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Slow life in the fast lane

One of the first things I struggled with when I moved to California was the local obsession with speed: fast food, fast lane, speed reading… what's wrong with these people? I thought. Fast food was definitely the most offensive of the various incarnations of speeding; who in their right mind would want to gobble down food in a hurry? Food is a pleasure to be savored slowly, as is reading. No matter the demands on my time, some things just ain't right when they are done wrong. I'd rather not have pasta, if it's not al dente, and I'll happily decline coffee, if it's a "brodino" (watery broth-like drink). In the end, it's not so much a matter of time as a matter of care. Taking the time to do things properly means caring about them. Maybe that's why I like knitting and spinning, two activities that require unhurried attention and reward you with slow progress.

A couple of weeks after landing in LA, I was taken to a fast food place (I refuse to call those things restaurants). Then I understood the necessity to consume food in a hurry, like a foul tasting medicine. Sure, go ahead, call me food snob. From an American point of view, I know I am. From an Italian perspective, though, fourteen years and many a shortcut later, I fear the wrath of the food gods for my adulterated ways.

Yes, we expatriates cling to traditions more than those in the mother land. It's an identity issue. And a comfort issue. Some of the staple food of Italian diet such as olive oil and coffee don't actually have to come from Italy to be good. I use Italian olive oil in part for sentimental reasons, and I like Italian labels in the kitchen. But if Italy declared war on the U.S. and grocery stores suddenly stopped carrying Italian products, I am sure I could substitute with olive oils from France, Spain or Greece.

For some Italian foods, though, there just aren't acceptable substitutes. These are the first that come to mind:
— Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano (Parmesan cheese)
— aceto balsamico tradizionale
— mozzarella di bufala
— prosciutto

I am sure Chinese or Moroccan expats feel the same kind of frustration, only for different ingredients.

At times I go to great lengths to get the right ingredient, because a certain dish will not be the same without it. Other times I am tempted to stuff the freezer with prepared food… yup, I have my weak moments. But I have one sacred rule: no phone calls while we are eating. If it's good news, it can wait. If it's bad news, it can wait, too. When we eat, we eat.