Abundance & Excess : L'Abbondanza & L'Eccesso

Italy: a peninsula languishing in the middle of the mild Mediterranean. Surrounded by three different bodies of water with warm winds rising from the African continent, and a long history influenced over time by trade and exploration, Italy can be described in one word: “abundant.”

America: a vast expanse of rolling planes, marshes, rivers, mountains and valleys. A melting pot of cultures and traditions, America is known as “the land of opportunity.” And yet somehow, with the abundance of nature, resources, people and possibilities, America seems more aptly described in another word: “excessive.”

What is the difference between abundance and excess? Where do we draw the line and how did we cross it?  Is there some ratio, percentage value, some formula we can calculate when things become just a little too much? Or, is it something more subtle? Something incalculable? Is it, perhaps, an attitude – a state of mind?

In my previous life, I was an urban designer at a architecture firm in Los Angeles. In the time I spent working on different city plans and studying cities across the world, it always came down to one thing – space.

The cities here in America look very different from most cities throughout the world. You might be asking, why? The answer: space (and timing). But mostly, space. We have space and a lot of it. This, and the advent of cars, meaning the ease of transportation, combined with the relatively recent boom in population, meaning an increased need for housing and amenities >>> enter: SPRAWL. We built out instead of up (the traditional model seen in every city everywhere before cars were invented) simply because we could and because big time motor conglomerates, think Ford and General Motors, wanted us to. If we could walk to the grocery store, we wouldn’t need a car. Today, having a car is almost as necessary as having a cell phone… think about it.

Okay, so what does this have to do with food? Very little. Everything.

Our built environment says a lot about our culture and our values. In Italy, there is a church or a public piazza on every metaphorical corner, in central and strategic positions throughout the city because of their central and strategic value to the community. In America, there is a gas station on every literal corner.

Italian culture is slow, deliberate, with a focus on community, a culture upheld and reinforced by its cities’ infrastructure. American culture is fast, varied, with a focus on capitalism, a culture upheld and reinforced by our cities’ infrastructure. “Fast” – “varied” – “capitalistic” – these are not bad values. They have merits. But when they generate an attitude of always wanting more, never appreciating what we have, they generate an excessive (and wasteful) lifestyle.

This is 2021. We have the world at our fingertips and the potential to grow stronger (and virtual) communities than ever before. We are informed by our past; not bound by it. We have the luxury of choice. So with gratitude, I make my choice. It’s a choice I have to make every day. I learn from the Italian way of life. I make fresh pasta by hand even though it takes longer; I dip my biscotti in my morning coffee instead of taking a to-go cup with me in the car. I choose a slower, more deliberate life - a life centered around community (read: the kitchen table). Because in the end, all I desire and all that I wish for anyone is food and fellowship, and to have these in abundance.