Barry Lewis: When in America, do as the Romans do
So the federal government is requiring restaurants to display the calorie count of food items on their menus.
This applies to chain restaurants, grocery store take-out counters, convenience stores, theaters, amusement parks and vending machines with 20 or more locations.
The idea is that folks might think twice about what they eat if what they eat might help get them to twice their size.
Great timing on the government’s part. They couldn’t mention this in the summer when we wear less clothes and we’re self conscious about our weight? No, they talk up calories and make us feel guilty as we’re about to gorge ourselves during this most American holiday tradition: over-eating.
In the past, I would have supported such a move.
I’m constantly counting calories, so I can’t think of a better way to keep folks healthy and happy then to have them watch what they eat.
Then I went to Rome.
Beautiful city. Beautiful people. It was amidst the historic ruins and the well-coiffed folks that I found the elixir of life.
We Americans have this health thing all wrong. You want to stay fit, look good and feel fine? And not worry about counting calories. Ready?
Eat pasta. Drink wine. Smoke.
Yep, the elixir of life.
Don’t tell me. You eat Italian food all the time, right? Cheese-laden pepperoni pizza, fettuccine Alfredo and lasagna piled so thick and high you need a McCulloch to cut through it. Before that, Italian bread and salad soaked in Italian dressing.
Italians wouldn’t be caught dead eating that stuff. That’s because they’d be dead if that’s how they ate. They eat pasta. And fish, chicken and fresh vegetables. But it’s less about what and more about how much less of what they put on their plates. They don’t diet because they eat healthy. We stuff our faces with fast, processed foods.
Italians aren’t concerned with calories because they stop eating when they’re full. When Americans are full, we go for seconds. And then dessert.
Italians eat late but don’t rush. Waiter brings food, then leaves them alone. Folks talk, smoke and drink. They relax, and it shows.
We wait an hour here for a table and then want to get out in 20 minutes. Most of our meal is spent wondering why the waiter isn’t asking us if we want something else — instead of enjoying what we have.
On to drinking.
No super-sized, sugar-filled carbonated soft drinks by the gallon. Italians drink mineral water or red wine, which most medical studies found has antioxidants that can help prevent heart disease.
The smoking did bother me. I saw a guy knock off half a pack while waiting for my appetizer. Just over 24 percent of people in Italy smoke at least one cigarette a day, compared to 17 percent who smoke in the U.S.
Smoking kills — but so does eating. Eight percent in Italy are obese, compared to more than 30 percent in the U.S. Obesity is tied to an increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Don’t count calories. When in America, do as the Romans do.
Eat pasta. Drink wine. Smoke.
Barry Lewis is executive editor for the Times Herald-Record. You can contact him at email@example.com.