I’m obsessed with Italy. With Italian food. With Italian culture. With Italian language. All of it. I can’t explain it. Perhaps I was Italian in another life. Who. Knows. I can never ever seem to get enough. But I suppose one has to start somewhere. Which is why I went and lived there for a month, down south, in the middle of nowhere. It was perfect.
If any of you have heard of WWOOF, excellent, we’re one step ahead. For those of you have not, here’s the pitch: opportunities for volunteers of 18 and older to work and experience life on organic farms, all over the world, in exchange for food and lodging (and countless other wonderful unquantifiable things). So that’s what I did. In Italy’s equivalent of America’s deep South (or something).
I learnt how to freshly mill stone-ground flours, how to make bread and pizza with said flour in handmade wood-fired ovens, for which we hand collected the wood. I learnt about home-cured meat making and preserving, soap making, ragu and sausage making, all from one animal: the maiale nero (black pig). I went foraging, fresh orange picking, made cheeses, learnt about olive oil making. I was introduced to the beautiful world of farming and craftsmanship, of their bonds, their trust and their exchanges.
In Italy there is an innate understanding of food. Home cooking is the best cooking. It should be made with love. Nonna is always right. Recipes are conceived with generations of tradition. Nothing is ever, quasi ever, tossed. Seasonal cuisine is the only cuisine (lucky for them they have only one of the best array of seasonal produce of any country, in my humble opinion). Meals exist for the sole purpose of indulging oneself in the most excellent company, food, and inner philosopher.
This experience for me was everything I needed; it nourished my soul as much as it did my belly. But it also reiterated the importance of balance, in life, in diets, in emotions. No need for over complicated ingredient catering. Our bodies know what they need, a little bit of everything, all we have to do is listen. Quality ingredients transform even the simplest dishes, that's all it takes. Living on this farm was the perfect reminder that living sustainably, producing as little waste as possible, was not in fact something invented by our 21st century campaigners, nor off of which green marketers thrive. Our lands have been rich since the beginning of time, and it was commonplace to use absolutely everything; from the root to the bud, from the fur to the offal. As the lady of the house would often say, ‘non si butta via niente del maialo nero’ - One doesn’t throw away anything of the black pig. You never threw out, anything. So how did that change? When did it suddenly become à la mode to eat only what you wanted, when you wanted without giving much or any thought to what we left over?
I experienced for the first time, first hand, the beauty of 100% Farm to Fork life. And it was beautiful. I'm not saying go live on a farm for the rest of your life, (unless of course that is your dream, in which case don't let anyone stop you!). But I personally am a city girl at heart. All I am saying is 1. If you're having a bit of an existential-quarter-mid-late-life crisis (such as yours truly), disconnect from the internet, life as you know it, and WWOOF; allow your self to be re-grounded by becoming completely and entirely absorbed by the here and now. Not fretting about the future and reminiscing about the past is incredibly grounding let me tell you. 2. The fact that you have read this far is already amazing, and if you take anything away from this, I sincerely hope that it is to think twice about what you consume, how you consume, and what you don't.
‘La cucina degli avanzi’. Cuisine of leftovers. They were on to bestovers and didn’t even know it. That’s because to them, the farmers, the crafters, throwing away resources is like throwing money down the drain. Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, this is normal. Let’s make it normal for us city folk, too. Just flick the switch. Let’s go back to the future with food. #thinkbeforeyoutoss
So here's to the recipes learnt, the leftovers saved, and friends made. Thank you to my incredible hosts, the Nonne, and WWOOF Italia, for this unforgettable experience. For reminding me why I care so much about trying to make a change in the way we treat, consume and waste food. And of course, for refueling my obsession with Italy. I'll be back soon...
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