Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The EcoGastronomy Blog will post a series of essays from our Italian counterparts at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.  The graduate students visited us this summer and last, and we offer their perspective of our food system and the comparisons with their own.

What is “a portion” in America?
An international concept of “portion” is hard to define. What can be considered as an appropriated average meal composition? There are substantial differences between US and Italy in the way of consuming food and this is one of  those.
Above all, and once again, the cultural differences inherited from the past (and wide varieties of food supplies) delineated a more structured dietary setting. Three hundred years ago in Italy and France meals structures were based on four main courses (starter, first, second and dessert).
Nowadays Italians every day life is different: we usually eat one or two dishes per meal, choosing between first and second main course, and even if in all the Italian’s restaurants are still applying the traditional formula, it is rare to see someone having a full meal.
The first dish is typically composed by carbohydrate (pasta or soup), while the second is mainly composed by protein or/and vegetable. According to this concept, it becomes easier to consume a balanced meal, supporting a more cushy distinction of the nutritional values of food.
Having a single course can be really dangerous, especially if there is already a consistent lack of consciousness in everyday consumptions. People generally use combining different  food without thinking about their proper nutritional content; for example in the Cafeteria is “normal” to see guys eating a pizza with pasta, but both of them are carbohydrates sources, and it can not be considered an appropriated solution for one meal.
In fact, as I have noticed, in US nutritional problems became a very massive reality that involved mostly young generations. Kids are no more able to understand what they are eating and which could be the consequences of these repeated actions, constantly and for longs periods.
And again to our main point: what “size of a portion” means? How much is it supposed to be? The Italian Minister of Health defined “a portion” as: a standard measurement unit (grams) for an equilibrated consumption of food. Underlining the importance of a “reasonable” dish size, that should be enough to satisfy the consumer’s desires.
In 1957, for example, in U.S. the weight of a typical hamburger was one ounce instead of the six ounces of today. Fast Food restaurants and all restaurants in general had, and still have today, a relevant role in those changing of habits, because they offer big menu without its proportional price increasing. In this way people are use to eat more and more, not thinking about increasing calories intake.
On the contrary in Italy we have got a few restaurant that promote those kind of choices, both traditional and “nouvelle cuisine” restaurants focus their own prestige on taste instead of big amount of food. These restaurants generally offer smaller portions compared to Americans restaurants.
Thanks to the division in different courses, and the time in between them, consumers are pushed to eat slowly and less.
Is it possible to change the US trend (that is becoming an extended issues all over the world)? How?
Certainly the biggest effort has to come from Institutions, they should communicate in a more constructive way in order to redirect people nutritional life style and the future generations’ one.
Advertisements, educational courses and many other possibilities can be choose to interact with the society; everything should be controlled and approved by nutritionists, and the common final goal has to be a more rational and conscious approach to food.
Family should support these changing at home, training themselves and their children to a healthy nutritional behave; at home, in school, in restaurants, and in every day’s life people have to change radically their bad habits, especially if this goes with a sedentary life.
The biggest step should be done from the multinational companies, all the dominance that they have on the market should change in favor of an improve of a healthy life style. Governments should control their power, especially in schools, regulating and providing a good balance of unhealthy and healthy products in these places.

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