In late November our family traveled to Italy. Our trip actually started last summer when out of the blue Jason asked, “Do you want to go to Italy?” I thought about it for 1.5 seconds and gave a resounding, “YES!” I knew the trip would make Christmas all the more hectic because we would “lose” days for activities and shopping, but I also knew how our family needed time to grow and bond.
One of my favorite parts of any trip is the anticipation of adventure. I knew that we were flying into Milan and that we would visit a few cities in the surrounding area. Other than that I was leaving everthing up to my travel expert of a husband who had worked out the details. He arranged our lodging and purchased our entry into the Ferrari museum in Modena. I looked up some museums and cultural activities but didn’t book anything specific. When we talked about what we were most excited about, we always agreed that it would be eating.
We left Detroit on Thanksgiving Day and after arriving in Milan we set out for Verona. Yes, THAT Verona - the one where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is set. Despite being exhausted, we explored for a few hours then we grabbed some lunch. Logan picked out a thick piece of pizza and Jason and I chose a pizza to share. I was excited, but at the same time wondering if this heavy meal would leave my stomach overstuffed and add to my exhaustion. I could not have been more wrong. Logan’s thick slice of pizza crust was light and flaky. Ours wasn’t quite as light, but still much lighter than any pizza dough I had ever tasted. We sat in the shop to eat and complimented the chef on our way out.
Every meal was absoulutly delectable, but it wasn’t only the food that left us wanting more. It was the way they eat. Meals are slow. Guests are welcomed into the restaurant and offered a table knowing there is no rush or crowd of hungry diners waiting behind them. Nothing is rushed. Drinks and chips are brought out right away then you choose what to order. We shared appetizers as we sat and looked at the menu options. With food like Parma ham and parmesean cheese you must savor the deleciate flavors. Both are aged and contian all kinds of interesting notes that must be savored to truly appreciate. We chatted with our servers about recommendations and sometimes they had questions about where we lived. The portions were smaller than typical American restaurants but they were far from small. Most of the food is made in house. At The Enzo in Modena we visited a mom and pop restaurant that was literally run by mom and pop. (See photos.) Much of this experience is similar to high-end American restaurants, but we observed (and were occasionally frustrated by) one glaring difference. Cafes and restaurants only took in a certain number of diners then closed. Once a restaurant is full they refuse anyone else. The guests who have been seated can eat and talk the rest of the night.
It didn’t take long to notice something else; they have very little food, if any, that is sub-par. American food stores, particularly convenience stores, offer a great deal of food that is meant to be consumed on the go. Most of this food, if we really consider it, is not that great. When is the last time you truly savored the delicate flavors of a fast food meal? Maybe it’s just me, but I usually eat fast food when I’m unable due to time to prepare a meal or we are traveling and it’s the only option. I LIKE what I eat, but when I’m done I rarely feel pleased with how my body feels after a heavy combo meal.
Look at the photo above. This is the breakfast display at a rest area along the highway. This is not a fancy cafe. This is a rest area. Notice anything? On one side there are sandwiches made with fresh bread with cured meats, fresh lettuce tomatoes, and onions. On the other there are pastries and these are not previously frozen. (I always opted for the croissant filled with Nutella.) Behind the counter is the coffee bar where the baristas were busy at work making espressos and cappuccinos. After ordering you would receive your food and coffee, but the coffee does not in our accustomed “to-go” packaging. Throughout the small rest area, people crowded around counter-height tables and drank their coffee while talking. They looked at each other in the eye and looked at the food they were eating.
This may seem like a slight difference, but according to medical journals, distracted eating can causes us to find less satisfaction in our food and to eat more than necessary later in the day. What we saw while in Italy was a focus on food that by simple content is deemed "unhealthy" by American standards, but the time we spent eating, the focus we gave to our food, and the miles we walked around before and after eating all made a significant impact on our bodies digestion of the food. Stress - including the stress of "EAT! We have to get yoru work done!" - increases cortisol levels which can cause weight gain among other major health concerns. Trying to remove distractions from eating is harder than it sounds. So much of our eating is done while on our way to other activities or while in front of a screen that as I'm trying to break this habbit in my own life I am really having trouble. It's hardest when it's just Logan and I. Sometimes we play a game to allow us to interact in a special way that sets our dinner time together apart from the rest of the time we are together. This is still a distraction, but not in the same way as more of our brains are activated.
The contrast of our relaxing time with the ridiculously hectic Christmas season was glaring. I did my best to keep up without becoming overwhelmed. Ever since returning home we've been cutting back on activiteis that keep us feeling "busy." I like being active and am always on the go, but I don't like the feeling of busy. Busy feels like just doing a lot of things because that is what is expected. Active feels like doing many things because we are in an active season of life. Part of living an intentional life is removing activities that we do “just because.” I don’t care if everyone else is doing it or if we’ve always done it that way. I want to look at all our activities and ensure they are absolutely necessary. I refuse to accept that God’s plan for me or my family is to feel busy, exhausted, and unhealthy. If our life requires us to regularly eat fast food in the car to keep up with everything we are doing we will be reevaluating our choices and dropping a few things.
Now, I need to admit an obvious bias and I don’t want to sound as though I am hating on America or others who live a fast paced lifestyle. First, the obvious bias during our Italy trip was that we were on vacation. We didn’t have homework to rush through and we didn’t have to get to work. Our mindset was more relaxed and we were exploring something completely new. Also, the busy American lifestyle has made America a leader among the nations. We take up engineering and technological challenges and succeed where others have not. Unfortunately, that tireless work is exhausting us and leaving us with crippling health problems. My interest in rethinking the pace of our lives is not to stop us from achieving success, but rather to allow us time to rest physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Carving out healthy time is no easy task, but it is very much worth the effort.
Are you frustrated by busyness or are you happy with your pace of life? What are your tips for savoring your food as well as savoring the time spent with family and friends?
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."