I am currently writing to you, dear reader, from a small café in Lucca. I am eating my fourth croissant of the day, and I couldn’t care less. If I had told myself a month ago that I would be eating upwards of four pastries in a day, I would have fainted. Italy, my home for the next four months, holds much of its culture in its food. Much 0f this food, as delicious as it is, is what most would consider diet-unfriendly. The more I embraced Italian life, the more I learned to let go of body standards I had been taught.
Healthy eating has always been a priority of mine. Having intentionality in my food choices makes me feel as though I am making purposeful decisions. That’s what I enjoy so much about Veganism. All jokes about Vegans aside, I like the thought that my dollar is going towards supporting a cruelty-free and environmentally friendly cause. Not to mention that it keeps you looking lean and youthful. I had just fully committed to veganism when I was about to leave for my semester in Italy. As you can imagine, staying 100% committed was going to be near impossible. This terrified me.
I had been playfully warned by everyone I told I was going to Italy that I would gain 30 pounds by the time I returned to the U.S. I laughed along with them, but secretly I was terrified. Obviously, it’s no secret that as young women we are held to a high standard in terms of appearance. We are constantly told that our worth and our weight are somehow directly correlated. We consciously know that this is BS, yet the anxiety still presents itself from time to time. This was one of those times for me.
Two days before my departure, I sat at my computer and franticly searched for vegan Italian bloggers and guides to abide by clean diets in Italy. I vowed to myself that I would only eat pizza and pasta once a week. I searched for gyms and yoga studios that I could access easily in Florence. As the futility of this became apparent, I started to dread my departure more and more.
“You realize that you’re denying yourself the joy of living in Italy by restricting your diet right?” my mom asked me with a quizzical look. “A country known for its delicious cuisine, and you’re gonna cut it all out.” I told her that I would be happiest if I could have some control over this aspect of my stay. In hindsight, this was a silly and unrealistic prediction.
There is a saying in Italian: pancia mia, fatti capanna. It means literally “my tummy, become a hut.” It is considered rude in Italy to not finish your food. If you don’t, it tells the chef that you thought the food was gross and not worth finishing. This was one of the most drastic culture changes. None of us were used to such strong implications tied into food. However, as our stomaches ‘grew to the size of huts’ we realized that there were not as strict of body standards as in America. People care less about the size of your waist as much as if you enjoyed yourself.
In Italy, the people are focused very much focused on mindfulness. They are only concerned with enjoying their experience and doing what feels good to them in the moment. They are not concerned with others’ thoughts of them and refuse to be held to any unrealistic beauty expectations. When I expressed this to someone here, they looked at me seriously and said “your body is an instrument, not an ornament.” Leaning into this sense of living in the moment has taught me that sometimes it is better to enjoy yourself than live for other. We could all learn something from the Italians: your experiences are more important than your appearance.
Photo by: Heather Creamer