Europe Does It Right

As I stood in the butcher shop, or macelleria, in San Cassiano, Italy, staring at the meats hanging along the wall and what looked like a family working behind the counter, I wondered, why is the food here so good?

Back in America, I live in a place where the ground is fertile. Things can grow. It’s Nebraska for goodness sakes. If you drive through the state, you will be tired of corn after the fourth hour of looking at the continuous rows. You also might be nauseous from the smell of the cattle feedlots as you drive through Ogalalla, NE. The food tastes different in Europe. The yogurt is better. The cheese is better. The meat is better. What is different about the land on which the cows graze and the vegetables grow?


I think it comes down to one word: respect.

I have contemplated this since my arrival back in America, and my feelings are consistent with the last time I returned from Europe. It first struck me this time at the airport in Atlanta. Everyone is bigger. We place emphasis on quantity, not quality. I eat amazingly in Europe, however, it is so satisfying that I don’t need more. Are we just filling ourselves with empty food that is made without care?

My boyfriend’s aunt said to me, “I thought all American women were fat, but you are not. You do not look like an American.” I laughed, but she’s right.

Over 63% of Americans are overweight. Europeans live fuller lives with less. They shut their doors at 2 pm for a break until 4 pm. They know how to relax. They eat lunch and dinner together more often than not. I was called out more than once for not giving cheers when I was poured a drink…and for not looking everyone at the table in the eye when I gave cheers.

It’s respect again. Yes, we as Americans are in the habit of living in our own world.

As I sit here typing away on my computer at Starbucks, I wonder why everyone has a to-go paper cup if they are just sitting here? Why are we obsessed with our single, personal, disposable packages? And sometimes (I haven’t figured out why) but they give you two cups because the drink is hot. What?? And then we use a cardboard sleeve on top of the two cups to protect our hands from the hot (usually warm) coffee?

Of the 30 or so espressos and cappuccinos I had in Europe, none of them were served in a to-go cup.  Not even at the gas station. You sit there and drink it and have a conversation before you get back on the road in your small, fuel efficient car. They don’t know what “to-go” means.

Why is it always so disappointing to come back to America?

Don’t get me wrong, I love America for its opportunities, freedoms, culture melting properties, technological advancement, progress, and general peacefulness. Americans are, in general, good natured, caring, friendly people. But I feel that somewhere along the line, we might have gotten slightly off track.

I am so happy when I see the local farmers markets packed on the weekend with people who are supporting their local farmers and placing value on real, fresh food. But Europe gets it right a lot of the time.

For example, genetically modified foods are labeled in Europe. Why aren’t they labeled in America? Again…I use the word respect. Whoever controls the seed, controls the food. And unfortunately, this is Monsanto.

We have gone down the slippery slope (with Monsanto executives pushing the sled) of patenting life. We grow soybeans that are genetically engineered and owned by a chemical company who have engineered them to be resistant to their pesticides (Round Up). We only commercially grow 4 kinds of potatoes in the United States. Instead of natural genetic diversity, we are dependent on chemicals for our food security. Eighty percent of our beef comes from 4 companies. At this pace over the next 10 years, all of the food produced for the world’s supermarkets will be controlled by 6 firms.* Not to be a negative Nancy, but come on.

I did not intend on discussing biotechnology, but in search of why things seem to taste better in other places (the same held true when I lived in France in 2001), I am wondering out loud as to the possibilities. The wonderful, unpolluted mountain air of the Italian alps could be one reason. The climate. The soil.

But as a Swiss grandmother once told me, “A good cook can do a little with a lot, but a great cook can do a lot with a little.” We don’t need a lot. We just need to respect what we have.

*See the documentary The Future of Food.








You may also like


  • Lindsey Cota August 31, 2011  

    I really just cannot tell you, how in tune with this post, I am. Every word vibrates off the page and into my heart, I understand so well what you are saying.
    And I’ve never even been out of the country. (Mexico doesn’t really count.)

  • BS August 31, 2011  

    I also got called out in europe for not looking people in the eye upon cheers-ing. I had never really thought about it. But why not! It’s one of those little things we just breeze by and miss.

  • forkitude September 2, 2011  

    Lindsey – awesome. I hope you can travel and experience it for yourself!

    BS – I know, it’s a small thing, but it’s actually a big thing.

Leave a comment