Friday, October 5, 2007

Freshness and Health

Ten years ago Saveur Magazine (March ’97) ran a story that to me seemed to sum up the missing link in our eating habits and issues around health and nutrition - what should we eat, what shouldn't we eat, what is the current diet fad or trend. Without meaning to, the article pointed out how we suffer from "shelf-life syndrome." The following synopsis of the Saveur story illustrates this.

The author of the story, William Murray, starts off by recounting a conversation he has had with an Italian friend about fresh mozzarella cheese. Murray proudly describes the cheese he buys - freshly made the day he buys it and consumed the following day. His Italian friend replies, with a pained expression, that having grown up in Italy it is difficult for him to eat mozzarella that is more than 2 1/2 HOURS old!

As if this part of the tale weren't telling enough - Murray goes on to describe the mozzarella producing areas around a town called Fondi, and particularly one factory, known for its exceptional cheese, owned by Signor Giovanni Buonanno. By 1:30 every afternoon, a few hours after it has opened to the public, all the mozzarella made that day - about one ton - has been sold. Signor Giovanni, as he is known, is 73. He owns about 170 acres of land, and 800 plus water buffalo (whose milk is used for the mozzarella). His operation is computerized and impeccably clean. He knows each of his water buffalo by name, not number.

Here's the punch line: When someone approached Signor Giovanni about selling his mozzarella in the United States, he figured out that it wouldn't be for sale here until three days after it was made. Signor Giovanni said no to the deal. He said, "Mozzarella is not something that you eat after three or four days. No. You come to Fondi and you eat it fresh!"

We can learn a lot from Signor Giovanni.

While we all have different biochemical nutritional needs, we share some common needs - one of these being FRESH, whole foods. The focus of our food system here in the United States is not freshness, but shelf-life. I feel the quest for the ever-longer shelf-life is what has undermined basic health - creating "shelf-life syndrome."

We're so fortunate in Vermont and New Hamshire to have farm stands and markets in the warmer months where we can get hours-old harvested food. You can purchase fresh, hours-old (not days or weeks) food picked when it's ripe (not picked green and gassed to appear ripe later in the store). You get to meet the people that grew the food; you support their hard work, keeping beautiful land open and working. You consume food, which is full of natural antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients. It is a complete cycle of life and support - your health benefits; your environment benefits; and, your local economy benefits.

Since the hard frost has held off this year, we can all still eat beautiful, fresh vegetables and fruits. As we enter the winter months you can still make fresh food choices - buy locally produced meats, eggs and dairy products. Frozen organic vegetables and fruits are usually frozen at the peak of their ripeness and freshness. Eat naturally fermented fresh sauerkraut and vegetables - and stock up on local produce that keeps well like root vegetables and some apples.

Next time you're purchasing food or sitting down to a meal, think less about what you are eating and more about how fresh it is. If it's truly fresh, your health will follow.

For a list of local farms and markets see Vital Communities Annual Guide to Locally Grown Food - Farms, Farm-Stands and more -
For naturally fermented vegetables see the sidebar, "Naturally Fermented Foods" with links on the right of this blog
For Vermont & New Hampshire Food Coops and health food stores see the Community Resources page at:

For those traveling to Italy you can go to Fondi and have the fresh mozzarella!
Caseificio Buonanno
Via Mola della Corte N° 7/9
04022 Fondi (Between Rome and Naples)
Lazio, Italy; Tel: +39-0771-513011

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