Whenever someone asks me what my favorite meal is, I think they are expecting a reply with the words ‘gluten-free, paleo and keto’ incorporated in there somewhere.  While all of those diets may be popular, it’s not what comes to mind.

I fondly recall a fundraiser event I attended for the American Cancer Society in LA, where several prominent chefs were offering their best bites and my ‘catered dinner for 6’ silent auction item had just been sold to the highest bidder – the actress Allison Janney.  Feeling like I was already on an all-time high after bantering with my much taller new BFF, I scoped out the offerings eagerly. I happily accepted a small plate of delicate triangles of pillowy pasta filled with succulent morsels of buttery lobster tail, topped with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano and an opulent crown of sublime black truffles.  I took a deep inhale, and gasped. The emotion upon smelling and taking in the awe-inspiring arrangement before me was overwhelming. Consuming it was a next level. It was as though the earth stopped rotating. The birds hushed, the crickets stopped chirping. The air stood still and my peripheral vision disappeared. As the first bite fell on my tongue, my heart felt warm…and I think I may have let out a groan.  It was love, true love, and I didn’t care who knew it.

I tasted something that changed my DNA.  And it was just two beautifully folded pieces of pasta, perfectly executed.  I ate them ever so slowly, tasting each bite with every ounce of my being, and I was satiated.  I wanted nothing else.

To this day, I dream of that small dish of pure bliss when I recall a very fond memory.

Food has the power to take our emotions to places we’ve never experienced.  It helps us recall memories, reminds us of people. It can transform our mood.  It’s a language that doesn’t require translation. It’s the only art form that allows us to taste, see, touch, smell and hear and invites us to engage all 5 senses in the celebration of sustenance.

So why have we managed to drain the living fork out of it?

Diets nowadays spend more time telling us what we should eliminate, and in that process, entire food groups categories have been plucked from our vocabulary – and a lot of potential pleasure.  We’ve shunned gluten, dumped on dairy, bagged on beans and outcast the whole carb family to oblivion. Could it be a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it’s our habits that have thrown things out of whack?

I’ve had the good fortune of spending a lot of time in Italy.  It became staunchly clear to me that all of the food groups we’ve so readily ruled out to eat ‘healthy’ are alive and well in everyone’s diets.  Here’s just some of the intel I gleaned:

  • The dairy for fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano and other specialty cheeses yields from animals that are fed the proper nourishment and raised without added hormones.  The result is a superior flavor, so much so that a pizza is never covered in mounds of cheese, but it’s just enough to give it some love.
  • The flour is milled locally and breads are baked with painstaking care using fermented starters versus quick rise yeasts.  Sure those are faster, but they will continue to rise in your gut and cause all kinds of issues…and many cases of self-diagnosed gluten intolerance because of all the bloating.
  • The portions are much, much smaller.  They’ll consume three courses, but we’re not talking about bottomless plates of pasta.  It starts with about 2-3 oz. of cooked pasta, a reasonable portion of protein and finished with vegetables. You leave the table feeling satisfied, not like a stuffed turkey.
  • I’ve never seen a 64 oz. tumbler of soda in anyone’s hand…ever.  
  • People take their time eating.  Gulping your food down whole like Homer Simpson means improperly digesting.  The potential choking hazards – not to mention the duress on your system – is real.
  • Studies show that you eat far less when you’re in the company of others than when you eat alone.  Italians love to eat in groups.
  • I didn’t see a whole lot of snacking happening or people pulling up to fast food windows and scarfing food down in their Alfa Romeos
  • While Venti is the Italian word for 20, 20 oz. sized coffee drinks with over 100 grams of sugar do not exist there

Food should actually feed us body, mind and soul. There is so much dignity and joy to be appreciated when it comes to what God’s green earth can produce.  No one can deny that ingredients should be clean, plant forward, sustainably raised and prepared healthfully. It shouldn’t come with a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients manufactured in a lab. It should be enjoyed with fervor and savored like something that leaves us waiting for the next meal with giddy anticipation.  It should be enjoyed in serving sizes proportionate to our caloric expenditures. It should be nutritionally balanced. It can even include carbs, especially ones that are recognizable. And always, it should be enjoyed in the company of loving others.

That, my friends, is La Dolce Vita.