This is the English version of the article published on May 25th 2014 by Alessandria News

This post comes from the exchanges I had with one of the newspaper’s readers. He said he could not show respect for a country that erected Mc. Donald as a symbol. Aside from the fact that the statement offends me for the amount of ignorance toward my hosts, it’s sure there is an extent preconception about the American way of eating, so I hope with this post I can give you an idea of ​​how the food market and the American approach to food and nutrition is slowly changing and why.
We Italians stand as champions of healthy eating and good food. We are known to the entire world for our outstanding cuisine. Sure it’s not always been like this, and the variety of foods on our tables is a fairly recent happening.
If you are my faithful reader since the beginning of my adventure as a writer, you'll know already that in addition to teaching Italian language, I also teach a course on Italian culture through the social approach to food in Italian history. That's why I am lucky I have studied and been a witness to the differences between the two nations at the table.
It’s common knowledge that in Italy food is good and Italians eat well nowadays. Everyone knows it: the Italians in Italy, the Italians living abroad like me, and all those who are lucky enough to have tried our real cuisine. This is recent history, only our grandparents up to the economic boom in the ‘50s, ate a lot less than the minimum requested caloric intake and they were almost vegetarians and not by their own choice. We Italians almost forgot this recent history; we could buy good food and abundance made us spoiled, with only old people remembering those not so good times. Unfortunately, the most recent economic crisis made this all too actual: with more families trying to save money where they can. Worrisome is when people begin to skimp on food and the quality and variety of it…and it looks like  it’s now happening for many.
Here's an example of what I am trying to explain and it’s not too far back in history. I'm sure not many of you (if any) know the name: Fernanda Momigliano. Fernanda was a writer of romance novels during the fascism. She was both Jew and fascist, as many Jews were, before the racist degeneration of fascism. Fernanda wrote a book titled: "How to live well in difficult times." This manual was written at the time when Europe was also suffering as a result of the Great Depression and Italy was living the craziness of Mussolini wanting a totally self-sufficient country, not depending on food supplies from neighboring –enemy countries.  With this book Fernanda wanted to give women the tools to save the appearances at home even if money was scarce, for example, by choosing less expensive cuts of meat, but especially suggesting to begin each meal with what she called “ the secret weapon” : the minestrone, the vegetable soup, inexpensive because based on water, but fulfilling the stomach  so that a person would eat less of the food that came(or not) after, but always in a “classy” way and without complaining, because part of being a fascist was to be convinced that everything was ok and done for the country ! Now fortunately Italians have voices and are able to complain, but this does not change the fact that probably soup is returning on many people’s tables. Italians are going back on being mostly vegetarians, with pasta and vegetables as main calories‘providers, since they are a less expensive alternative than meat, and they are in our DNA and in our history.
 Grains and vegetables are pretty much the basic of the Mediterranean diet, considered an example of healthy eating! We owe the name to an American doctor that called it this way in the 1950s, after discovering that the populations of the Mediterranean basin had a very low rate of heart diseases compared to Americans. But when studying the way the Ancient Romans ate, it’s already easy to see on their tables, foods that were very similar to what we find on Italian tables today, because it was what was available to them, not because they had any knowledge of healthy eating and cholesterol!
Anyway, whatever they put on their table, Italians certainly give a lot of value to the social meaning of sharing a meal together. Food means sharing experiences and stories, it means conviviality and social life, and it’s not only physical but also mental nourishment: for Italians, the food is slow, it is slow food.
For all those reasons it makes totally sense that the global movement Slow Food was born in Italy: Italians, as with the Mediterranean diet, always ate in the slow food way, even without knowing it. The Slow Food message is: good, clean and fair food, with a particular attention to local producers and ingredients. This also means food eaten in season and certainly with a very short trip from the producer to the final user’s table. Whoever got the chance to be in Italy and go grocery shopping even in national chains ‘markets knows that Italians buy seasonal and regional, if one talks to an Italian understands immediately how it’s against our way of life buying strawberries in January  ( .. who knows where they come from?) or oranges in May, to list just two examples. And Italians eat regional as well, so food is always a new experience wherever one is living, travelling, and staying. Carlo Pedrini, the founder of Slow Food, took a concept that is already in our DNA and made it a global message
And what can be said about fast food in Italy? Well, think that in my hometown, one of the Mc. Donald joints closed down because it went bankrupt and it was even the one inside the train station, so the traffic could have been good. Apparently not enough Italians were desperate enough to eat at Mc. Donald!
 Italians do not like fast food: for us fast food is a slice of pizza, or a Caprese salad. Our Fast Food chain is called Sfizio, and it looks more like a restaurant than a fast food, as drive-troughs do not exist in italy!  We really have to be desperate to eat at Mc Donald’s. In fact, Italy is one of the countries in the world with the lowest number of fast food chains. The big chains don’t even try to open their outlets in Italy. We don’t have KFC or Pizza Hut or Wendy.
If thinking of Italian food calls for Pasta and Pizza, American food is synonymous of meat. Anyone who visits the United States cannot help but eating a big steak or a burger. And in reality what is a typical fast food meal if not a low quality, fast version of the love that Americans have for meat?
Fast food joints  are literally around every corner.
Fast food is necessity combined with low cost and (I have to admit it) low quality.
Something is slowly changing here as well, also with the help of the institutions, and with the first lady Michelle Obama, sending an extremely strong message with example to communities.
In preparing my course I read a very interesting book , titled " Fast Food Nation " by journalist Eric Schlosster , which was made also into a movie and gave the start to an entire series of books and movies about fast food and American food industry . I have watched and read several of those and they are all shocking, from “Supersize Me”, the diary of the physical and health changes of an athletic young man eating only at Mc. Donald: breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month to "Food Inc." a film about food production in the United States .
In my opinion two are the main problems that have led to a drastic lowering of the quality of the food served in fast food restaurants, which had their beginning in the 1920s from a fairly good concept: cost and mass production. How is possible to eat at a fast food restaurant for $ 4 with burger, fries and a drink? Where did the hamburger meat come from, which kind of meat is that and what about the potatoes: which oil has been used to fry them? Ask yourself these questions and the answers cannot be good: to keep prices down imagine what you put in your mouth.
But if going to a fast food still costs less and is easier than going to the grocery store to buy fresh ingredients, it’s easy to see where the problem lies: the low income families feed themselves with fast food or what is called junk food, food with no nutritional value, only able of filling the belly and take away hunger, but responsible on the opposite to health problems and in the long run to higher costs for the community.
But ...
It is not true that the population has Mc. Donald as its symbol; there have been changes, partly as a result of documentaries like the ones I mentioned. Even the fast food chains are changing rapidly and there is more attention on the food served. For example, as a result of the movie "Supersize Me " (the title comes from the fact that for a few cents more, until a few years ago, one could receive an amount of fries enough for a family of 4 ) supersizing is not possible anymore . Nutrition information and calories for each serving have become mandatory at fast food restaurants. The quality of the meat probably did not improve as the price of the meals has not increased. Anyway there are many new chains that now offer more fresh and healthy alternatives, others that attract a different type of customers more careful about what they put in their mouth.
One may decide to go or not to a fast food place, but what about the food served at home or at school?
The basic problem is that eating healthy may cost more than going to fast food place and in the USA there is not the nutritional education that we have in Europe. We Italians are lucky because we come in contact with a healthy cooking since birth, but most of the Americans don’t.
When in a normal supermarket there are more canned foods or prepackaged meals ready to be popped in the microwave and ready to eat, than fresh foods, here is where the problem lies! Vegetables and fruits cost much more than a giant bag of chips and most of the time they travel long distance and they are picked not at the pick of the season, to the detriment of taste and organoleptic quality. Many American women do not cook: their mothers did maybe, but not anymore and they don’t teach their children.
And schools? When my eighteen year old daughter began elementary school, the food served in the cafeteria was only fried and served in chunks so the children could eat it with their hands. Many American children are not even exposed to different foods.  They do not eat vegetables because they know only 3 of them: carrots, broccoli and cauliflowers eaten raw or blanched and many children of course don’t like them (raw broccoli and cauliflower are just bad in my opinion!) The potatoes are fried or served in the form of little balls called tater tots, and the meat comes from an undisclosed part of the chicken , definitively not the breast, called chicken nuggets ( since I've watched one of the movies mentioned before I strongly discouraged my daughter to eat them ) . This is not just about cost, it is also about education !
Much is changing. Ms. Obama has done a lot in this regard. Her battle against obesity in children targeted schools since children spend a lot of time in school and from there education at large. Unfortunately, obesity usually goes hand in hand with the family’s income, as many times obesity is sign of a low income person.
Now schools serve fresher and not fried alternatives and soft drinks cannot be sold in schools. These are small, but significant steps.
There is also a lot of effort done by different associations. Through my course I was lucky to meet Greg Leon, chef associated with Slow Food Wisconsin who will open soon his own restaurant Amilinda, in Milwaukee. Part of his commitment is food education and he teaches low -income families that is possible to eat healthy and cheaply (for less than buying junk food) by cooking simple dishes, buying in season and knowing where to buy: little steps easy to take to change attitude toward food and health.
Even restaurants are changing, the portions are shrinking, and more importance is given to taste and not size. Not too fast! Do not think that all Americans magically are becoming perfect. The road is still long; unfortunately the message of Carlo Pedrini and Slow Food is still elitist.
The signals, however, are there and the fact that my course is so popular proves it. Within my abilities I try to do something myself, changing the mentality of the young people taking my course: 30 at a time!
Lastly I would like to explain the second part of my post’s title: “..but let’s not blame everything on   Mc Donald”
Mc. Donald is not the devil impersonator! There is an aspect of Mc. Donald that is not known by everybody.  Mc . Donald is behind the Ronald Mc. Donald house .
There are many of them in the United States, usually near a major pediatric hospital. It is a charity organization that provides housing and long-term care to sick children and their families. These kids and their family live in real homes, making it easier, less stressful and more effective to take care of the sick children. These apartments are either free or cost as little as $ 25 per day if the family has the means to give the money. That's the reason for my title. Something to think about!