Obviously taste has a lot to do with it, but there has to be more to it than that. Something else in our psychology must draw us to Italian food in such great numbers
According to a recent Harris Poll more people in the United States choose Italian food when eating out than any other. When you subtract fast food from the equation and consider only sit down, menu type restaurants, the percentages are even higher, by far.
My best guess is that we are all programmed by Nature to eat as many things that are good for us as possible. That’s despite the best efforts of the food processing industry to narrow everything we eat down to highly processed corn or soy products. Italian cuisine lends itself to this anthropological need to eat a large variety of foods in many ways.
In a perfect world it is every cook or chef’s dream to walk out the back door of their kitchen and harvest, with their own hands, all of the ingredients for the meals they prepare. At one time, even in the U.S. this was a distinct possibility. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the number of farms peaked in 1935 at 7 million. By 1997 that number had fallen to 1.7 million. This meant that locally grown, harvested that day food, is fewer and farther between everywhere in the U.S.
The deluge of nutrition information thrown at us every day is incredible. Just about every newspaper has a food and cooking section touting “healthful” recipes. And Italian food is among them. We are reminded constantly by email and everyone from Dr. Oz to PBS specials about how important healthy eating is. That we should be consuming more unprocessed, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, monounsaturated fats, nuts, whole grains, and foods rich in anti-oxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids.
What we know as Italian cuisine evolved, beginning in the 4 th century B.C., on the Italian peninsula, which has one of the most perfect growing climates on earth. Consequently, this (Italian food) food does naturally just about everything that most modern scientific evidence suggests we should do to remain as healthy and disease free as possible. The most recent results of the comprehensive Nurse’s Health Study suggests that The Mediterranean Diet (mostly Italian food) reduces the risk of heart disease and many cancers by up to 30%.
The number of pasta recipes alone that qualify as healthy are staggering. You can prepare no fat or very low fat pasta, vegetable, fish, or meat dishes and not repeat yourself for a year. Any vegetable from broccoli to zucchini can be prepared with pasta in a vast array of ways. But unlike most highly processed low fat foods, that leave you hollow and wanting more, Italian food delivers the goods. Italian dishes such as pasta with broccoli sautéed in garlic and olive oil or chicken and Ziti with broccoli not only have great flavor but have that “stick to your ribs” satisfaction we all crave.
Another important nutritional aspect of Italian food is olive oil. The medical world has been telling us now for years that we need to replace saturated or animal fats in our diet with monounsaturated fats like olive oil. Since olive oil is one of the foundations of Italian food it too is a perfect complement to a healthy diet. It provides both the taste we crave and the right nutrition.
So, is Italian food popular because we love the taste or because those tastes have been genetically programmed into us by Nature? That question we’ll have to leave up to anthropologists and geneticists.
Entrepreneur and Raconteur. Has taken Kyle Phillips (former Principle/Blogger for the About.com
Guide to Italian Food) to task on several supposedly “authentic” Italian recipes.