Friday, August 24, 2012

Alimentary Education

In my doomed, ambivalent quest for Henry to speak Italian, I downloaded an album from iTunes called Canzoni per Bambini, Songs for Babies. It has all the usual suspects -- the alphabet, days of the week, months of the year, colors, numbers.

But, then! In an Italianissimo twist, one of the songs is called Il Cibo di Stagione, roughly translated as "food that is in season." Here are the opening lyrics:
Il cibo di stagione (Seasonal food)
Fa bene al pancino (Is good for your belly)
It goes on to name fruits and vegetables that are in season during summer, autumn, winter and spring.

Here's my question: Can anyone think of an American nursery rhyme, children's song or ditty of any sort that talks about the benefits of eating food that is in season?

Beyond the basics, like apples and oranges, most Americans would #fail at matching foods with their proper seasons. You go to a grocery store and everything is always available. The proliferation of farmers' markets in cities across the country reflects our slowly changing mindset, but we still have a long way to go.

I first became certifiably insane obsessed with food politics in early 2007 while reading Michael Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Rayne and I actually got into an extremely heated argument in bed one night over farm subsidies. (Yeah, that's the kind of sexy pillow talk we have.)

But the seeds of my obsession were planted in autumn 1995, my first trip to Italy. At that time, I would have been hard pressed to name more than a few seasonal fruits and vegetables, mainly the ones that my parents and grandparents grew in their little suburban gardens -- tomatoes, eggplant, peppers.

While studying in Rome that fall, I discovered sweet, delicious fruit in the Campo de' Fiori market. They looked like orange tomatoes.

In Italian they are called cacchi, derived most likely from their Japanese moniker, kaki. I later learned they were persimmons, a fruit I'd never seen or heard of before.

I've sadly never found a properly ripe persimmon in the northeast. Unripened persimmons are astringent and tannic, almost angry. They attack your tongue with a furry coating of hatred. And who wants hatred for breakfast?

It was summer the next time I returned to Italy. Despite the ubiquity of creamy gelato, I asked, salivating, for my sweet cacchi. I was told they were not in season.

Huh?

Can't you just go to the supermarket, where everything is always available?

No, as it turns out. Because Italians learn early on: Il cibo di stagione fa bene al pancino.

It was just the beginning of my alimentary education.

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