This summer, I had a wonderful time exploring various markets and restaurants in different regions of Italy. Throughout my travels, the one thing that was painstakingly clear was that Italians savour the moment. They savour the moment, the process, the experience - the everything.
It offers a stark contrast to the fast paced life in North America...in a good way. Part of the charm of European anything is the fact that people take their time, they enjoy life, they live to the fullest and as a result...there's less stress and people are happier- you can see it on their faces.
The Italians are used to this slow-paced way of life. It is, in fact, the ONLY way of life and what a beautiful way it is to live.
In North America, we are struggling to fit more into our days, to squeeze in more time, to do one more task, to get one more thing accomplished. "Get off your phone", we say, "and enjoy the moment."
I'm fairly certain that phrase would never need to be said in Italy, where people hardly look at their phones because they are too busy enjoying wine and a fresh lobster at lunch before taking a 2 hour long beach break.
This...is life and of course it also translates into the way they eat.
Italy's slow food movement is unlike any others I have ever seen. In that, it's not really a movement at all. It's the way it has always been. It's what they know and let me tell you- it's amazing.
What's a slow food movement? It's the idea that food grows in the ground, takes it's time, needs love and care and ripens slowly. And when food is allowed to do all these things, it tastes divine. It means that the food you eat is grown locally and ethically without the over use of pesticides and growth hormones. It means that the food on your table was grown less than a few kilometers from where you live and it means the final garnish on your plate was probably picked from the plant moments before you ate the first bite. It also means the eggs in your omlette were probably collected that morning from the chickens that your family is raising in a henhouse in your yard.
All over Italy you see tiny backyard gardens and little farms overflowing with amazing organic, seasonal vegetables and fruit. The streets are lined with orange trees the way Toronto's are lined with maples. Even the grassy lots beside the train tracks and stations are cultivated gardens, growing beautiful peppers, lettuce and red cherry tomatoes.
I absolutely loved exploring the vegetable patches, trying to figure out what type of squash or tomato was growing in the little patches. The markets that lined the street in Sorrento and Positano were truly remarkable and I will probably never forget the bright colours of the freshest vegetables, the sweetest fruit and the giant lemons that decorated rustic tables at every store front.
By now I'm sure you're wondering how we can incorporate some of that slow-living at home. For me, being immersed in the Italian culture really made me realize how important it is to be mindful of your surroundings and how much time you spend a day thinking of something else while you are really doing something totally different. A huge challenge, but probably something we can all benefit from thinking more about.
In terms of food? Check out your local markets. You'd be surprised how much of that family feeling is still lingering in metropolitan cities. You just have to go to the right place. Find out if there are farmer's markets, small butcher shops, fish markets or mom and pop grocery stores around you. Sometimes the experience of shopping at one of these places alone is all the zen and calm you need in a day. I simply love taking my time and walking slowly around a beautiful grocery store. It's amazing what you can learn and find just by observing. Besides, just imagine: actual speaking to the person who cultivated the fruit and picked it just the day before it arrived at the market. Or talking to the person who knows exactly where the fish he sells were caught and when they came in.
It is a truly great thing to know where your food is coming from and how it got to you. Aside from that, there is some delicious locally grown produce available around us. The key is to know what is in season and when. This will cut your grocery bills as well as ensure you are eating the best tasting foods available.
Use fresh herbs whenever possible and even grow your own herbs and vegetables. There is nothing more satisfying or delicious than garnishing your plate with basil leaves that were torn just seconds before or chopping tomatoes you just picked from your own garden... especially since it reminds us that more than being busy, more than getting things done, more than any of that, life is really about the little, beautiful things that make us smile, appreciate, reflect and slow down.