Interview by Runa Juhanisdotter
Berlin is host to a vibrant, international scene of underground culture, social entrepreneurships, innovative startups, alternative stylism, food culture and activism. One passionate light on this scene is Maria Lucrezia. Last summer she and her food enterprise Pastamadre (that she runs together with partner Akis) joined the ReThink Festival to show us the art of mindful cooking and eating.
Who are you?
I’m a food educator. I share my philosophy of life by teaching how to make good, simple, homemade food.
What’s your mission?
I truly believe food is a dynamic force which interacts with humans on different levels: what and how we eat holds the keys to physical, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Our food choices do not concern only our private lives anymore, but they also effect the local/global economy and the environment. That’s why I would like to inspire people to “rethink” food as a revolutionary, powerful tool, which not only feeds us, but it can be also used to communicate, to share, to create, to take a political action and to make the world a better place.
So how do you do practically do that?
I organize and run workshops where I share my skills, experience, passion and creativity. I come from a great southern family who taught me to enjoy and to practise the Italian cooking tradition paying specific attention to home-made food. They taught me how one of the best things about the Mediterranean diet, especially Southern Italian food, aside from being delicious, is that it’s so simple! You need just few ingredients: flour, water, tomatoes, garlic, salt and olive oil to prepare a plate of homemade pasta, but what makes it so special is the quality of those few ingredients and your love, passion and creativity making it. I think is a great metaphor of our life, we don’t really need so much to be happy, just few things well mixed with love, passion and creativity.
Everytime I teach to shape a small piece of pasta dough or how to knead a sourdough bread I’m teaching how to make a little sculpture or to mould a piece of art, because if you take it seriously, it requires the same effort and dedication. What I practically do is to give people a foundation for scientific and nutritional knowledge combined with a hands-on application, in order to enable each individual to feel free and confident to cook, experiment and experience the real, natural food on their own.
During the workshops I like to stress the importance of making homemade food as a way to express yourself, to enjoy your time, to relax, to have fun, to feel, to love, to create!
Why are you doing this? Name a couple of serious problems in society and how we can tackle them in everyday life.
Nowadays we see an alarming increasing incidence of disease, as diabetes and obesity, that are related to unhealthy diet. Childhood obesity has become a public health crisis, especially in western and industrialized countries. How could we practically make a real change?
First of all, I don’t think it should be considered as a “medical problem” but as a “cultural problem”.
I truly believe that the only effective way is not “to push” children to eat healthy food, but to educate them to a genuine connection with what they eat by teaching the joy to make healthy food by their own!
A little girl who came to one of my pasta workshops, after trying a plate of freshly homemade pasta with a simple tomato sauce, asked me really surprised: Warum sind diese Nudeln so lecker? (Why is this pasta so delicious?) The answer was easy: Weil du es gemacht hast! (Because you made it!)
Everytime you take time to cook your food with love and to share it with your children, you are teaching them that food is something important, something to take care of. If you are able to connect healthy food with positive emotions as joy, fun, affection, you are growing a future healthy adult.
Another problem I’m really concerned about is food waste. Wasting food is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources. As a consumers, maybe we are the last link of the food chain, from those who produce and process foods to those who make foods available for consumption, but I’m sure we have anyway a role to play in preventing and reducing food waste. Becoming aware of how much food we throw away, is the first step to become a smarter consumer: think about what you are buying and when it will be eaten. Plan meals and use a shopping list. Become a mindful eater. If you cook your own food, you invest time, effort and feelings and make it worth saving leftovers. Save your leftover food, save your money, save the environment!
I don’t think that to solve big problems we need to make big changes in everyday life. Small changes are more easily accomplished and can have an effective impact on our life and other’s, just by becoming part of daily routine and so, little by little, we can make a big difference.
Finally, what would you say to the people that say that pasta makes you fat?
Pasta doesn’t make you fat, is an unbalanced diet that makes you fat!
Pasta is very rich in carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy for our body, but of course, if you eat a diet which is composed mostly of simple carbohydrates you could be prone to get weight. But for example, if you eat pasta combined with plenty of seasonal vegetables and legumes, that give you other precious nutrients and make you feel full just by adding few calories, you are having a really healthy and balanced meal!
Nowadays we tend to demonize or glorify one food rather than the other one. I truly believe there’s no single food; there’s no single beverage that will harm you or will perform miracles!
I mean, what we really need to be healthy and thin, is just a proper well-balanced diet composed of a variety of different foods, mainly vegetables, fruits, cereals, legumes, and just small amounts of meat, seafood and dairy in order to provide our body with all the macro and micro nutrients it requires to work efficiently.
And if you eat healthy and balanced everyday, is not a big deal if you occasionally allow yourself to make an exception!!
Maria Lucrezia brings us an important message. To take our time, to make it simple and balanced, to appreciate, enjoy and love our food and each other. We have a lot to learn from the Southern Italian kitchen! On a personal note, I’d like to add that it was when I lived in Italy for some time in the nineties that I discovered food. I grew up in Sweden and in my experience food is not so important in Sweden, at least not back then. We’re diligent workers and we just need to eat, that’s it. I painfully remember my school lunches. We were forced to eat dishes that tasted nothing or bad. They were pre-cooked in a central kitchen and then reheated. The potatoes in particular were awful, they were pre-peeled, stonehard and sometimes green. We often had to eat raw cabbage mixed with industrialized, very sweet jam. It wasn’t nutricious, tasty food, it was what we in Swedish call ‘bukfylla’ which means tummy fill. I remember talking to an Italian friend about crappy school meals, and he looked at me with that wonderfully expressive Italian face – a big questionmark all over it. He had no idea what I was talking about. Of course not, he’s Italian! There was no such thing as crappy food in his world. Anyway, to sum it up, in Italy I learned to appreciate slow food; to go to the market to get fresh, good produce, to take your time to cook, eat and enjoy your delicious meals with friends and family. I discovered a thousand and one dishes of homemade fresh pasta and my life would now not be complete without pasta on my plate.