Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some Thoughts about Food Culture

{My monthly article for the "Go Green" section in The Denver News - formerly the Downtown Denver News}

Recently, I met up with a couple from Italy passing through Denver and other big name cities for a PR tour of America. They run a resort and cooking school where they come from and are not incidentally interested in how we eat. I imagine they will want to give feedback to their customers and friends once they get back home. I saw their website and their quaint operation on the Adriatic Sea looks charming and inviting. I sure do hope they have a good time and it leads me to wonder what they will think of us once they’ve gone.
Since I lived in Italy for many years, I can vouch that the way we eat in America is very different from the food culture there. In the States, we relish in the faster pace and love the fast food nation we have become. We don’t like to go to the trouble of spending too much time in the kitchen. To Italians though, the kitchen is sacrosanct. There is no need for a “structural overhaul” of the food system that is often talked about in our daily news. There is no “rampant child obesity” caused by inactivity and processed food that is eaten everywhere in the US.
One of the reasons they don’t have these problems is that Italy still has small farmers and butchers, bakers, sheep herders, vegetable growers, small dairies and cheese mongers, to mention just a few enterprises. Fresh food grown sustainably is the norm, not something that needs a ‘movement’ to attract attention to it. Every day you can see small markets offering fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as independent grocery stores that do a booming business selling deli meats, locally sourced food and wine, fresh pastries and breads. Restaurants know their farmers and who butchers their pork cutlets. Living ‘the good life’ by sourcing real food, from real people, instead of factories is everyday life, ingrained in their culture. Anyone that has been to Italy has experienced what I am talking about.

So, why am I talking about Italians in my ‘green’ column? Well, making their acquaintance made me think about how I would show off our own local food culture. Sitting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains our visitors will surely experience Denver as unforgettable. They will no doubt delight in our spectacular views and sunny winter skies. They will see the museums, Botanic Gardens and the Micro breweries, even Coors Field and Buffalo Bill’s Grave. After that, unless they spend their entire visit skiing our majestic mountains, where should they engage in that favorite Italian and American pastime, mangiare?

Past the Starbucks, the Outback’s, the Malls, the All-you-can-eat places, the fast food mecca’s and Mexican dives, how will they experience our local food? Sure, there are loads of restaurants everywhere but the food served is not necessarily a showcase of Colorado products. Fewer in number but important to the local and organic scene are the venerable farm-to-table restaurants in and around the city that have been in the forefront of the Colorado food movement. I feel the European travelers will want to experience some of that.
Italians are known for their reverence of the earth and the fruit that comes from it, especially the wine. So I really would like our guests to feel that as Coloradans we too are proud stewards of the land. I’d like them to see that we have the food to prove it. I want them know that we support our local, smaller scale agri-oriented enterprises. There is, I told them, a fresh food revolution that is struggling to emerge right beneath our noses on the Front Range. It would be nice to see a strategy of supportive infrastructure geared towards those who are interested in hand craft traditions, like artisanal bread baking, common just a few generations ago. But I didn’t mention that. They probably won’t notice what is lacking and just go with the good stuff available.
I’m not too worried. We show up pretty good, what with the sheer physical beauty of where we live; the snow capped mountains, the pristine lakes, the hiking and biking and especially, the friendly people - those are the stars of Colorado. I’m just hoping the Italians find our local food culture something to write home about in addition.
Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt, is a creative entrepreneur and currently lives in Denver. She writes a monthly column for The Denver News and advocates for sustainable living.

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