I was once told the way to tell if a person has truly assimilated into a new culture is to look in his or her refrigerator. From my experiences abroad, I can certainly attest to this statement. Food is part of daily life and can be a source of comfort or a sign or normalcy. Trying unfamiliar foods may be challenging, and there’s even a word to describe this phenomenon—neophobia.
Thus, food is an important part of culture. Having a connection with your food is one of the most important aspects of Italian culture I have learned during my study abroad trip. Understanding where your food comes from and what it took to produce it is important to appreciating and enjoying food. This is a concept that seems to be lacking in the United States. Food is often so readily available that it is taken for granted.
Consequently, many Americans seem to have an unhealthy relationship with food. Foods are often labeled as “good” and “bad” and there is usually guilt associated with eating the “bad” foods.
In Italy, food is not a source of anxiety. Italians are not looking for low-fat this or low-carbohydrate that. What Italians are looking for is fresh, local, quality ingredients from people or sources they can trust. Italians take pride in their food and love to share meals together.
I think this is something Americans can learn from Italians: to take time to savor real food, and not, as Michael Pollan says, “edible food-like substances” (processed foods).