Have you ever wondered where all those food rules come from? Why Italians cannot eat pasta WITH a piece of meat on the same plate, or even worse, eat pasta AFTER a meat dish. Why certain foods can ONLY be eaten with certain other ones. Why they can't bring themselves to order a cappuccino after lunch and endless other rules we strive to follow or be caught in one brutta figura or another.
One answer came from a letter to the Salute (Health) insert to Thursday's La Repubblica newspaper last week. It was written by a concerned mother of an eight month old who will be accompanying her husband to the US for a week in May -- with the baby. SHe asks the pediatrician what she should do about the baby's food (actually she writes, "...ho dei dubbi, come dobbiamo comportarci dal punto di vista alimentari?" to be scientific about it all). In addition to milk, the baby now takes two meals a day of pastina or other cooked grains with either meat or vegetables. The questions was, "Should we bring homogenized baby food and powdered milk with us?"
I was sure the doctor would advise that this was not necessary and that they would easily find baby food and powdered milk in the US. But this was not the response. Instead the doctor advised that while they could find baby food in the US, it would not correspond EXACTLY to the Italian products to which their son was accustomed, particularly in terms of "palatabilità" that is influenced (I think he meant tainted) by the different gastronomic culture (different we understand to be have a negative connotation). Therefore, the mother should bring along everything the baby will need for the week, both homogenized baby food and powdered mild, properly packaged and sent in their suitcase, only bringing on-board quantities needed for the trip itself.
The doctor does concede that the baby could even vary his diet for the week, eating only dry biscuits (Italian ones) dissolved in (Italian) milk and (Italian) homogenized baby food that could even be served directly from the jar with a spoon (given the situation). The mother should not worry too much about any eventual imbalances in the baby's nutrition over the limited period of seven days.
And you wonder why Italy has the lowest birthrate of the Western World! What responsibility parenting presents and what stress to achieve such high culinary standards even while touring the streets of New York with an eight-month old.
So, that's where it all starts. As soon as mother's milk becomes a wistful memory, food rules step in to bring order (and good taste) to everyday life.