the point is fellowship, feeding the hungry, entertaining the youth group, or a committee meeting, we do not tend to care about what we eat, its quality, taste, or origin. Maybe we should challenge ourselves to spend less time eating in places where cuisine is not the point.
This chapter is a fun tour through a trip to a beautiful, hospitable, tasty land (I found myself getting a little bit hungry while reading!). One of the most powerful takeaways is from a billboard which, “seemed to epitomize the untranslatable difference between Italy’s food culture and our own. It’s a statement you just don’t hear from the tourist boards of America. It promised, simply: “Nostro terra…E suo sapore.” I’m no expert, but I see what it means: “You can taste our dirt.” Italy takes pride in their food culture, down to the dirt itself. The “Slow food” movement actually began in Italy, as a protest of the growing prevalence of fast food around the world. As a nation, Italians value their small, diversified farms and the beauty they add not just to the table but to the culture, landscape, and community. I think it is inspiring. As Gigi Padovani says, quoted on the Slow Food International Website, “…to change the world, you must change the menu first.”
- Have you eaten in an establishment lately where food isn’t really the point? What was your experience like? How can we keep our churches from being one of these establishments?
- In what ways can we be inspired, motivated, or challenged by the Italian food culture Kingsolver talks about?
- What could we change in our churches, communities or our families to find more joy in the food that we eat?
Partners in Health and Wholeness is an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches. PHW aims to connect health as a faith issue. Please visit our website to sign your personal pledge to be healthier, and to find out about grant opportunities for places of worship in NC.