Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was a very intelligent man. WHO”? I hear you cry. Before this week I would have responded the same. Let me fill you in…
In 1826 he wrote Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, which contained the following phrase:
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.”
My French is rusty but with the help of the internet (ok everything I am writing is just a repeat from another website but hey…), it translates as:
“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”
Which brings me, in a very long winded way, to a phrase which has become very well known in our modern age:
“you are what you eat”
As you might imagine, diet is very important for me. I truly believe that what we eat has an effect on our everyday well-being, and our energy, and that a lot of our modern ailments and illnesses are down to our modern diet full of processed food.
There are so many “diets” now that tell you to eat this, to cut out that, have less of those, eat this super food…and then you find new products on the market which are specially designed for said diet – lactose free milk for instance, which has been chemically treated to change its composition. Taking this as an example, what’s better? Fresh, untreated milk (which I happen to drink whenever possible – especially if it’s direct from the cows udder!) or UHT / chemically treated long life milk? For me it’s a simple question of looking at what I am putting in my body. Although even then I don’t know what the cows are eating!
However, I believe that the problem with all of these “diets” is that they don’t take into account that no one human being is the same. And so our bodies react differently to different things. In fact, the very word “diet” can often have an almost negative connotation – it’s too often viewed as something you do to lose weight, when in reality it can often be more to do with a lifestyle choice, a way of living, and eating. The word “diet” has two definitions:
1) the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats;
2) a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.
And that’s my ramble/rant/thought process for this post!
One year ago I went to a farm in France to do some WWOOFing (that’s work on organic farms for those who don’t know – www.wwoof.net). Here I encountered for the first time the Paleo diet, which to put it very simply, is a diet that cuts out carbahydrates and focuses on protein and fresh, natural food as the basis of the diet (there are A LOT of other things that it talks about as well, some of which I agree with, others that I don’t). I had been feeling very low on energy and had decided to look at my diet to see if what I was eating was affecting me. I started to read about the paleo diet while I was at the farm (or the primal blueprint as this offshoot is called) and it seemed to make sense. And as I was staying with this family who were following it I had the opportunity to talk and put it into practice. So I decided to try it out when I left – the question was how would I fare in “the real world”?
I have to say that for me it was a definite education. I began to notice differences in my energy immediately, how certain foods affected me, and became much more aware of what I was putting in my body. I was constantly travelling for work and I began to look at the food options available to me – needless to say trying to follow a non carbohydrate diet in Spain was not the easiest thing in the world. Also it made me think a lot about our modern diet, and how difficult it can be to find the simplest fresh produce sometimes. It was then that I began to think about how much processed food is in our everyday diets, which led me to start really looking at where the food I was eating came from, and was probably the push I needed to start the journey which i am now on.
I am not going to go into too much detail here about “the diet” – there are plenty of websites that can tell you better. I tried to follow the guidelines as much as possible, but I wasn’t super strict. And after about 10 months (more or less when I started this journey), I realised that it just wasn’t going to work for me any more – walking every day, and trying not to spend large amounts of money on food, made it virtually impossible. And also walking through Italy and not eating pasta, bread and legumes is very, very difficult!
So what did I learn? Basically that we do have a choice in what we eat, but it can be very difficult, especially living in cities, with a hectic work-based lifestyle. I knew that was notwhat I wanted. So what to do? Learn how to do it all myself! It takes a bit more work, and time, but if, like me, you love food, then it’s definitely worth it. There is so much pleasure to be gained from using your hands to create something delicious from scratch. And perhaps one of the greatest, and most wonderful of all, is bread. There is nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread. It immediately puts a smile on my face and makes me feel at home…and hungry!
Fast forward to January 2014, and I was WOOFing in Italy, at a small family-run organic farm called RUcasa 11.30, near to Sant’Agata de’ Goti in Campania.
They have an organic vegetable garden, make wine and olive oil, and keep various animals (chickens, ducks, pigs and rabbits)…oh and they make bread. But not just any old bread. This is made with pasta madre (sough dough), cooked in a wood-fired oven. An incredible experience and education.
The baker is Ciro, a jovial Neapolitan, who has a real clowny childish side which explodes every now then in a series of strange noises or faces. He and his dad, Antonio are the main force behind RUcasa, and I spent most of my time with one or the other, feeding the animals, making bread, and helping Antonio with various building work. To sum it up simply, the things that really made me smile while I was there were:
- The happy animals: every morning I collected acorns for the pigs (which they gobbled up happily and greedily like, well..pigs!), and fresh grass and greens for the rest of the animals. There is nothing quite like the happy excitedness of a set of ducks to put a smile on your face in the morning. Especially when they seem be smiling themeselves!
- Making bread in the wood burning oven: WOW! It’s something else. This oven is huge, and getting it going takes some time. Inside you can fit about 100 loaves of bread Ciro told me. Click here for the recipes and a bit more info.
- Selling bread at the local markets: Every week Ciro would make 2 batches of bread to be sold in local markets. One of these markets is a monthly event called “ragnatela” (cobweb), which is a market dedicated to organic food and healthy natural products, where producers and consumers from different parts of Campania come together. There is a village festival feel to it, and as I love markets, it was a great pleasure to be helping Ciro and to talk with all the people.
And of course, i especially enjoyed sampling the various delicacies on sale!
- Making marmalade: we had an orange day. All things were made with freshly picked oranges – marmalade (using a slightly adjusted Spanish recipe thanks to my good friend Guzman Sanchez and his aunt), candied peel and punch. That’s what you do on rainy days, no?
- picking oranges and eating them immediately: EVERY DAY!!!
- The water level measure: pure genius. I learned something here – take a plastic tube, fill it with water and you can use it to make sure that your ground level is flat. Antonio was putting down cement and so we had to measure a number of different points. Useful for the future when I have to build my own house 🙂
- Marco (Ciro’s brother-in-law) explaining the difference between two different types of clams: I arrived at RUcasa 11.30 on December 31st. The first thing that Ciro said was there was no work today, only eating! Whati didn’t quite expect was the amount of food. I think we must have spent about 6 hours from start to finish. It’sdefinately one way to see in the new year. And during the course of the various courses, Marco explained to me the subtle difference between these two delicacies of the sea: vongole (they have 2 heads) andLupini (they just have 1 head). And sure enough I can confirm that what I always thought of as just clams, some big, some small, are in fact two different species! Who knows if that will be helpful in the future, but it’s makes me smile when I see Marco’s happy face explaining it to me!
- The sun and the light on the countryside: the olive trees, vines and mountains. Natural beauty! Well what can I say…this is a constant theme and the picture says it all.
- SeeingTrajans’s Arch inBeneventum: OK so this is something that I have been looking forward to for along long time. I studied the Arch of Trajan in detail at university – it is one of the best preserved Roman monuments in Italy, and a fantastic demonstration of Roman art. And I was standing there, in front of it, with my university essay in hand (thanks to rediscovering all of my university work last year), which explains all of the various reliefs, and the historical significance of the arch. But the best thing for me, is that when I wrote this essay, we were encouraged to interpret the decorative scheme ourselves, taking into account what we were studying. For the first time really, what I studied over 10 years ago was real and alive before my eyes, and I was there with all the information at my fingertips.
Trajan’s Arch is the beginning of the Via Traiana, the old Roman road which was built during the reign of Trajan, crossing the Appenines and leading into Puglia. And that is my destination in Italy, heading for Bari / Brindisi before embarking for Greece. The journey continues 🙂