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Praise for Foreign Tastes: 6 Ways to Better Enjoy Your Food

Jul 24, 2012 08:50PM ● By Erin Frisch

Praise for Foriegn Tastes

As a whole, Europeans invest more thought and preparation in their meals than we do in the United States, with our ubiquitous fast food and microwaveable meals. Europeans enjoy meals, viewing them as pleasurable, relaxing respites from their busy days. They dine. We Americans, by contrast, eat, often speeding through meals of prepackaged to-go food because it’s quick and easy. No wonder many Americans have become desensitized to bland, plastic-wrapped meals. That includes me. However, I am lucky enough to live in the Upper Valley, a region that celebrates healthy, local eating, not unlike they do in Europe. From my experiences abroad, I’ve realized that Europeans eat for the pure pleasure of the act. Here are six ways to incorporate the fine art of dining, European style, into your life.
  1. Choose fresh, whole natural food. Europeans carefully select what goes into their bodies—unrefined, healthful foods—because they know that what they consume and how they consume it will affect how they feel. In French Women Don’t Get Fat, author Mireille Guiliano praises her culture’s emphasis on eating real food. Not only in France but also in Italy, Greece, Spain, and other old-world countries, people eat vegetables from their gardens, cook fresh meat or fish bought daily at the market, and dip their homemade bread in olive oil flavored with herbs and spices. Europe is filled with outdoor year-round markets selling produce, meats, bread, cheese, and even flowers, and people shop daily for the fresh ingredients they’ll need for their evening meal. Eating fresh also means eating in season. In summer and into the fall, accessing locally grown, organic food is easy here in the Upper Valley; there are farmers’ markets on the greens in Lebanon, Hanover, Canaan, Thetford, and elsewhere. Several varieties of local squash, pumpkins, apples, and root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, last well into late fall and early winter. Take advantage of fresh fruits and vegetables in season by canning your own applesauce, jams, salsas, and pickles for the winter.
  2. Cook. The only foolproof way to know exactly what you’re putting in your body is to prepare the food yourself. Trying new recipes is a wonderful family tradition, one practiced artfully in Europe as a celebration of food. American family dinners, by contrast, often mean chain restaurant steakhouses, all-you-can-eat buffets, or fried chicken in a bucket. Instead of falling into this trap, my family has taken to theming our dinners to make them more interesting and delicious. We’ve tried cooking homemade Mexican, Indian, Greek, Turkish, Polish, Italian, and Chinese. While some of our ventures were not as successful as others, experimentation has led us to discover tasty new favorites, like curries and homemade corn tortillas. Commit to trying a new recipe once a week. Cooking at home is not only healthier but also saves money. Sharing dinner preparation becomes an event in itself and brings family members closer, creating a shared experience where children and parents learn to prepare nutritious food together.
  3. Present meals artfully. Europeans take the time to prepare beautiful meals that are as attractive to the eye as they are tasty to the palate. Consider the Mediterranean diet, touted as one of the healthiest ways to eat. The emphasis is on whole foods, simply prepared, and seasoned with fresh herbs, spices, and lemon or lime. Colors and textures abound. In our fast-paced society, the quicker a meal is over, the better—extra points if you don’t have to clean up. The European lifestyle, however, dedicates ample time to preparing delicious, healthful meals meant to appeal to the nose, mouth, and eyes. Last summer, I enjoyed an authentic Greek meal in the outskirts of Athens. Each course was simple, but a work of art. First, a small dish of seasoned olives was laid on our table with a basket of warm pitas. Next, a classic Greek salad, a colorful medley of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and onions topped with olives and a salty feta was set in the middle of our table. The fish for our main course had been caught fresh that morning. We rounded off the meal with a plate of watermelon. The presentation wasn’t fussy or fancy, but it was meaningful, giving us time to enjoy each other as well as the food. No one in our family wanted to rush that meal; it was too perfect not to be savored.
  4. Savor each bite. Europeans stress the pleasure of eating and take time to savor the sights, smells, and tastes of their food. Parisians linger for up to an hour in outdoor cafés, enjoying good food and good company. In Greek and Turkish restaurants, lunch is often a four-course, two-hour affair. A simple way to practice this new habit stateside is by putting down your utensils between every bite, and focusing on the taste and the texture of the food in your mouth. There is no better way to enjoy food than to take small bites and savor each one.
  5. Enjoy everything . . . in moderation. Consider the French paradox. Europeans aren’t afraid of eating fat, carbs, or red meat; your body needs all of these. Many Americans bypass, fat, cheese, and eggs, but will unwittingly munch on a chocolate-covered “energy bar.” When you crave bread, milk, cheese, or meat, your body is telling you something. Food is not the enemy; in fact, it is the ally. Socrates said, “Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess.” No one needs Olympian helpings of pasta or ice cream, but most of us can eat these in small portions. Treats should be a small but pleasurable part of one’s life. In Europe, it’s common to have a biscuit or pastry with afternoon tea or a little snack to hold you until dinner. After-dinner desserts are delicate little platefuls, or just a plate of perfectly ripe fruit. You can enjoy dessert and never feel guilty about it.
  6. Eat to feel good. In contrast to the American obsession with diets and weight-loss regimens, the French eat what they want. Mireille Guilano points out the lack of calorie counting in French culture; it’s just not necessary. If you listen to your body, choose whole foods instead of processed versions, and lead an active lifestyle, there is usually no need to restrict food. Let it enhance your life and your well-being as you savor and enjoy each bite.

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