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The food we eat

This article first appeared on Cibus February 2015 edition

Recently, the Italian Institute of Culture organised and hosted a seminar with the title: Per una nuova cultura dell’alimentazione: verso Expo Milano 2015. I was cordially invited to attend.

Not everyone out there cares about the food we eat, where it comes from, what it is made of. Many of us are always in a hurry and resort to the easiest of choices. You might recognize this as absurd but changing your relationship with food, getting engrossed with real food can make you a happier and healthier being.

With pleasure, I recently accepted an invitation to attend a seminar entitled: A new food culture – towards Expo Milano 2015. The seminar focused on a reality which is commonly neglected but which now more than ever deserves our attention: malnutrition and food sustainability. This topic is in synch with the universal exposition – Expo Milano 2015 – which will be held between May and October in Milan. The selected theme for this exhibition is: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life – a theme which will delve into the complexities of nutrition, education on food and the planet’s resources.

The speakers, coming from different institutions in Italy and also from the local residential facility Dar Kenn ghal-Sahhtek, had one common notion: malnutrition is creating serious health risks to the population. On one side of the world people are deprived from food, dying from hunger and malnutrition whilst on the other side, people are dealing with serious and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and other food disorders. I do not wish to go into a debate revolving around this paradox but I would like to promote the principle of ‘better nutrition, better life’.

During the seminar the importance of focusing on prevention rather than relying on cures was highlighted many times. To live longer and prevent diseases it is essential to adopt healthier food habits. Do we eat what we need or do we eat what is available?

The relationship with good food is complex. It is a journey which you might see as impossible but which once embarked on can become exciting and rewarding. I am convinced that a better nutrition line-up in our kitchen will lead to a better life. I hope that before long, we will realise that cooking simple food with high quality, seasonal ingredients should become a priority.

Unfortunately, the pressures of daily life, marketing media and the huge industries of ready-made and processed food have taken over our taste and flipped our food culture. We are generally misguided about what is the best food. At times, it seems that the sense of taste was taken over by foods laden with salt, artificial flavours, fat and sweeteners.

I have throughout the years recognized the importance of creating a healthy food culture around my table. However, I noticed that the strong food culture we were immersed in as children is still with me today, even though life is faster and lifestyles are extremely different. This brings me to the conclusion that our food interests are a reflection of our upbringing. We need to teach our children to embrace a new food culture, to know what food should taste like as early in life as possible. Food is like a language, children learn to communicate in the language they hear every day. From the day children are born, they will like the food they are mostly exposed to.

In 2013, the Mediterranean diet was recognized by Unesco as an intangible cultural heritage. This diet consists of a high consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and unrefined cereals, fish, olive oil, dairy products and small quantities of meat and sugar and is considered as the healthier alternative and a sustainable way of living. Albeit our geographical position, the Mediterranean diet is not fully integrated in our culture and we tend to shift towards a diet which keys on red meats, disproportionate amounts of dairy products, biscuits, chocolates, and sweets.

As one of the speakers rightly pointed out, it is the responsibility of every citizen to lead a healthy lifestyle, to protect and promote traditional cooking methods and ingredients, to move away from foods which origins are anonymous and doubtful and give preference to what is local and regional, to quality and not abundance. At this moment in time, we are being called to return to nature, to grow our own food, to preserve food traditions, and to cut on waste by using leftovers to create hearty meals.

Today, like never before, we are bombarded with information through a number of different sources about healthy lifestyles, diets, food to eat, and food not to eat. We are exposed to so many contradictory and mind boggling information! The society we live in imposes various models of healthy lifestyles and this makes us question which of these are true, which of these will work out better.

What I suggest to you is… think about the kind of food you eat at home, at work, every day and ask if this is the right food, the food you truly need. Read about food topics like seasonal ingredients, grow your own food if possible, like herbs and vegetables, shop at the farmer’s markets or from your favourite and trustworthy supplier, cook recipes which contain vegetables and fruit, entertain your family and friends with irresistible and varied dishes of simple and delicious food in the right portions. And most importantly, adopt the Mediterranean diet…after all we are just right in the centre of the Mediterranean!

Thanks to Pina Alvernini from the Italian Embassy

 

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