Monday, June 4, 2012

Sono Golosa! Ma Basta!

Perhaps the greatest challenge that I face living in Italy is how to cope with the eating culture and control my weight in spite of my “golosità’”. “Sono golosa” is a common expression announced with unabashed pride, conveying a person’s lust for a particular (or all) food, and the burning pleasure that one derives from eating it. The closest English translation is “I am gluttonous” but unless intended as a joke, it hardly means the same thing, being perceived more as a vice, rather than as considered here, a virtue.

Gluttony has after all, since early Christian times, made it to the top of the Cardinal Sin hit list, along with pride, avarice, wrath and envy.

Regardless of their religiosity and in spite of their respect for Dante, who in  La Commedia evoked fearful images of the horrific consequences of gluttony, Italians have chucked this sin straight out the window. In this culture, “siamo golosi” is a sensual, quasi-sexy expression of our gusto, our appreciation for having food on the table, and for that which feeds our relationships, our family and souls. But unfortunately, that which feeds our souls also feeds our thighs. Or at least mine.

My first year living in Italy, I immediately espoused the “sono golosa” cultura, having been raised on it as a kid. What a great excuse to run wild….everyone accepts it, and I can be me! I was back in “comfort-food land”, a place and state-of-mind that brought me back to my childhood. I was instantly emancipated from the “lean and mean” all-American mentality that I, as a product (or victim) of the Jane Fonda generation, was effectively brainwashed (and still sadly am) to believe that in order to feel happy and successful, we must eat anorexic quantities of food and “feel the burn.”

I indulged myself at sagras, tested every aperitivo buffet in Florence, learned how to love lampredotto and carne bollito and went pazza for finocchiona . I got to know every food stall at the market and developed an ardent appreciation for an exhaustive list of cured meats and other fatal foods. I went through a liter of olive oil per month, a gelato and a bottle of Chianti per day (which at first enhanced the food but maybe now it’s a problem?). I quickly realized that there’s a prescriptive food for every conceivable illness, olive oil being one of the most important, because it lubricates and allows everything else to “slip right through”. To me it’s another dimple in the thigh.

I thought I would eventually burn out and get this “food is fun” lust out of my system. I trusted that Florentine Italians must be doing something right since they are not fat in spite of the food obsession. So all I needed to do was to imitate it.

Although many Americans think that Italians are skinny because they eat small portions and walk a lot, I haven’t met those Italians yet. I instead have observed that they eat a lot and they eat often, albeit much more elegantly, slowly (since they are equally busy talking) and artfully than Americans do. They certainly don’t walk, cycle or sweat as much as I do and I’m probably the only woman in town who owns a full set of dumb bells.

They rarely consume one course, wine is a given, and gelato is the high of highs. Their diet is based on fatty and cured meats, bread, pasta, olive oil and lard. Yes they love veggies, but their menus are overwhelmingly carb and fat based. The concept of a calorie has not entered their consciousness although the American influence is slowly creeping in. They eat into the wee hours of the morning. God forbid…if Italian restaurants were to disclose the calorie content on their food menus, it would kill the tourism business and knock off a serious chunk of GDP, if there even is one anymore.

The Italians who I know talk about what they are going to eat, eat it, and then talk about what they ate. So, why are they skinny? Bulimia? Genes? I don’t know, but I unfortunately wasn’t born with it. I inherited an Italian fat gene and have struggled with it all my life. I don’t know whether to blame my Sicilian side or my Neopolitan side, but my family just didn’t get this right. Thank God for Jane Fonda.

Somehow Jane saved the day. She enabled me to become a cheerleader and to excel in competitive sports such as cycling in spite of the insidious golosità that lurked in my blood, threatening to emerge the moment I dropped the ball.

And then the ball dropped. Along with my destiny in Italy, it was bound to happen. On September 8, 2008 my most distant dreams and fears simultaneouslycame true. I moved to the land that I love, and the ghost came out of the closet.

I am surrounded by temptations from the minute I open my window. Within yards of my house there are 7 restaurants, a gelateria immediately downstairs, 2 pastry shops, a butcher, a forno, and a few "street food" joints. Walk further and it’s pure sabotage. I can’t fetch my bike from the piazza without being assaulted by the smell of food emanating from everywhere.

So I am finally saying "basta"!  My love affair with food will never end, but I am figuring out how to enjoy the passion of living in dreamland without overindulging. I don’t want to go back to the Jane Fonda mentality but there has to be a balance.

One month ago I designed a five-star program to deal with it. It is really working so far!  So, if you’re interested in finding out more, I promise to write about it in a future blog post. See you then!