An Italian Meal Considered; Eating With Intentionality

The July Project: Day 10

I ate a wonderful meal tonight. On the advice of friends, my dinner date and I went to check out Divino, an Italian restaurant that’s somewhat more pricy than my typical dining choices.

We started off with a bottle of Malbec and an antipasto classico. The platter contained a tiny portion of each of eight or nine savory treats—fresh mozzarella, chunks of aged Parmiggiano, several kinds of preserved meat, little slices of grilled polenta, quarters of baby artichokes, and pickled onions. It was enough food for each of us to enjoy a taste of everything, but not much more than a taste. We were disappointed that the waiter didn’t bring bread—or even offer to bring bread.

Then came the entrees: lasagne Bolognese for my friend and goat cheese ravioli for me. The menu was typical of restaurants in Italy, listing separate prices for the various salads and sides. So we weren’t surprised that neither entree came with any accompaniments. Still, my first reaction when the waiter put the plate down in front of me was to think, “That’s it?” Eight tiny pieces of ravioli were lined in two rows down the center of the plate and decorated with fried sage leaves and a scattering of pine nuts. We’d also ordered a side of roasted fennel to share. The dish contained four small wedges of fennel, beautifully browned and shiny with olive oil.

My companion remarked on the modest size of my dinner. His comment prompted me to tell him about this blog project, and how just the other day I’d written about dividing my restaurant meals in half. I laughed and said, “That practice will not be enforced tonight!”

Can you see where I’m going with this story? Wouldn’t you think that having figured out that most typical restaurant portions are excessive, I’d be able to recognize an appropriate serving when it was staring me in the face? But I guess I’ve been conditioned always to want more, so I looked at the meal and couldn’t help wondering how soon I’d be hungry again.

But by the time I’d worked my slow, relaxed, attentive way through eight pieces of ravioli—the tangy goat cheese perfectly balanced by buttery pine nuts and crisp, fragrant sage—and a few mouthfuls of sweet, spicy fennel, all washed down with the mellow Malbec, I was utterly satisfied. Sure, I could have put away another dozen of those ravioli, but it wouldn’t have improved the quality of the experience the tiniest bit.

I left Divino recalling the Exploring Mindful Eating workshop in which I took part in March. The presenter, chef Adam Miles, emphasized choosing food carefully and giving it the time and attention it deserves. I’ve spent the last several years trying to craft a similar philosophy and psychology of food for myself. I’ve dubbed my collection of tactics, tricks, and mental exercises related to food “eating with intentionality.”.”

I’ve learned that although you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to get a wholesome meal, you do have to invest something: the time to locate and buy good ingredients, the effort to prepare and cook the food, and your attention to appreciate what you’re eating. Tonight’s divine dinner reinforced this lesson about eating with intentionality:

What we choose to eat is ultimately a reflection of what we value. What do you want from your food? If your goal is to consume the most calories in the least time for the smallest amount of money, you might want to try a strip-center Chinese buffet, or any place that offers to “supersize it.” But if you want the experience of eating fine ingredients that have been prepared with care and attention, it’s going to cost you something. But it will be worth the price.

6 comments to An Italian Meal Considered; Eating With Intentionality

  • We are certainly trained to see small portions as a deprivation, instead of a huge serving as too much food for one sitting. Being overstuffed at the end of a meal used to be a Thanksgiving event, but restaurants have made it an every meal expectation. Our idea of normal portions is way way off. That’s why all those diet programs want you to weigh your food! It’s the only way to see how big those portions really are. The meal sounds lovely, and your post was a great reminder we eat too much all the time.

  • Donna

    I am glad that you enjoyed Divino! Our budget permits only occasional visits…

    • Edward F. Gumnick

      Ohhh yeah. It will go on the “special occasion” restaurant list. If I ever have occasion to celebrate an anniversary again, maybe….

  • Jean

    I am forwarding this one!! — to my teenage boys who inhale their meals… they will not always have a metabolism I dream of having! Mindful eating is very … well, thoughtful!! – thank you, Ed.

    • Edward F. Gumnick

      Great to hear from you, Jean! Yeah, I remember a time when I could eat whatever I wanted, but that’s ancient history now….

      Thanks for the comment.

  • JOGAAD

    GOOD POINT WE NEED CONTINUE TRAINING OUR HABITS.

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