Greetings friends and fellow food lovers. If my blog has been a little quiet lately, it’s because I’ve been in Italy on vacation for the last two weeks! Pretty rough, I know. Italy is a beautiful, special country and certainly a culture that cherishes its food. It’s been a few years since I’ve spent significant time in Europe (I lived in France for 8 months in 2006), and in the time since have made major changes to my diet, so I was curious (and maybe a little nervous) to see how I would do. After all, my daily diet with whole grains, vegetables, and a variety of high quality proteins is pretty different from the pizzas, pastas, and gelato of Tuscany. Especially because, since I’ve been pregnant, my stomach has been a little more sensitive than usual.
I’m happy to report that not only did I survive, but I was able to really enjoy a lot of the best dishes Italy had to offer. We started off in Tuscany,where red meat, pasta, pizza and gelato reign. Interestingly, wild boar is a major staple on menus. I saw it so frequently that I even asked a local if the wild boar was truly wild these days, vs. farm-raised (it is – which is cool bc wild game tends to have more nutrients than farm-raised meat). Anyways, I sampled that in a few pastas and a polenta dish, and it was quite tasty. My favorite food – pizza – didn’t disappoint, and we took elaborate means to identify and travel to some of the best pizzerias in Florence. The pizza there is practically paper thin, which really lets you taste how delicious the fresh tomato sauce and toppings are. And the gelato in Florence is unreal – I’m not embarassed at all to day that I ate it nearly every day. I didn’t feel too bad about it either, partly because the servings are a lot smaller than ice cream servings tend to be here, so it made a nice little afternoon snack without leaving me stuffed.
After Florence we also spent time in the Cinque Terre, which is a coastal region. The food there was totally different – less meat, more seafood, and more vegetables. That’s one of the neat things about Europe in general – the food is so regional that if you travel even a short distance, the food will totally change. This is due to hundreds of years of living off of what the local land has to offer, and though this has started to change, generally the food is still traditional. Though Florence was great, this type of food appeals to me (and my body) more, and my favorite dishes were here. The 2 BEST things I ate the entire trip were 1) seafood risotto made with mussels, shrimp, and clams in a tomato broth (to die for!) and 2) sauteed spinach. The spinach may sound cliche from a health coach, but seriously, it was the best spinach ever! I can only attribute its incredible flavor to high-quality spinach (this wasn’t the bagged baby stuff), really good olive oil (this was not low-fat spinach), and lots of garlic, because that’s all that was in it. It was amazing.
So vacation was good, my body didn’t crumble from all of the dairy and white flour, and I got to experience some new dishes that I’m going to try to re-create at home. I wouldn’t say I was totally unscathed. My digestion hit a few bumps in Tuscany (note to self, next time take some fiber supplements), and my sinuses started to fill up about half way through the trip. But generally I was in good shape.
It does make me wonder – why could I eat so many foods in Italy that, if consumed here at home, would certainly have made me feel more sick? I have some hypotheses..for example I know that food in Italy and France are generally of a higher quality. Because they’re made on smaller scale, more locally produced, and frankly because they’re pickier about their food in general (if you had the same food tradition for 400 years, you’d have some strong opinions, too), the food is less processed, uses fewer chemicals, and comes from higher quality ingredients on average. But I don’t think that explains everything. I’m also more active on vacation – probably walking 5-6 miles per day and generally moving more and sitting less. I think this makes a huge difference for digestion. I even notice it at home, feeling much better on days when i exercise or take a walk after eating. Finally, the complete lack of stress on vacation and ideal eating conditions can make food easier to assimilate. Eating while taking in an ocean view is a much different experience than cramming in food infront of a computer. All of these things add up, and I’m pretty certain provide at least some of the explanation. Now just need to figure out how to simulate that ocean view from my dining room 🙂