Getting more from less.

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.

For those interested in reading further about the neurological side of food, addiction, and reward-seeking behavior, I’ve attached a literature review I wrote last year.  Common Neural Bases of Food & Drug Addiction

– Munis

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The Sweeter Side of Italy

Gelato, the Italian-born but world-renowned creamy and flavorful ice cream, is more than just a dessert in Italy; it is an important component of the country’s social culture. Maybe it’s only because I have an excessively large sweet tooth and am jealously well aware of every tasty looking cone or cup in view, but it seems that everywhere you look, at any hour of the day, someone is enjoying a gelato.

Coming from the diet-conscious, weight-loss obsessed United States, I am fascinated by Italy’s gelato tradition; a tradition that for many begins here in Bologna, studying the cuisine and art at the Gelato University.  Gelato provides no health benefits but is still a staple of Italian cuisine.  I have traveled through seven Italian towns or cities over the last week and a half and they all have one thing in common: gelaterias.  In Italy, going for a gelato may rival going for a coffee or a drink in social settings elsewhere.

Italians and tourists alike enjoy the treat after a sometimes stressful process of selecting flavors based on flavor preference and gelato presentation, which often takes somewhat of an art form and heavily influences a customer’s decision. Even the gelato business has its own creative form of public relations where product presentation is everything. If you like what you see in the window, most likely you will be enjoying a spoonful within minutes.  Thus, as usual, the Italians do what they do best, turn food into art and make it taste good while doing so.

-Darcy Kohn