The Diet Code; Eat Bread, Drink Wine, Lose Weight
By Stephen Lanzalotta
I come from a mixed family: dark rye on one side, pagnotta on the other. My mom's family bought huge sections of black rye flavored with pungent black caraway from Turkestan, baked in behemoth loaves at a family-owned shop in Colchester, Connecticut, that still might as well have been in Poland. My dad's family bought Italian bread imported all the way from New Jersey. A thick, brittle crust that splintered into shards and tasted of caramel shielded a transparent crumb that was open-celled and sturdy as honeycomb.
The rye was a meal with smoked herring or ham and a side of sauerkraut. Papa Mazurkiewicz liked it best smeared with bacon grease, tiled with sliced radish or onion, and coarsely salted. The pagnotta was a meal as an edible spoon dipped into tomato sauce, with a small side plate of cold boiled chicken. An after-school snack at Nona Louisa's was bread, olive oil, homemade vinegar peppers and very sharp provolone, broken up almost like little quarried blocks of Cararra marble. Either way, one taste and you knew you were home.
Food says a lot about who we are. Cultures and peoples define themselves in part by what they eat and how they eat it. The choice, preparation and sharing of food not only reflects the climate and geography of a place but also shapes the society elementally. Sharing food and meals bonds people as an important cultural and societal glue.
Currently, what our food is saying about us, as Americans, is not good. We're industrialized (dehumanized), denatured, chemically enhanced, fake and always focused on speed over nutrition, profit over sustainability and quantity over quality. I don't know about you, but that's definitely not who I want to be.
There is a better way, but we've fallen drastically out of touch with it. Nutritionally dense foods eaten in natural proportions once sustained human society, but we've abandoned them. It's like there was a golden age in the past, and we are the poorer for having lost it. That's especially sad, because by rights, this should be our golden age. We have access to more than ever, both materially and in terms of ideas and wisdom. Those who came before us didn't have all the resources, information and technology we have today, yet they had the wisdom to eat in tune with the body. We've advanced so much in some ways, but in others we've lost a lot of ground. The Diet Code is a way to tune back into what we never should have let go.
In our solely American framing of food not as nourishment but as mechanism-with its dark rumbling of food fears and anxieties-we have turned our backs on the poetic wisdom of the ancients. Most recently this has taken the form of carb-phobia, so the most urgent message we need to hear is Grain is good. But that's just the beginning. The greater theme of balance, as determined by the Golden Ratio and now applied to particulars in The Diet Code, frees us to enjoy our food as well as receive all its benefits.
Part of what's happened in our fast, prepackaged food culture is that we are no longer intimately familiar with what we cat-where it comes from, how it is made and what it is like in its natural state. Preparing your own food is one of the best ways to easily follow The Diet Code and to get back in touch with what you eat. That's the way to free yourself from the strictured, fearful ways in which Americans so often approach food and eating and begin connecting with the pleasure and satisfaction of good food that is well prepared.
We act as if we no longer have time to sit down and enjoy a meal, as if we don't remember how to savor what we eat-or as if doing those things is something reserved for special occasions spent eating in high-end restaurants. But these are skills we need to hone every day, in our homes, whether the food before us is simple or sophisticated. Start with real food-good food. When we're eating commercially prepared foods, which don't really taste that good or, at least, that interesting, it's no wonder we wolf them down. But when we do that, we end up either still eating long after we are really full (but having not yet received the "enough" signal from the body) or eating on mindlessly in a futile attempt to get what the body really needs (but will never get from junk food). Real food, like what's recommended on The Diet Code, has more flavor and more sophisticated fragrances, which get us excited about what we are eating. Real food also takes longer to eat. It spends longer in the mouth, which ultimately improves digestion and absorption of nutrients, and we spend longer at the table eating a smaller amount of food (calorically speaking). We then have plenty of time to notice when our bodies are telling us they have had enough. After all, food is just one part of the best meals. The other is the company. With real food on the table, we'll have plenty of time to enjoy both.
My livelihood gives me a particular window onto the value of what's largely gone missing between us and what we eat, as well as a view of what happens when we experience remembering. The physical act of making bread is a connection with history. The process awakened in me an awareness of the cultural histories each loaf represented-the family hearth and shared meals it evoked. It's a large part of why I choose to do what I do; there's no arguing with the physical authenticity of kneading great mounds of dough by hand, as has been done for centuries. And there's no arguing with the satisfaction of making something so primal, so ancient, so nourishing and so nurturing-and then sharing it with others.