Given the apparent nutritional habits of the Bolognese, one wonders at their slender figures. Walking and cycling for transport, as well as consuming more fresh produce and less packaged food, may have something to do with it, but surely these alone are not enough to counteract all the pizza, pasta and gelato. I suspect a cultural factor may also be at play.
What I think I’ve noticed is the absence of the “more is better” culture prevalent in most of the U.S. For instance, compared to the American option to super-size, in a Bolognese gelateria you have the option of “piccolo,” which would be an unacceptably small portion for most Americans.
I believe this variation stems from a different relationship with food: Italians demand and consume superior products. Returning to the example of gelato, daily production with fresh and natural ingredients renders a real food with a genuinely appreciable flavor. We can compare this to mass-produced, highly-processed American ice cream, where the desire to eat is mostly motivated by the effects of sugar and fat on the brain’s reward center. The former is an aesthetic experience; the latter is simply stimulation, and hence conducive to excess.
Thus, I suspect American eating often falls into the category of reward-seeking behavior, whereas the Italians have a more purposeful, conscious, and sophisticated approach. The interesting point here is that a cultural factor appears to be compensating for the failure of homeostatic control to regulate the consumption of a highly palatable food.
Italy is well known for its food, but I’m finding the culture surrounding the food to be even more interesting. The first thing I noticed about the food in Italy is the freshness of the ingredients. I didn’t even know that American pasta was lacking in freshness until I tried the pasta here. I’m also noticing how regional the dishes are. Pizza is done so differently in Rome than it is in Bologna. And within Bologna each restaurant has its own take on pasta bolognese (also known simply as ragu within Bologna).
But most interesting to me is the culture surrounding the act of eating a meal. As an American working professional, I tend to eat lunch at my office desk, while trying to type with one hand. I always feel there is no time to socialize with my friends, family and coworkers during the week. But in Italy, meal time is a celebrated event. Virtually all stores and offices close between the hours of noon and 3 or 4, and during this time you will find Italians dining together in one of the many restaurants and cafes. After work, cafes once again fill up for happy hour, but unlike in America, drinks come with tantalizing aperitivos, or small bites, which Italians share over conversation. Kwintessential, an intercultural communication site gives a great overview of the art of eating Italian food.
From a communication perspective, (since that is what we’re here to study) after a few days of partaking in this tradition, I am finding the food culture to be an important communication tool. From what I’ve seen over these last few weeks, these shared meals seem to facilitate relationships and trust much more quickly and deeply than those in the U.S. So, partly because its fun, and partly because its useful, I’m going to take a tip from the Italians and try to export this delicious and satisfying social culture to my U.S. life.
Despite my deep appreciation for good food, I can attest confidently that in just a few short days in the regional capital of Emilia-Romagna, the following is positively true: Bologna is a foodie’s paradise.
Ristorànte, trattoria, ostería, bars, and cafés throughout the city feed the hungry and satisfy the palate, leaving patrons with a hankering for more.
But what makes Bolognese food so special? The main ingredient appears to be simplicity – although having a fabulous regional ingredient like Parmigiano Reggiano at hand, for instance, does not hurt. Overall, Bolognese food is unfussy and it evokes feelings of home and family, even if one’s home and family are outside of Italy.
In the U.S., the idea of using natural and simple ingredients has been gaining traction with food manufacturers in the past couple of years. There have even been well-publicized campaigns promoting healthy and simple eating to help curb obesity and restore simple family activities such as cooking simple meals on a daily basis.
Bologna’s well-deserved international reputation and success as a food city are not accidental. The city has a well-positioned brand as a food destination that matches what others say about it. So what can Bolognese cuisine teach us? Be authentic and be yourself.
Oh, and Bologna’s “La Grassa” (The Fat One) nickname? Completely undeserved – only if it is used pejoratively, of course.