Story and photos by Lauren Goldberg
Residents of major cities in the United States live in a high-performance culture, where a lifestyle of intensive task completion and minimal breaks are the norm. As cogs in an efficiency machine, we wrestle to complete our obligations within each 24-hour deadline. We are conditioned to strive for high-performance results from which we can expect status and profit as rewards. From this mindset, we are inclined to dedicate more time, attention, and care to social responsibilities at the expense of personal ones. In this culture where speed and efficiency reign king, my studies have been my priority, while food has been my sacrifice. Racing to complete each assignment with unwavering dedication, I found myself resorting to ready-made sandwiches for lunch and Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle for dinner.
“Fast living” and fast food go hand in hand. To balance the responsibilities of life, corporate America has gifted us the key to efficiency wrapped in golden arches. Within minutes of ordering your $5 meal, exiting the drive-through satiated and ready to tackle the day. Concerns over the quality of ingredients provided by fast food establishments have not stopped these joints from baiting us with their latest promotions to save us time, energy and money. Under the spell of clown and king mascots, we ingest these “Happy Meals” in blissful ignorance. However, my recent month-long study abroad in Italy revealed that living in the United States’ efficiency-oriented culture has betrayed my nutrition.
The United States and Italy have drastically different approaches to nutrition. The U.S’s agrarian methods prioritize cost-effectiveness, utilizing practices such as monoculture to increase farming efficiency, crop yields and profits. An abundance of synthetic chemicals are used to prevent crop damage, despite having adverse effects on the environment, food quality and human health. In addition, pesticides seep into the soil, polluting water and harming the diversity and vibrancy of neighboring ecosystems.
Conversely, Italian culinary culture prioritizes quality ingredients and quality time. 90-minute lunch breaks in Italy are typical, allowing individuals the time to savor their meals while spending time with their families. Italy is the birthplace of the slow food movement, whose symbol is unironically a snail. The “slow” in slow food illustrates the time needed to grow ingredients, prepare meals, and savor them. Slow food farms utilize regenerative agriculture by implementing ecologically sustainable farming methods to rehabilitate the earth and local communities.
The Dialogue students had the opportunity to visit Italian slow food farms and experience cuisine in a drastically different manner than used to in the U.S. After a 6 a.m wake-up and a three-hour bus ride from Rome to Naples, we arrived with anticipation at the Libera Terra Cooperative Farm. We listened to the owners present a historical rundown of the land, visited the farm grounds and sat for three hours, savoring each course prepared with ingredients grown on the farm.
After spending the day on the farm, I realized the nutritional benefits of slow food are rewarding, but the model’s ability to tackle environmental, social, climate and economic injustice are where its true value lies. The Italian Mafia, particularly the Camorra clan located in the Naples region, once had immense influence and control over the lands and surrounding communities. According to Pietro D’Aleo, General Coordinator of the Consorzio Libera Terra Mediterraneo, “The Mafia was born as an instrument for the rich landlords to control large farmland and the local community, oppressing the farmworkers and slowing their emancipation.” The Mafia’s dominating presence in the region was restricted in 1996 when their assets were turned over to local authorities and organizations. Since then, Libera Terra, which translates to “freed lands,” has reclaimed lands stolen by the Italian Mafia. Their mission is to counteract the fear triggered by the Mafia’s reign by regenerating the land, reinvigorating the local economy and restoring the community’s autonomy.
Italy showed me that food inspires justice. Food is crucial in Italian culture; in the Italian’s plight against the Mafia, it has been a means to encourage community building, urge resilience against unjust power dynamics and stimulate environmental awareness.