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ITALY

The Dutch eat more healthily than Italians

Italians might pride themselves on having a healthy and balanced diet but it is, in fact, the Dutch who have the best diet in the world, according to a new report from Oxfam, a UK charity that fights against poverty.

The Dutch eat more healthily than Italians
Italy ranks eighth in the Oxfam survey when it comes to offering a "healthy, plentiful and affordable diet". Photo: The Ewan/Flickr

Italy ranks eighth in the world, tying with Australia, Portugal and Luxembourg, when it comes to offering residents a healthy diet, according to Oxfam's global food index called "Good Enough to Eat".

The Netherlands offers the healthiest diet, with France and Switzerland coming joint second.

The survey was not, however, based on the quality of tomatoes, grapes or Italy's prized olive oil, but on the availability of a healthy, plentiful and affordable diet.

The Netherlands came top because food is relatively low cost there and diabetes is less common.

European countries dominated the top of the rankings, while the United Kingdom came 13th in the index of 125 countries, scoring badly due to the volatility of food prices, and the US came 21st.

“Poverty and inequality are the real drivers of hunger. Hunger happens where governance is poor, distribution weak, when markets fail,” Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam's international executive director, said in a statement.

“Having sufficient healthy and affordable food is not something that much of the world enjoys.”

The index was based on how affordable, available and of what quality food and dietary health is in each of the nations. It also weighed up the percentage of malnourished children, the diversity of food as well as food-related health problems like diabetes and obesity.

Oxfam looked at four main criteria: Do people have enough to eat? Can they afford to eat? Is the food of good quality? and What are the results of unhealthy diets?

The bottom 30 places in the rankings were occupied by African countries, with Chad winding up at the bottom of the list because of its high food prices and an elevated number of malnourished children.

Reuters reported the index figures shows, despite there being enough food, 840 million people go hungry each day. Oxfam said the world food production and distribution system is due for a major overhaul.

Oxfam’s data came from October and December 2013 using the latest information from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Foundation, the International Labour Organization and other international organizations, Reuters reported.

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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