All over the world, there exists the myth of a “Healthy Mediterranean Diet,” which everyone is urged to emulate for the sake of their arteries.
The Mayo Clinic (which always makes me think of Mayonnaise, anyone else?) says on its website:
“Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option”
A cursory search on the Internet will reveal hundreds of other websites, books and newspapers extolling this diet’s health virtues, too.
Of course, all this Mediterranean Diet mythology originated from the British middle class dream of retiring early and going to live on their own vineyard in Tuscany. Britain is full of men who fantasise about becoming a Mediterranean Man, who comes home from work at midday for a delicious lunch eaten under the grapes hanging off his pergola, sloshes down a couple of glasses of his own red wine (no more Chateau Cardboard vintage for him!), and spends the rest of his lunch break shagging his wife in seven different positions like a true Latin Lover. Then he heads back to work for another three hours of lazily chatting in fluent Italian with his vinyard employees about how picturesque the lemon orchard looks at this time of year. Go on admit it, you’ve thought about that, haven’t you?
Middle class muesli-eating British newspaper The Telegraph has printed a truly staggering barrage of articles, proclaiming that the Mediterranean diet is so healthy it just might keep you in busines as a gigolo well past your 100th birthday, whistling while you work for the sheer joy of having clear arteries and gallons of cholesterol-free semen. They have variously claimed:
Mediterranean diet can help women get pregnant
Mediterranean diet extends life by up to three years
Mediterranean diet as good as statins
Mediterranean diet can reduce risk of depression
Mediterranean diet cuts risk of heart disease
I am here to debunk this twaddle using impeccable logic, and incontrovertible photographic evidence.
Here comes the logical part.
When you look into the research behind this diet, you discover that what all the “studies have found” was based on a study of about six people, five of whom were still taking their statins and viagra during the Mediterranean Diet experiment anyway.
The food you are told to eat on the Mediterranean Diet isn’t what Mediterranean people actually eat. It’s what north Europeans and Americans like to imagine they eat.
The Dr. Oz Mediterranean Diet shopping list contains foods so far removed from the real Mediterranean diet that not only are they unobtainable here in the Mediterranean, but it is also impossible to find anyone here who knows what they are. He advises such items as whole wheat tortillas and hanger steak – even I don’t know what they are. He recommends kale, which doesn’t grow in the Mediterranean. He advocates canola oil; when I asked for canola oil in my local supermarket a few years back, they suggested I try the hardware store. Oz even dares, I said DARES, to suggest whole wheat pasta.
I once served whole wheat pasta to my husband, Mediterranean Man, when we were in England (they don’t sell it in Italy).
“What the heck is this muck?” would be a loose translation of his reaction. He didn’t eat it. He wouldn’t even taste it.
The most staggering inclusion of all in the Dr. Oz list is chilli powder. I dare you to give an Italian something with chilli on it: they will never speak to you again, and they will bring up their children and their children’s children to kill your children and their children upon sight in a spectacular vendetta that lasts unto the seventh generation and beyond. I am pretty sure the origin of the endless feud between the Montagues and the Capulets of Verona had something to do with chilli.
The real Mediterranean diet is about as healthy as a Big Mac with a side order of fries. What the real Mediterranean Man eats is stir-fried paella and potato omelette swimming in butter in Spain; pasta, pizza, lasagne and flab salami in Italy; and in Greece, back in the good old days, moussaka, and strange lumps of lamb that taste of armpits. (Nowadays, many Greeks are eating whatever scraps they can lay their hands on, and going hungry, since of course starving is far better for them than dropping out of the Euro.)
The level of obesity and diabetes in Italy is simply shocking. That is what happens if you dedicate your life to being a devout Pastafarian, and eat a diet that is 90% carbohydrate, 40% fat and 20% caffeine.
Now we come to the photographic evidence.
The main claim for this diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, is that “Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease.”
EXHIBIT ONE: Here’s a photo of my husband, Mediterranean Man, reducing his risk of heart disease by deep-frying some lovely Mediterranean-grown courgettes:
The Mayonnaise Clinic advises “Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods”. This brings me to….
EXHIBIT TWO: This close-up detail will also show you that lashings of salt are indispensable in the authentic Mediterranean diet. My husband has already got through half the barrel of salt, and it’s only mid-morning.
The Mayo Clinic asserts that a vital component of the Mediterranean Diet is “Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil”.
EXHIBIT THREE: This is absolutely true. All Sicilians know olive oil is so healthy that the more of it you can eat, the better. In my household, we’re so healthy that a one-litre bottle of olive oil never lasts more than a week.
The Mayo clinic advises “Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month.”
EXHIBIT FOUR: This is half true. My husband, like all sensible Sicilians, limits red meat. He limits it to no more than a few times a week. About 4 or 5 times a week. However, on the other days, one needs to substitute this with alternative healthy foods. Yesterday a friend gave him a suspicious-looking parcel from the butchers.
The packaging looked relatively non-commital…
…but when I opened it, my worst suspicions were confirmed. The gift was a solid two-pound lump of adipose tissue from the belly area of a pig. Basically, the butcher had carried out a porcine tummy-tuck and given the offcuts to my husband for dinner. Please note, however, that it is 100% salt free and instead flavoured with wholesome Mediterranean black pepper.
When I registered complaints about this shocking slab of flab in my fridge, hubby said I could instead have some low fat salami which he had just bought. Italians love salami. As you can see from the sparse distribution of white globules in the photo, they are health-conscious enough to produce a low-fat version which contains no more than 35% fat.
The Mayonnaise clinic, like all other proponents of the Mediterranean Diet, advises “Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).”
EXHIBIT FIVE: There is no exhibit five, because Mediterranean Man simply doesn’t drink red wine more than once a year, at Christmas. Italians rarely drink alcohol and, when they do, they drink tiny weeny amounts. I think the main reason for this is that, when the sun is shining “hot enough to split rocks” (as the Sicilians say), a glass of wine will give you an instant headache.
What Italians actually drink is thimblefulls of coffee, so black and dense you can also use it to polish your shoes. This happens spontaneously, after they’ve drunk so many cups of it that their hands are shaking from all the caffeine and they cannot help spilling the last cupful upon their Gucci footwear.
The whole basis of the claim that you should have red wine with your Mediterranean Diet is that it is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Proponents of this diet ignore the fact that you can get over a hundred times more of these substances by eating a handful of fresh grapes. Italians don’t eat grapes very often, though, for they prefer making them into wine to export to Britons and Americans who want to follow the Mediterranean Diet.
Well, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I rest my case. Next time someone mentions the healthy Mediterranean Diet to you, remember that slab of flab in my fridge, and set them straight.
71 Comments Add yours
hahaha! and sugar. i don’t know why teaspoons are even bothered with – it’s just a ritual. just use a ladle!
Ha ha! I have to admit I usually shock my Sicilian friends with how much sugar I put in my coffee. They literally gasp as I reach for the 4th sachet to squeeze into that tiny little cup!
The original Mediterranean Diet is from when everyone was poor and couldn’t afford large amounts of meat, oil, and salt, and even pasta was a luxury food. Maccu is healthy as heck, but it’s poverty food. But Sicilians (and Italians) love their pork products – so when my Calabrese grandpa came to the US, and he could have bacon every day, and pork meatballs and sausage every Sunday etc. that my Sicilian Grandma happily made for him – he developed clogged arteries and had a massive heart attack when I was little. My dad also shares the same genetic tendencies and had to get a stent. And I hate to say it, but I would not be able to keep away from that pork belly, but need to for the genetic reasons.
Calabrese love their hot pepper flakes. Chili powder, no, hot pepper flakes, yes. Grandpa also loved his red wine, which he made himself. Plus vinegar and grappa.
Wow, I had never even heard of maccu and had to look it up. I wonder if it’s coincidence that I’ve never met anyone who eats, it, or if it is dying out these days?
My sister did tell me that the cultural tendency to overeat in Sicily, and to fixate on very rich foods, came from the older generation that lived through WW2 close to starvation and saw people all around them dying of hunger. Apparently this is why they are nearly all so short and stunted in growth (which is obvious because the younger generation nowadays towers over them) and cannot get over the deep need to eat as much good food as they can get down whenever it is offered.
Italian here. I second what Adelisasalernitana said.
Also, I think there is a misunderstanding — that springs from the common trait of taking the easier rout — because everybody speaks about the Mediterranean diet, while we should actually look at the Mediterranean lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet worked for peasants, with their demanding physical jobs. But it’s easier to change your eating habits than to change your exercise one. With a less physically demanding lifestyle, maybe we should revise the ratios of different nutrients.
Another thing that I’ve never seen mentioned regarding the Mediterranean diet is that Mediterranean people were shorter than people from the North. Maybe that has something to do with their diets? If so, then this diet is good for grownups, but not for those growing up.
I understand that your intention was humour, but Italians who care — like me, and I suppose Adelisasalernitana as well — are sick of this misunderstanding about our cultural heritage, and cringe at the dietary ignorance of our own countrymen. Had you titled your article “The Italian diet”, I would have laughed with you. Albeit the reality is that Southern Italians of past generations ate and lived healthy because of external forces, and as soon as they had the opportunity, they moved to a different diet and lifestyle. Incidentally, after having lived in Wales for more than one year, I was surprised at how easier it is to find quality food in chain supermarkets there compared to Italy. In Wales I had access to the best bread of my life, too. So much for the stereotype that Italians understand or care about food more.
I’m glad to hear they have healthier food in Wales these days. When I was a kid in the seventies, I used to stay with my grandparents each summer and the food people ate was delicious but not exactly diet food…. and there was quite a lot of obesity back then. Do the people generally look slim adn fit?
I suppose this same change will come to Sicily too sooner or later. People just need enough time to adapt their eating habits to fit their lifestyle, and maybe get better informed about health issues.
As you say, I probably put oo much emphasis on the joke and didn’t express (though I have in other posts) that the Sicilians certainly make incredibly delicious food and also that they are meticulously fussy that it is pure, organic, natural and the very highest quality. They refuse to eat chemicals or anything processed. I do wish my fellow Brits cared more about this, as they seem to eat horrific junk nowadays.
That’s very interesting and I think you’re right.
Personally, I believe the reason people in Sicily and southern Italy were shorter in the past (apart from the WW2 malnutrition/starvation that I already mentioned) was because there was a lot of poverty and their diets were very low in protein, which definitely stunts the growth, and that the high-fat, high-carb aspect was indeed well adapted to very physically active people (peasants, as you said!).
My father, who grew up in South Wales as the son of a coal-miner, noticed the same thing there: people were short and yet the miners needed to find a cheap way to get 6,000 calories down every day just to maintain their body weight, so they ate lard and sugar by the ton!!
In both regions the younger generation is much taller, in Sicily quite astonishingly so, yet they have an obesity problem since they find it hard to let go of the traditional and very tempting foods they have always been used to. Personally, being rather a meat maniac, I often get frustrated with my husband who will prepare a tasty lunch which contains literally no protein whatsoever. To me, this just isn’t good enough, especially for our little boy, but he cannot understand why I have a problem with it.
Regrettably, while I had an easy time in finding nutritious and tasty food in Cardiff, unhealthy food and unhealthy eating habits seemed to (still) be the norm, and on average people look neither slim nor fit. Finding budget restaurants that served green veggies was a challenge, among other things. Curiously, there were many health food stores among the sickness food stores. When I moved from Cardiff to Castile in Spain, I had a sort of sight shock, because all of sudden I was surrounded by slim people. Seriously, it took a few days to adapt. Not even in Italy I had ever had such an experience. I don’t know about the eating habits of the Spanish, but I think that their secret is that they eat small quantities of filling food throughout the day, thus keeping hunger under control.
I feel a bit uneasy now about my knee-jerk reaction to your post, but I’m oversensitive about this subject, as I care a lot about traditions (not only those from Italy). Indeed I found your article while looking for more detailed information about the Mediterranean Diet. Your post is fine as it is, it was just me that couldn’t take it lighter. Apparently my sense of humour remained in the UK, where it felt more at home 😉 Man, I loved the lighthearted playfulness of the Welsh.
Regarding protein intake, I agree with you. It is another example of the widespread lack of knowledge about nutrition issues. Teaching this stuff should be mandatory in school, along with personal finance. Bodybuilders say that unless there is protein in it, it is not a meal, and they strive for adequate protein intake and excess calories to grow muscles. I would bet the same principle applies to kids, and if I were you then I would be concerned, too. I know that there is a recommended protein intake for adults, I don’t know about kids. If there is, you may want to ensure that if they happen to skip a proper meal, their daily requirement is matched nonetheless.
Anyway, your husband must be doing something well if he can keep is waistline so trimmed — without any hint of “pasta belly” — with all that deep frying 😉
People in smaller towns — like yours — may care more about the quality of their food. I lived in Milan for many years, and I recall having eaten tasty bread only a few times.
That was hilarious, you hit me right on the funny bone with this post! I dared to tell my husband’s grandmother that she had no right to criticise the Big Mac Menu, as we’d already eaten more fat during the apéritif (saucisson, goat’s cheese, peanuts, crisps, pistachios) than there are in your average fast food dinner. And that’s without counting the artery-blocking capacities of the gratin dauphinois, meat in rich sauce, cheese and patisserie that followed it! I was sent to the Provencal equivalent of Coventry (wherever that may be). The French are adamant that their diet is healthier than anyone elses. Urh, yep. Passs me the fried courgettes and a slice of low fat salami, and I’ll chew that one over… 🙂
I knew the French reckon their food is the tastiest in the world – I didn’t realise they were making spurious health claims too! Good for you, putting them right.
Maybe you should innocently ask you Granny-in-law about the health benefits of paté foie gras next time she needs putting in line!
I would love to, but she died three years ago… at the grand old age of 102! Proof of the pub, if i may say so 😀
Uh. Freudian slip there. Is my need to go home showing again? I did of course mean “Proof of the PUD”.
You’re right. I suppose we should lengthen our lives by following the REAL Mediterranean diet, and to hell with it! Patisserie and boulangerie, here I come!
At my wise blogland contact Malcolm Greenhill has pointed out, the Mediterranean diet keeps you healthy because it keeps you happy. 🙂
Brilliant! Love the olive oil as a penis extension! 🙂
Oh yes, It works! 😉
Your “Mediterranean Man” perfectly describes what my dad has always said he wants when he retires! This post is too funny, as are all of your posts. I knew the Mediterranean diet couldn’t be all it was cracked up to be. That bit about the red wine is interesting, though, as it seems all diet plans/books/sites say to have a glass of red wine daily because it’s what the Mediterraneans do!
I know, right? It seems some urban myths spread around the medical community as easily as they do among the rest of us. I’m quite interested in urban myths actually, as they always appeal to some deep psychological urge in us – lke not feeling guilty about quaffing wine, for instance!
The other major medical urban myth is the idea that you are healthier and have fewer allergies if you are exposed to plenty of germs as a child and “make antibodies.” This was proposed as a theory casually, and spread like wildfire, but there has literally never been a single medical experiment or even a survey performed, anywhere, to test whether there is any truth in it. It has just been passed around and around as if it were fact – even by doctors, who really should know the difference between science and myth. This one, of course, makes us all feel good about not cleaning things very well, so the appeal is easy to see.
Personally, I am waiting for the appearance of some major medical theory, or strongly recommended diet, that shows it is very good for you to eat heaps and heaps of chocolate. 🙂
I’ve heard the theory on allergies, but I had NO idea it wasn’t proven! That’s very interesting.
Yes, a chocolate diet would be something I could easily get behind! 😉
Bwahaha! Oh dear, I’m still wiping the tears of laughter, especially about wearing a white vest. Chinese men like to wear white vests too (only it’s called a “singlet” here).. but it’s not to protect them from cooking oil, just an all-purpose garment to shuffle around the house in!
Actually it’s an all purose garment in Sicily, too. A uniform, in fact. Worn under a shirt in winter, and proudly exposed in summer!
I once started making fun of it on my husband as, around here, it is a major cliché that Sicilians wear white vests.
“This is the shirt of health!” he answered me, a bit huffily.
ha ha ha! the shirt of health!! oh.
Thanks to your hilarious post I now understand why people on the Mediterranean diet live longer. It’s not because it’s healthy but because it’s a lot more fun than eating tofu cutlets.
You’re so right!
Now I have the perfect excuse for eating chocolate whenever I want it!
Whoa!!!! Do we live on the same island??? Although I agree with many of your views, having worked with Italian doctors, who clearly state that the “Mediterranean diet is too cereal based”, and by the way you can buy whole-wheat pasta it’s called “pasta integrale” & available in all supermarkets, as is flour, rice etc, I also know many vegetarians, who are then offered salami, ham etc, as they are considered non-meat products, ( which is why it is acceptable for Italians to eat on the “fish only day of Good Friday…) & the only vegan restaurant, (for which there is no Italian translation of) can be found in Catania on the east side of the island, which incidentally is 1 & 1/4 the size of Wales… However, at the same time I know of many doctors that are worried about country people drinking 1 litre of red wine a day, (any British doctor knows to at least double that amount…) – the Sicilians I know which encompass a large number & wide range of generations and professions also drink regularly & considerably like the French, when eating especially at lunchtime, on Sundays & in restaurants, & I see and hear with my own eyes of the high consumption of the young from 14 years up, and the twenty something women frequently go to wine bars – without men in tow.
I do agree, that they tend to be generous in their servings of olive oil, but, after 12 years of living on the island have seen the quality of my hair and skin improve & shine dramatically, and is certainly better to fry with than a lump of lard, (which incidentally is an expensive delicacy here…) or the chemical laden other products, especially when using real extra virgin oil from the local producers, and not available in the watered down bottles bought in supermarkets. I do believe “dripping on bread” was a post-war UK necessity – give me extra virgin to dunk with any day – by the way I don’t read the Telegraph in my selection of newspapers…
Likewise, I agree they eat a lot of meat, away from the fishing villages, but, butchers here still prepare products on a daily basis, (like Britain 50 years ago) and for example you can only purchase fillet steak on a Thursday and sausages freshly made on a Saturday, and if you want minced meat it is prepared in front of you, by your own preference, be it rump, sirloin or horse…. Unfortunately the invasion of internationally owned supermarkets and hypermarkets means that like everywhere else you can buy products any day of the week, and like lamb etc out of season. Which also goes for fruit and vegetables, whereas you’d never find broccoli in the summer nor eggplants in the winter, at fruit and vegetable shops or markets here as they are out of season” and I never knew there were so many types of tomatoes & oranges, which any visitor to Sicily will know have an exquisite taste, but, as with meat the large super/hyper markets are slowly changing this, for those who choose to do their shopping in 1 place and is full of chemical laden plastic produce available throughout the year.
On a final note, the comparison to Mc Donald’s calories is probably true, dependant on the food you purchase, serve & eat, but not the contents or the chemicals, recent studies have shown that if you put a Mc Donald’s burger in a cupboard for 12 years, it will still be in perfect shape after…. Now imagine what that does to your stomach, sadly the invasion of this company all over the island and the obsession of the Americanisation trend, means they are always full and any child from the age of 6 up, will tell you their favourite food is Mc Donald’s and Happy Meals.
What frightens me most, (and it’s probably the same in Britain & the US) is the pressure put on children & young teens by their mums to eat little and remain slim, resulting in many complexes and slimming illnesses from a very young age. Yet at the other end of the spectrum, obesity is slowly slipping into the young of Sicily who prefer to frequent not just Mc Donald’s, but also kebabs, hotdogs and bags of pre-made French fries on their way home from school, or in the evening due to the obsession with all things British and American.
On a lighter note, the Chinese and Mexican restaurants in my city are booming, for those between 14 & 60, (it’s the same price as a pizza & trimmings more or less,) and boy they love chili and certainly enjoy their sangria! Off to buy my fish 10 minutes fresh from the sea & see the offering of the local veg shop!
I’m amazed how different things are over in Catania which, as you say, is not so very far away!
The booze drinking is probably the thing that amazes me most. A litre a day? My God! When I got engaged we opened a bottle of champagne to share with 18 friends (I tried to order 6 bottles, but my husband intercepted me and then shared a good laugh with the bar tender) and after dividing it out amoung all 18 of them, we actually had some left in the bottom of the bottle, which nobody would accept.
“Oh I feel so tipsy!” they all said. “No thanks!”
I tried to slosh it down myself but I’m not really a drinker myself and it went to waste!
I am also sad to see the invasion of McDonalds. There are now 6 in Palermo, but as yet there are no others in Western Sicily. (The next nearest is Agrigento.)
They have pasta integrale in Catania? Whatever next. Not in the Provincia di Palermo!
And out of season vegetables too? I can definitively tell you there is absolutely no way to obtain out of season fruit or veg this side of Sicily. My father-in-law was a greengrocer till he retired and I used to beg him sometimes for certain things from the central fruit and veg wholesale market in Palermo – for out of season things that I was desperately craving. He tried his hardest but told me they were literally impossible to obtain. The only time he managed to get me out of season anything was some strawberries, which had been airlifted in at absurd expense for one of the Mafia bosses in prison, and his friend (who was supplying them) let him have a handful as a special favour.
To be honest that salami is a personal obsession of mine, and most people round here call it a “porcheria” (very dismissive term for junk food) and try to ration themselves. Many people only have as part of a slap up meal on special occasions. I think the main reason they want to avoid it, though, isn’t the fat, but because it isn’t “genuino” (natural) which is probably the single biggest food-related obsesion of people round here. Are they obsessed with only eating stuff that is “genuino” in Catania too?
I agree about the olive oil, it really is wonderful stuff. I actually rub it straight on my face too, in place of moisturiser. It totally eliminates pimples and blackheads.
There’s a Chinese restaurant in Palermo too, but only one, and I have so far only met one person willing to try the food there! It’s generally full of other Chinese immigrants, apparently.
The level of obesity where I live, including among children, is the worst I have seen anywhere I have been in the world. The rise of diet obsession and anorexia I guess is the inevitable result of this. I hope they manage to find a healthy balance before it becomes a serious problem. They have started teaching the children about nutrition and healthy eating at primary school, so I hope that has some effect… though my neighbour’s daughter recently told me the other kids make fun of her when she takes fruit to school as her “merenda” instead of chocolate bars or cakes. So maybe there is still a long way to go.
I actually live in a fishing village to the north of Messina, but an American friend is Vegan so often travels there to feast, although there are 2 vegan shops in Messina, and several international including one that kindly supplies Heinz baked beans Colmans mustard and mintsauce, golden syrup, micemeat & christmas pud, plus a variety of other products. My partner’s head office is in Palermo, so I sometimes go with him, when I’m not working, so will happily show you shops that your inherited inlaws are not familiar with. Email me, as you have my address, so I can let you know when I’m passing through your part of the island. By, the way did you know French gastronomy and cuisine was mainly stolen from Italian … a fact they don’t like to admit, they just add big dollops of cream, although I do like both. By the way, have you ever been to the fishing village just past Modello in Palermo, Sferro Cavallo, they have the most fantastic fish restaurants at the cheapest prices, Delfino for example is 25 or 27 euros, inclusive of 14 seafood antipasto, 6 fish dishes, abottle of wine – many a palermese slurps this down on their lunch break. Plus watch Gordon Ramsey on youtube, octupus fishing in Cefalu…very amusing!
hmmmm…Interesting conversation here. I’m American and have lived for 2 years in Naro (AG) and now live in Catania. I find MANY culinary differences between the two areas. However, I can’t imagine any Sicilians drinking 1lt of wine a day. From what I have seen, alcoholism on this fair island is treated with the same family shame as if one was a meth addict.
So I too have many people back in ‘Murika ask me about the “Mediterranean Diet”. I agree that most articles are completely off but I find certain culinary abituati here that would VASTLY improve the health of my fair foreign friends. I would say the most important part is eating fresh. Learning to wake up 5 mins earlier to pass by the panificio in the morning, stopping to buy fresh melanzane from the ambulante that wakes me up every weekend, etc. etc. All we eat is fresh food here. Fresh, normally locally produced food. I think the key is to eat fresh and to have a small refrigerator. But ya, they love the salt. The closer you get to Trapani: the more salt added to dishes.
I love the line on the average brit’s fantasy of mediterranean living…:-)
The funniest thing is, it is absolutely true, I wasn’t making it up just for a joke. When I worked in a bank in London, we actually used to sit in the office happily talking about this shared fantasy together.
Now of course, I have made it come true, in a kind of way….
Though I have a blogosphere friend called Pecora Nera whom I think has really truly managed to make it come true, exactly as it is SUPPOSED to be. I must try harder to rise to his levels! 🙂
Did I hear my name used in vain?
I love the post, mmmm salami. Mrs Sensible is in charge of my diet, except when I am home alone and can raid the chocolate and fridge. Do you know she hides things from me (my crisps & other fattening goodies)!!!
I think I have spent my life, trying to escape the rain and gloom of England. At 18 I tried to get a job in Saudi Arabia because I had heard it was hot. When I married Mrs Sensible ( a Sicilian) I pestered the life out of her until she agreed to live in Italy.
I love Italy, but I think you have to be Italian or a little bit mad to live here. I don’t know anything that is easy, from posting a parcel to putting money in the bank. But it is sunny and I am quiet mad so it is ok.
PS Ciao Jennifer 🙂 How could you spend summer in the UK, it is forecasted rain, hail and snow.
Interestingly, when I lived in Wales, local people never understood my appreciation for the weather there. They didn’t realize how tired I was of a sun that splits birds’ arses, to use a metaphor from my home town. Hence, saving for that usual week in December of never ending rain that made me contemplate suicide, I was happy indeed.
Sparrows’ arses, to be precise. In case you wish to import this metaphor to Sicily.
Those poor sparrows! Which town is that from?
Why oh why did I type the name Jennifer? It must be the heat. 🙂
I keep using the wrong names myself. Maybe it is a symptom of advanced crisp deficiency?
I agree you need to be a bit mad to live here. Perhaps that’s why they think Italians consume so much wine – sales are buoyant because all the British expats need it so desperately.
I have a small stock of wine, I buy it from the guy who squashes the grapes to make it. Hopefully he washes his feet:)
Sorry about the name, Jennifer is in Sardinia. I keep a close eye on Sicily and Sardinia ready for my next step down Italy.
I liked your post, and I am on the Mediterranean, diet. I am also frantically trying to lose weight because I eat too much pasta, salami and drink too much wine 😦
Hang on. Are you on the REAL Mediterranean Diet, or the Telegraph/Mayo Clinic/Dr. Oz mediterranean diet?
I’ve decided to stop sitting on the fence and follow the authentic one, since it has been pointed out here by the very wise Malcolm Greenhill (whose blog I highly recommend BTW) that the real one is probably better for you as it is so much fun.
So off I go to have chocolate biscuits and coffee with full fat cream for breakfast… 🙂
Here’s Malcolm’s blog:
Dear Sicilian Housewife….thank God you exist 🙂 🙂 !!! Your hilarious posts are so true and pertaining to reality!!! When, by time, I find myself drifting towards the conviction that I am an abnormal person living in a normal context, one of your posts arrives in my mail and I am once again filled with hope!!! I AM NOT THE ABNORMAL ONE after all!! 😉 It’s so refreshing to know that there is at least one other person in Sicily who faces similar perplexities on a daily basis. Thankyou once again and lease keep your posts coming 🙂
Glad to be of service! We have to stick together.
I frequently wonder if I’m mad since living here. It seems necessary to survive, yet I’d prefer my sanity!!!
Do you write a blog? I think it might do me a lot of good – a reciprocal therapy kind of thing! 🙂 I do draw a lot of moral support from hilarious Brit-in-Italy blogger Pecora Nera, but I have to say someone in Sicily would be even more understanding of the unique lunacy that passes for normal round here!
Here’s Pecora Nera’s blog – I bet you’ll enjoy it!
I am actually Maltese…but believe me I have identified myself perfectly with every situation you have described in your blog (result of our colonialist past maybe?) Unfortunately my writing skills aren’t my forte so I don’t write a blog….but please don’t hesitate to contact me any time you like!! I too am in desperate need for moral support…..I don’t know how I can give you my contact details in private (pls instruct & excuse my ignorance 🙂 ). I wish we could’ve been closer …I’d have loved to have you over for some tea & cake rather than the usual (and so uch hated by me) ”black and dense thimblefull of coffee” LOL 🙂 🙂
I don’t care what sort of shirt your caro marito wears or what properties he believes it imparts, you must include more photos of him. Now really, over here on the western side of the pond, the white vest he’s wearing looks very much like what we call “a wife beater shirt”. So named after the undershirt worn by Marlon Brando when he played the wife beating character Stanley Kowalski in the film version of a Street Car Named Desire. Sometimes such a garment in other colors is called a muscle shirt…no need to explain why. No matter what, if the wearer is young and trim, the shirt makes the guy look even more like a he-man. On the other hand if a middle aged hirsute pudge takes to sporting the vest…well you gotta wonder.
By now you know that Maccu has been around at least since Roman legions ran around your neighborhood. I grew up eating fave but never pureed until last time in Palermo at the Casa del Brodo in the historic district where the Maccu was served with fresh wild fennel and a dollop of luscious ricotta. Yum.
You are right about which way the medical winds blow. Before I married my caro (half swiss/half czech) marito his cholesterol tested out in the stratosphere. When he told his doctor that he was marrying “an Italian”, the doctor warned him of the evils of olive oil. Now years later, my husband’s cholesterol is within normal range and the doctor is eating crow.
Thanks for keeping thing lively.
Ha ha! I had heard of those vests being called “wife-beaters” in America, but I didn’t know the origin of the phrase. I know Marlon Brando tried hard to help the Native Americans, but in terms of the Sicilians and their reputation, he really has a lot to answer for!!!
I am intrigued by the maccu stuff. It’s all the more mysterious since my husband loves broad beans. How come he’s never even mentioned it? I will investigate and report back!
Since it dates from ancient times, I wonder if it is the bean soup that the Greeks and Romans used to eat at bedtime in temples in order to induce vivid, psychedelic dreams, which the priests then interpreted to predict their future destiny. Beans really do give you wacky dreams if you eat them too late, though I suspect this is more to do with mild indigestion and fermenting flatulence than divine relelations. (I found this out to my cost in my busy businesswoman days, when I arrived at a hotel in NY at about 1.30 in the morning after a nightmarish office crisis, and all they could dig up to give me for dinner was some left over beans and a huge lump of cheese. I spent all night in a hyper-real seeming dream, discussing finances with Mr. Ed, the talking horse. It was so disturbing I couldn’ìt concentrate on any meetings the next day.)
Glad your husband has his cholesterol sorted! Olive oil really is great for that. Many Sicilians seem to undo the effect by eating too much sugary stuff. Luckily my Mediterranean Man doesn’t have a sweet tooth at all, so I hope he’ll be OK despite the slabs of flab!
I cannot remember if I’ve said this before, but if you come to Palermo again, please let me know. I’d love to meet you in real life. 🙂
Shame on Marlon Brando! He may have been a great actor but a schemo lo stesso. I bet he never felt any responsibility for his role in further romanticizing the Mafia or a social conscience for indelibly associating Italian-Americans with organized crime. Personally, I think he stunk all around and was neither a convincing or credible Godfather.
I find fave intriguing too. You know that they are strange beans. While broad beans are extremely nutritious they can cause death in individuals who carry a certain inherited metabolic trait, a genetic defect that causes an allergic reaction to board beans, otherwise known as Favism. Before blood tests the only way to know if one carried the trait was to eat some fave. Back then and maybe even in some remote parts of the world today, a gruel of fave was a basic part of an infant’s diet, especially among the poor. If the kid survived the first two helpings, he lived and continued to eat fave. On the other hand, the very few (and I say very few because favism is extremely rare) who carried the trait quickly developed jaundice, anemia, peed red, and died, thereby never ate fave again. I have thought for years that the trait for favism is related to Thalassemia (Cooleys anemia) and essentially another adaptation to malaria much like the genetics that drive Sickle Cell Anemia that provide some measure of immunity against malaria for the general population. Just now researchers are beginning to see the association. Hooray! I didn’t know that the Greeks and Romans used bean soup to trip out. Since fave and some funny mushrooms contain bufotenin which has the same chemical structure of some psychedelics, I bet you are quite right. Too bad Timothy Leary missed this. Had he known that fave work like LSD, maybe he would have avoided Folsom prison. One more thing, as long as I am doing theory: my wino theory is Italians eschew drink for the most part because to be drunk in public is to make malafigura and that would be social death in a society governed by appearances.
Yes. I would love to meet you, too, and look forward to that day.
I agree, Marlon Brando was a scemo! I seriously doubt any actor of Italian ancestry would have agreed to act in films so damaging to the reputation of Italians. I feel another blog post coming on….
I first heard of favism when I came to Sicily and I thought everyone was teasing me! It just didn’t sound like a real illness to me! The connection to thalassemia would explain why everyone round here knows all about it and regards it as worrying. I have met a few people here who have never eaten broad beans intheir lives because their parents won’t let them.
I bet your wino theory in relation to making malafigura is dead right too. Being drunk in public would certainly count as malafigura. Possibly even figura di merda!
So what did Mediterranean Man do with that slab of flab?
A small amount of it is lining his arteries, and I threw the rest in the bin. I made him a lovely mozarella and tomato salad with some fresh basil as consolation – I’ve decided it’s time to put him on the Mediterranea diet too.
What? You threw it into the bin? I would bet your husband’s ancient ancestors turned into their graves at such sacrilege 😉
Probably, but my beloved hubby’s arteries are just that little bit clearer! 🙂
I hope so. As a side note, I remember a grandmother of mine telling me that she used lard instead of olive oil to cook, because olive oil was way more expensive, and she bought it by the espresso cup. I didn’t ask her, but I suppose she used olive oil only to add it cold to dishes, which actually is the recommended usage. She lived in the city, though, hence another guess of mine is that olive oil was indeed a staple for people living in the country, but not for Southern Italians as a whole.
Wow, that’s amazing to hear in some places olive oil was so expensive!
I am gradually learning more and more about regional differences in Italy. Even the most basic things I had always thought were universal in Italy, like the oil, actually aren’t.
There’s also a commentator here called Jules who replied to this post with a list of things which are different on her side of Sicily from this side.
Oh, no – you’ve singlehandedly destroyed the basis for the (newspaper) column I was just about to write, which was that Italian prisoners are entitled to a litre of wine a day. I took this (dodgy?) info from the foreword to a book – The Wine and Food of Europe – written, I now presume, by a non-Italian!
I’d love to know whether you’ve heard anything about Italian prisoners and their wine rations. (Indeed, have you heard anything?)
Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to resuscitate the idea for a later column (right now, thanks to your incredibly entertaining post, I’m scrabbling around for a new subject!).
Stevie Godson (an Englishwoman transplanted to South Africa)
There are 2 prisons in Palermo, one is locally known as “the 5-star hotel” where the lower levels of Mafia are put, the other is called “The 6-star hotel” where the top bosses are.
The six-star one has satellite TV (you can see all the individual cells’ satellites on the roof, much better air conditioning than anyone has in their home (actually many people in Sicily cannot afford air conditioning at all and trust me, you REALLY need it here). I am told on good authority that the inmates get out-of-season fresh fruit airlifted in regularly, whilst most of us here in Sicily only get to eat what is local and in season. I once bought some strawberries from Egypt in January that were “surplus to requirements” for the Mafia boss who had ordered them.
So, a litre of wine a day for the inmates? I have no doubt whatsoever that they get bottles of port and brandy worth hundreds of pounds every day, top class champagne and probably a bit of caviar to slosh it down with.
Go ahead and write that article!!!!!! Just don’t make out they get a litre of plonk, that is WAY beneath them!
Despite the fact I’ve started to worry just a little about how well-connected you appear to be, thanks so much for your speedy response. I did a swift turnaround on the basis of what you said and my column’s now halfway through….
Ha ha! Good for you. Will you post a link here when it gets published? I’d like to read what you come up with!
It’ll be behind a newspaper paywall. I’ll post my original document (as long as you offer me indemnity, that is!).
Will I get arrested for copyright infringement? I don’t want to call upon my wide network of connections for protection, if I can avoid it….
My turn to laugh (yet again, thanks!). No, you won’t – besides which, I’ve quoted you in the column so I guess it’ll be a case of quid pro quo….
Ooh I can’t wait to see the article!
It’ll appear on Thursday, so I’ll post it in your comments section on the same day. In the meantime, my personal blog – nothing to do with the newspaper – is called Word Nerds (http://www.wordnerds.co.za).
Hi again! Here’s the column you helped me change my mind about the other day!
Finite space in the newspaper, unlike the world wide web, means I have to write to a set word count – 550, give or take very slightly. (Means I have to leave out lots, and governs how I style the darn thing – hence the ellipses!)
Nothing to ‘wine’ about
A “DANGEROUSLY truthful” Sicilian housewife I’ve never met almost scuppered this particular column. No, I haven’t been meddling in Mafia business, if that’s what you’re thinking. At least, I hope I haven’t, although this “housewife” does now have my e-mail address. Uh-oh!
It all began when Port Alfred friend Derrick Newson gave me the photocopied foreword from a book called The Wine and Food of Europe.
Written by late and legendary “voice of cricket” John Arlott, the foreword was, thought Derrick, so well written and interesting I’d want to read it.
He was right on all counts.
Most fascinating is Arlott’s description of the difference in the attitudes to wine between Europe and the rest of the world. It’s so much a part of Italian life, he wrote, that every prisoner is given a litre a day.
“Since he probably is accustomed to drink twice as much as that,” wrote Arlott, “he may find the reduction a punitive deprivation ….”
This startling revelation left me with no choice: I had to research its veracity. It wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be.
After failing to find a single related piece of evidence, I widened my search to Italian wine consumption in general. And what immediately emerged – apart from reams of dry statistics – was an excerpt from The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife, an entertaining blog by “an English business woman and hypothetical housewife, married to a Sicilian lawyer”.
Disdainfully demolishing as myth the “heart healthy”, much-touted Mediterranean diet, the writer wittily presented her case, including the comment that Mediterranean Man doesn’t drink red wine more than once a year, at Christmas: Italians rarely drink any alcohol, she reckons.
“I think the main reason for this is that, when the sun is shining ‘hot enough to split rocks’ (as the Sicilians say), a glass of wine will give you an instant headache.
“What Italians actually drink is thimblefulls of coffee, so black and dense you can also use it to polish your shoes.”
I wrote to her immediately to find out if what she’d written was true. If it was, I told her, she’d singlehandedly destroyed the premise of the column I was about to write.
Her response was swift and sure.
“There are two prisons in Palermo,” she informed me. “… the ‘5-star hotel’ where the lower levels of Mafia are put, and ‘the 6-star hotel’ where the top bosses are.
“The 6-star one has satellite TV (you can see all the individual cells’ satellites on the roof), much better air conditioning than anyone has in their home (actually many people in Sicily cannot afford air conditioning at all and, trust me, you REALLY need it here).”
While most locals only eat what’s in season, fresh fruit is airlifted in for the inmates, she said, adding she once bought some strawberries from Egypt in January that were ‘surplus to requirements’ for the Mafia boss who’d ordered them.
“So, a litre of wine a day for the inmates? I have no doubt whatsoever that they get bottles of port and brandy worth hundreds of pounds every day, top-class champagne ….
“Go ahead and write that article!!!!!! Just don’t make out they get a litre of plonk – that is WAY beneath them!” – Stevie Godson
Superior, very professional work; humorous, informative and entertaining.
Thank you! 🙂
I will certainly never give a Mediterranean person anything that has chilly on it, or even was in the same room with chilly. The scenario you have written down looks very frightening, it is not worth risking my whole family’s life over a hot dish 🙂
Very wise! You should probably play safe and not mention curly-leaf Kale or wholemeal bread either….
Dr Oz is such a scemo! I think my family get very close to a real Mediterranean diet. We are Pugliese living in Canada. We eat pasta 2-3 times a week and also eat lentils,ceci, and lots of green stuff-verdura, only use olive oil and everyone drinks a glass of homemade vino at dinner. The thing is that everything is homemade. I think that is where the real difference is-no chemicals, preservatives, added salt, etc. You can see our ‘salsapalooza’ for yourself http://unpodipepe.ca/2014/09/01/passata-di-pomodoro/
My other half wears a ‘cannottiera’ too, and I think it’s molto sexy! Ciao, Cristina
Yes, I agree completely with your about the “proper” Mediterranean diet. Absolutely all the Sicilians I know consider natural ingredients and home made “genuine” foods with no added junk to be the only thing they are willing to put in their mouths, even the ones who eat a lot of fatty foods.
And the diet you describe is exactly the diet that we have been given by a nutritionist to lose a bit of weight and improve our vitamin intake – it’s the healthy version of Mediterranean which most people probably used to eat in the old days.
And I agree, the vest is Molto sexy! 😉
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Very entertaining and educational. Humor was right up my alley. First random blog I’ve come across I’m interested in following. Hope you don’t mind, but I shared to my Facebook page so my friends can enjoy.
We know we are lied to, it’s nice to have it confirmed. Thanks a ton for teaching us a true Mediterranean style.. I know several people who will enjoy eating like this..
I’m really glad you enjoyed it!!!!
The truth must be exposed!!!
Hello! I just found your blog searching for Mediterranean Diet. This is priceless, and quite what I expected. I can’t wait to look around at your other writings! One of my biggest questions was white vs. whole wheat pasta.
So, ya’ll eat white, correct?
God bless and thank you!
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