While studying abroad in Florence, I became a pizza connoisseur. I actually mastered the phrase "May I have a slice of cheese pizza" in Italian to the point where I was sometimes mistaken as a local. But rather than enjoying my slice in the nearest piazza like other Florentines, my sentence was followed by, "per la strada" meaning "for the road" or "to-go." When I made the request the chef's face would sink into a disapproved glare. I would brush off their dissatisfaction, plug my ears with music, and eat my pizza while walking to class. I was, and am, what chef Alice Water would describe as a product of the "fast food nation."
Water, owner and head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkely, California, recently sat down with chef David Binkle of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The joint lecture between them, called "Science and Food - Editable Education," centered on the value or organic, local, and seasonal produce. Binkle passionately told the audience in attendance at UCLA that there are hundreds of obese children in the LA Unified School District teetering on type-two diabetes, without a clue of how to change their lives or eating habits. Binkle has focused his efforts on introducing healthier food options on campus and at public schools.
Water's perspective, however, focuses less on the introduction of healthy options and more on an underlying societal problem. She views our food culture as the root of this larger systemic issue. According to her, getting fast food is NOT just about food, it's a way of life.
Food affects our rituals and traditions, our expectations and behaviors and transcends past what we buy for lunch. As a society, we have a notion that everything should be available and the same, wherever you go--the cheeseburger you eat at the McDonald's in Santa Monica should taste exactly like the cheeseburger you get at the McDonald's in Singapore.
We also hold produce to the same standard. An apple should taste the same everywhere and be constantly available. We get upset if we can't buy a grapefruit in the middle of January. Our wants have evolved into twisted idea of availability.
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Modern technology and innovative modes of transportation give cities around the world access to food that otherwise would never exist. Not only can you buy produce that isn't in season, but you can buy it cheaply. That in turn makes it difficult to justify buying a $1.50 apple at the farmers market, when you can get one for 35 cents at the super market.
How do we balance the addiction to affordable eating and instant gratification with healthy choices?
Water says, "The best things take time." As a society we need to slow down and take the "fast" out of food. We need to take our time and pack a lunch before work, not eat it while at our desk. We need to take a breath in between bites. The time gives us time to think, time to make choices. The result may not just help us shed a few pounds, but it may also make us happier.
Samantha Klein is FitDay's Product Manager. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art from the University of Southern California and is from Los Angeles California. Samantha has worked with and learned from various FitDay authors and Registered Dietitians and truly enjoys working on the site. When not working, she stays active by surfing, scuba diving, and running.