We spent a week in Tuscany, which is probably one of the most divine places I have ever visited. Ever in my life. The scenery is magnificent and tranquil, the people are lovely, and the food. Well. I’ll start by saying I have never tasted such tasty tomatoes in all my life. We ate them every night in front of our apartment watching the sun drop behind the blue hills. With buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, olives, olive oil and balsamic vinegar? I think I was in heaven. (These weren’t even farmer’s market tomatoes, just the ones from the giant chain grocery store.)
I read many food blogs, food articles and think about food a lot, partly because I have a toddler and as much as I would like to seem like a responsible mother, the truth is that if he is not healthy it has an adverse effect on my life, and I like avoiding adverse effects as much as possible (but I do care about his long-term health, wellness and attitude about food). Our physical health is also important to Husband and I, and for us the best place to start is what we put into our bodies.
I love the idea eating mostly vegetables and fruits, grass-fed beef, chickens that run around wild and free, and I know first-hand the benefits of going without sugar (I do this from time to time and feel fantastic), but I can’t shake the feeling when I read about whole9, whole30 and paleo that this is just the Atkins Diet dressed up with new lingo, Grass-fed beef! NOPROCESSEDFOODSNOPROCESSEDFOODS! Kale rules! Farmers markets are the best thing ever!
Now I like trying new things, and every year for the past few years I’ve gone a month or several months without sugar, without meat and without dairy. I would consider going gluten and grain-free as well, and when I read about whole30 for the first time, I told Husband that I was intrigued. When he found out what was involved, he said that something along the lines of, What about everything in moderation? (Because telling any European that gluten is bad for you is like…well… how do I explain this? Gluten is kind of a big deal in Western Europe.)
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me like this is just a diet craze from the 90s recycled for the 21st Century. No matter how much the Paleo people try to convince me that vegetables make up the bulk of the eating program, I’m going to have to question the legitimacy of anyone who says bacon and other processed meats should be eaten while cutting out chickpeas and lentils. I don’t really care how grass-fed, pastured and organic your sausages are (or your red meat, for that matter), there can be no arguing with the medical facts that point to the connection between red meat and processed meat’s relationship with major diseases.
And honestly, living on juices might be great for our bodies, it might even be the best way for us to absorb vitamins and minerals, but is this the way we were made to live? Food is for our physical health, and everyone should eat in the way that optimises their bodies’ needs, but food is also for community, pleasure and enjoyment. Excessive control and a lack of balance might leave us with a body that lasts for over a 100 years, but would we have done so at an empty table? And what about neglecting our taste buds?
So here’s my spontaneous list of food guidelines for myself, these are the thoughts that go into our meal plan, grocery list and daily eating.
The bulk of our eating is done at home, which allows us to eat, imbibe, enjoy, converse and live at our own pace, according to our ways, and it gives us the freedom to include our children in every form of food preparation from a young age. One of the many unforeseen blessings of living in Geneva is the high cost – and dismal options – of restaurants; it has meant that we naturally fell into eating at home most of the time. Husband and I go out to eat for dates, but I can’t even remember the last time we had a meal out with Small One in tow in Geneva. It’s possible we have never done it in Geneva. (Pictured above: wholewheat bruschetta with pear, fresh pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. I am quickly becoming addicted to fresh pecorino cheese.)
The vast majority of our food is a balance of vegetables, meats and fish, whole grains, eggs and fruits. Small One gets quite a bit of dairy, and Husband and I consume it whenever we feel like it (usually in the form of cheese when I’m not pregnant and milk when I am pregnant). When I’m not pregnant, I keep our home meat intake very, very low, around one meal per week of red meat and one meal per week of white meat. (Below: the last of our Italian tomatoes, eaten with joy and a smidgen of sadness with fresh buffalo mozzarella from Switzerland.)
We try to keep processed foods away, but we also make exceptions. I use Asian sauces and powdered stock, Small One has crackers and fruit and nut bars, and there’s the chocolate aisle. Thankfully products in Switzerland are well labeled, so we can see what goes into all things we buy.
We make exceptions for special things, special moments and food items that have cultural significance. We happily enjoy our raw hams (when I’m not pregnant), salami, sausages and bacon every now and then, but these instances are rare.
When we are guests at someone’s table, we eat anything put before us, with joy and thankfulness and not dread. Receiving the fruits of someone else’s labor in the form of cooked (or prepared) food is a way of being kind, loving and generous, and no food rule or philosophy trumps basic generosity. I hope every member of our family has this attitude when we sit down to eat in the homes of whomever we may encounter. (I also sincerely hope that no one will ever serve us dog, rat or cat.)
When we visit or holiday in another country, we enter into their food culture to discover, learn and enjoy. Fact, Italians eat pasta. To go to Italy and skip pasta seems bizarre and snobby to me (unless there is a medically-necessitated reason to do so, obviously no one with a gluten intolerance/allergy or Coelic disease should ever eat regular pasta). I am not really a pasta person, and I am especially not a fan of white flours in general, but in Italy every day I ate pasta. White pasta. Sometimes I had it twice a day. And it was magnificent, the tastiest pasta I’ve ever eaten (with Husband’s homemade ravioli coming a close second). Do I still believe that refined flours aren’t of any benefit to the human body? Yes, I do. Will I be harmed by consuming refined flours for a week while on holiday in Tuscany? Maybe, I’m not sure. Was it worth it and would I do it again? Hello, yes. Every. Single. Time. (And don’t get me started on the ricotta and fig gelato at this place.)
And I ate and enjoyed the pasta for so much more than just the eating pleasure, I did it to get myself a little bit more immersed into Tuscan life and culture. The cream-slathered chicken alfredo you can find at popular U.S. Italian chain restaurants? It’s nothing like the saffron cream sauced that gently laced my pear and pecorino ravioli or like the sharp wild-boar sauce with pappardelle. To enter into and enjoy the Tuscan table was to enter into Tuscan life and maybe even touch a small piece of the Tuscan heart accessible only with a fork, knife and tastebuds.