April 16, 2008

Food rules begin

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.


Deirdré Straughan said...

A sad side effect of this is that some Italians grow up to be inflexible travellers, the kind who cannot survive in a foreign country without having exactly what they have at home. They clump together in Club Med-like resorts which fly in pasta from Italy, and only meet like-minded Italians while on their "exotic" vacations. No one can learn much about the rest of the world that way.

Needless to say, our daughter wasn't raised that way, which probably explains why she's at school in India now and didn't turn a hair at eating rice and curry every day.

SWT said...

Your post made me laugh! There are so many cultural differences that influence how, what, when we start feeding our babies. I remember my Swedish friend was horrified that all the baby food in jars in Italy contained sugar and/or salt so she brought all her food from Sweden. I'm glad my girls get to experience the beauty and bounty of Italian cuisine but they also know the comfort of peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking there must some cultural differences that make one terribly impatient with others' habits? Food rules would be at the very top of my list. I eat like a West coast American: what's in season, what looks luscious, arranging ingredients as I please, eating when I wish, etc. Very Alice Waters, without the elaborate cooking. My husband does the same, and the freedom to eat at odd hours and enjoy the flexibility of not being tied to a specific menu is life-affirming, you know? HOWEVER! family meals for us are utterly predictable. We have one adult son who's such a fussy eater that when he's here, we are trapped in the American version of Italian cuisine rules! Sigh....

Kataroma said...

Not looking forward to all these crazy food rules cloaked in scientific wisdom once our baby is born and especially when she starts solids. I've been really surprised that Italian parents seem to feed their babies so much of this quite horrible looking jarred homogenized meat, powdered milk etc. I would have thought that they would go in more for natural ingredients and fresh food.

I remember my mum feeding my younger sister whatever we ate passed through the mouli (ie hand cranked blender thingy) - seems a lot healthier, easier and yummier to me. My plan is to also avoid the jarried homogenised baby food, powdered milk etc (full of salt and sugar) and instead feed our bub what we eat mashed up - seems a lot yummier for the baby too.

That is so funny though about the "superior" Italian powdered milk and homogenised baby food. That stuff is just nasty no matter where you buy it.

Jeff Gromen said...

Can I just AAAAGGGHHHH?!!!!! For crying out loud the food here is not frickin perfect and the only possible thing that people (and babies) can survive on.
I would smack a doctor who said such things.

Jennifer said...

This is a fantastic post! I laughed and laughed! It reminds me of the early days with my son. Weaning was so labor intesive for me until I was allowed to let my one-year-old eat whatever we ate. My pediatrician used to give me recipes for meals to prepare for my seven-month-old that took HOURS and HOURS to make and involved boiling, then separating, then mixing with specified quantities of extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan, then reheating, then checking the temp and letting it cool. The anxiety was enough to keep me from having another.

MollySue;) said...

Ms. Abbot ~ I've only just been introduced to your blog, but it is invigorating to find someone sharing my experiences. Life in Italy can be wonderful, but it isn't heaven (as many who've spent a holiday here might proclaim). I look forward to reading more, and taking solace in the revelation that it isn't just me. Thank you for sharing.