CHIUSDINO, Italy – I’m used to eating a meal and thinking, “I wonder what’s in here.”
In this small countryside town near Sienna I can close my eyes and truly taste each bite, paying careful attention to the different fresh flavors. I can identify certain spices and certain vegetables. Even with a language barrier that sometimes prevents me from understanding exactly what ingredients went into my dish, I am able to tell what I am eating, unlike what sometimes happens back at home.
Today, we made fresh tagliatelle with a gardener’s sauce from scratch. As we began to make the sauce, chopping the zucchini and garlic, I remembered where each ingredient was grown and harvested.
The sauce, made with zucchini, garlic, bell peppers, onion, peas, mushrooms, tomatoes and, of course, extra virgin olive oil, took on a cheese-y, tomato-ey taste when poured over homemade tagliatelle and sprinkled with Parmesan.
Here on the Spannocchia farm, I know where all of my food is made. I know that every single ingredient in my dinner is from the garden I explored this morning or the animals I visited yesterday.
Even in Florence, a larger city, where I never saw pigs roaming or vegetables growing, flavors of fresh ingredients shone through every dish I ate.
As I eat the homemade pasta we have just prepared, I think about the pasta-like dishes we find ourselves eating far too often as college students – Easy Mac and Ramen Noodles.
I think about the idea of tearing apart of plastic wrapper to reveal a cup of noodles that will expire far in the future – if ever. All ingredients are in a foil packet, and I cannot recognize more than a couple of the ones listed on the label.
We simply add water, microwave and stir a mysterious powder into a container of noodles, which has become covered in a strange milky residue, to prepare what we might call dinner.
Even restaurant meals and “homemade” Italian dishes are more mysterious in the US. What animal’s milk was used to make the cheese that tops my pasta? Where were the tomatoes that make up this marina sauce grown? Are they organic? How much salt is in this? How much fat am I consuming? It is harder to judge the nutritional value of a meal, and distinct, fresh tastes are harder to find.
I miss certain aspects of living in the United States, but the food is not one of them. I will forever be skeptical of what I eat. I will miss living in a place where I know that I am eating the freshest, healthiest ingredients available.