BlogHer Voice of the Week: Justine van der Leun of Good. Food. Stories.
Our BlogHer Voice of the Week, Justine van der Leun, guest-blogging on Good. Food. Stories., shares her story of culinary exploration in Italy in a post that takes a unique spin on a theme popularized in novels and memoirs like Eat Pray Love. But unlike other American heroines in expat memoirs who are freed of the constraints of their urban, tortured thinking by abandoning all semblance of their former lives (and inevitably falling in love), Justine's already in love; her decision to move to the Umbrian region of Italy is a matter of course in a deepening relationship.
She writes in her post, Umbrian cuisine: Simplified,
"I moved to a 200-person Umbrian village the way only a 25-year-old woman in love with a foreign gardener can: Immediately, unironically, entirely."
But from here she provides readers with the uncut, extended version of the expat's romantic memoir. In this version, neither food nor love helps her to transcend a very American need for variety.
It didn’t occur to me that one of the most disconcerting and unfamiliar aspects of the move would be my brand new diet. My brand new, inescapable, pork-filled diet. Of all the strangeness that I faced as an expat—language barriers, social constraints—it was the culinary culture shock that threw me for the biggest loop. This was the Slow Food Movement before it had a name. This was hardcore local eating. This was a place where I, a New Yorker accustomed to global cuisine, could not get a taco.
A taco? In one of the most gastronomically celebrated places in the world? Clearly Justine was not expecting to miss some of the more mundane aspects of her abandoned culture.
...the flavors were monotonous. To a local, they tasted like home. To a guest, they tasted like the rustic countryside. But a month into my stay, they were making me claustrophobic. I was accustomed to variety. Like someone who’s watched too much reality TV, I couldn’t focus on a classic novel.
She carelessly leaves an email, in which she reveals her dissatisfaction to a friend, on the computer of her Italian boyfriend, Marcus, causing a rift between them. Marcus emails her,
In NY you can find open the shops every hours but you can’t have the total silence that you have here. You can eat every most different food from the world, but this food is cocked for money and no with love. And here you ate every day love, no only food.
From these clumsy but heartfelt words the transformation begins. Justine re-commits herself to the cuisine of Marcus's family, helping them cultivate the food and observing how it is prepared and butchered. Her craving for variety becomes appreciation for the story and soul behind food.
With time and patience, I felt my palate change. I no longer craved so many different flavors. I lost weight, probably due to the complete lack of processed food in my diet. I forged a deeper connection to what I ate: For the first time ever, I could taste when food was pure and when it contained additives. I could taste when it had been on a factory line and when it had been prepared by hand.
Justine has written us a love story of a different kind, one of patience and perseverance, in a place where we expect a perfect plate of pasta and storybook endings.
Thanks to everyone for continuing to send in your nominated posts. Remember to nominate individual posts, not entire blogs, and keep them coming! If you want to check out all these posts, check out the BlogHer Voice of the Week archive.
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Jory Des Jardins writes on business and career topics at BlogHer, and on her personal blog From Here to Autonomy