Lunch in Williston and Pienza

I’m at my desk in Williston. I pry open the warped plastic bowl containing my tuna salad and a few soggy rye crisps, take out my plastic fork and with my eyes firmly fixed on one of two computer screens, I shovel salad into my digestive input orifice while reading and responding to emails with one finger typing. I can tell if I have managed to spear any food with my fork only by the weight of the fork in my hand, not by looking, as I am reading an email from a client. Welcome to lunch in America.

By noon in Pienza, Italy, the streets have begun to thin out in the market plaza, shop doors are being locked up and the very familiar closed signs are going up everywhere. Trattoria and restaurants are opening up. Chairs, tables and umbrellas are spilling out into the streets. Constructions workers, police, office workers, families and tourists are settling in around tables and the slow pace of the noon meal together begins in earnest.

Typically lunch begins with a shared antipasti plate of bruschetta – toasted home made bread topped with chopped fresh tomatoes or a garlic infused spread made from white beans.

The first course is almost always a choice of three or four fresh pastas with a variety of seasonal sauces, the base of which is meat or fish broth, cream, fresh cheese or tomato. The second course is meat or fish itself according to what is fresh and in season. Wild boar is currently being featured as hunting season has just opened.

The final course is dessert. Italian desserts are usually built around very fresh fruit, either alone or baked into a very low sugar pastry so one can actually taste the fruit.

By two o’clock, chairs are pushed back and people are enjoying an espresso and talking volubly to one another. Children have been excused and are usually playing nearby in the piazza which is closed to traffic.

Four courses may seem like a lot of food to our diet-obsessed culture, but the portions are modest. The accent is on quality, freshness, seasonality of ingredients and complementary tastes.

Here at home, we’re proud to be one of the most “productive” cultures on earth measured in terms of work, time and money, yet in social, psychological and health metrics, we trail behind much of the rest of the world.

Our much vaunted incomes are achieved not by an increase in actual earning power but by the addition of our spouses to the workforce. We outsource the raising of our children to schools and daycare centers. Most of our growth in personal wealth is not the result of savings but of a run up in real estate values that is now over.

We’ll spend another $42 M for the war, but decline to commit $35B for the next five years to provide healthcare coverage for children. Have we lost our priorities?

Let’s discuss it over lunch.

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