Convivio, a book dedicated to my mother, 100 years old, is written as a legacy for my family and for future generations of our family to understand a food culture that we have experienced . Unfortunately it may be a culture soon be buried into history books of tradition. It will be hard for future generations to understand how one could possibly spend an hour or two at a dinner table. I do not expect many to be interested in the eating habits of an italian-american family but for those that might have an interest I decided to give weekly exerts of each chapter to see the response before my attempt to self-publish. It is my personal experience from Italy to America and back to Italy, where my experience with food culture had its start and I regret to say may have its end.
C O N V I V IO ( defined)
A Degree of Civilization is often measured by its cuisine
“ In Italy the pleasure of eating is central to the pleasure of living.
When you sit down to dinner with Italians, when you share their food, you share their lives”.
Fred Plotkin, Italy for the Gourmet
Living and working in America and in Italy has convinced me of the importance of what the Italians refer to as convivio. The pleasures of dining with good food, wine, family, and friends lead me to the conclusion that if a degree of civilization, as defined by Escoffier, is measured by acountry’s cuisine, then the Italian cuisine, most popular in the world, can also be measured by convivio, life at the table. It is a word that has no English translation and in Italian translates to living together. But through Italian usage, convivio has come to refer to the hospitality of a pleasurable experience at the table. Eating in Italy means eating together, and as Plotkin noted,central to the pleasure of living and the sharing of life.
For Italians the meal is an art, the highlight of everyday life, a time of togetherness. In our family other than for illness, there was no excuse to be absent from the family table. Following the traditions of the old world, our family meal in my youth was a daily event, providing an opportunity for family and friends to nourish not only the body but also the soul. The family meal,a daily necessity, is made pleasurable by providing comfort, companionship, and a time to share the day’s events. Other cultures may also enjoy the tradition of dinner with family and friends at the table, but I shall leave that for others to discuss. My experience is in America and in Italy.The influence of my parents and later in life my husband, who was born in Argentina, reinforced in me the importance of time at the table as being just as important as genuine foods. The Italian dining experience I believe is worth noting, studying and adopting, for in many ways, it has the potential to alleviate or diminish many of the ills of modern society. It is this daily ritual whose significance is often overlooked, that plays a most noteworthy role in the civilization of acountry, its values, family life, mores, mannerism and social standing. The positive virtues of eating together at a table was practiced for centuries from Etruscans and Romans to the 21st century.
Today’s accelerated life style unfortunately has begun to create culinary blackouts even in Italy, butat a much slower pace then any other country in the industrial world. On a food culture scale Italy and America are at opposite ends. In Italy 90% of the families practice convivio, eating at least one meal at the family dinner table.
At the other end of the world scale is America which is quickly losing the sight of the table and where about 30% of its inhabitants eat at least one meal a day in a vehicle, often designed for eating.
Studies have demonstrated that an individual’s emotional, physical, and psychological status often can be correlated to their time at the dinner table. Delinquency, criminal acts, poor scholastic achievements, and even obesity show a significant universal orrelation to those that fail to eat at the family table. I often wonder when hearing of a crime, particularly of a lone soul shooting aimlessly into a crowd, if it would have occurred if that individual had a meal a day with family and or friends to share stories, life, and maybe even problems. I worry about the child who wants to discuss the happenings of the day, but finds no parent to talk to at the dinner table. Besides life at the computer or television, poor school meals, fast food establishments, lack of exercise, can one of the causes of the increase in obesity be related also to the decline of life at the family dinner table?
Do soccer games and piano lessons have to take place during the dinner hour? As studies are beingmade to determine why the world is suffering from a major increased in depression, maybe it would warrant a study of the societies were it occurs at a slower pace. Could individual problems be lessened, corrected, or eliminated, if one could enjoy table time on a daily basis with family or friends?
The positive virtues of the Italian dining experience as well as the negative results observed as they unfortunately gradually move away from the table, leads me to believe that it is time to get back to the table. Needless to say it is difficult with the demands of family, business, social obligations, pressures of society, and time factors. But for those that say, the family dinner is impossible, one should consider problems that may occur in the future which could be more time consuming then an hour daily at the table.It is not my intention to replace other activities one may do as a family, but the daily time at the table without tension or distractions can prove to be most rewarding.
Never would I imagine that the 500 year old abandoned farm house I saw while visiting Tuscany, Italy in 1985 would become a home, a cooking school, and a B&B, enriching my life with convivio. Unknowingly until recently, convivio in our family was a precursor for me to seek a life around the table with family and friends. The experience of sharing life adventures,companionship, along with social interactions and genuine foods leads many of our guests to express their desire to reinforce bonding with family and friends around the table when returning back to their country. Stories would never have been know if I gave our guests a key to their room along with coffee and croissants for breakfast instead of inviting them to our Italian table.
I feel fortunate to have been born, raised, educated and given the opportunity to experience freedoms of the most unique country in the world, America. I am proud to be an American and all that my native country has given me. But, when comparing cuisines and dining experiences, I feel fortunate to have had parents, immigrants from Italy, who allowed me to experience the two principle ingredients of their culinary traditions, food culture and convivio, ( table life) enriching me with the best of two worlds. My parents, and later in life, my husband, emphasized besides the need of genuine ingredients, an ingredient of the mediterranea diet often neglected in many societies, convivio, the pleasure of the dining table, so important in Italian culture.
It was this most important ingredient, often neglected today when defining the mediteranean diet that led me to share my personal experiences around the table and the difference between two cultures, with the emphasis on the joy of eating Italian style. As food cultures even in Italy and France are changing so are their problems augmenting which proves to me the importance of getting back to the table.Time to tell the soccer coach,”sorry it is dinner time”.