Marissa DiBella, University of Connecticut
ISI Florence Summer 2017
ISI Florence Mediterranean Diet – Faculty Led Summer Program
Prof. Jane Kerstetter, Ph.D., UConn Professor Emeritus, Allied Health Sciences and Nutritional Sciences
On the first day of the Summer Program, Professor Jane Kerstetter came to class, put her flash drive into the computer, opened a PowerPoint presentation, and displayed the quote ‘A tavola non s’invecchia’ on the screen. Translated it says, ‘At the table one does not age’. This immediately caught my eye and made me wonder what it meant. After experiencing and understanding Italian culture a little more, I am going to try to explain what this phrase means, to me at least.
It’s a fact that Italians and Americans have very different food cultures. From what they eat to how they eat it, the spoken and unspoken rules of Italian food culture varies greatly from that in America. In order to understand what this phrase means, I needed to understand a little bit more about food culture. So I set off to get some questions answered.
The first question I had was why do Italians always cover their tables. Whether with a place mat or a full tablecloth, you will never eat on a bare table in Italy. My hypothesis is that Italians do this to put emphasis on how important meals are. When you lay out a tablecloth, you are committing to a meal. A tablecloth is not just when you are scarfing down a sandwich while running out of the door. A covered table implies a sit down meal. Laying a tablecloth is also like setting up a stage for the dish. A tablecloth signifies the importance of the meal, that time has been spent preparing it, and that it should be appreciated.
I wanted to find out if my suspicion about this was correct so I got up from my desk, and walked downstairs to find someone to answer this question. I went into a café where I asked a nice woman at the counter if she would be willing to enlighten me on this topic. To my surprise she agreed.
“Why do Italians always cover their table for meals?” I inquired.
Her answer was simple. “It’s in our history”, she said with a smile.
While I did accept the answer, I was curious to see if someone else had a different, more elaborate opinion. I kept walking down the road until I found another restaurant tucked in a ‘piazza’. There, I asked the waiter the same question and his answer was very similar. He simply explained that is it how they have always done meals and how they continue to do meals now. I had my answer. It was because of tradition.
The next aspect of food culture I wanted to explore was the reason Italians have such long meals and why waiters do not rush customers to readily flip the tables. Coming from a big Italian family where Sunday lunches could last all day, I had a better insight into this question, and determined it was because Italians like to talk and relax at the table. They want to take their time, eat a good meal, catch up with their family, and gossip about that one strange cousin that every family has. Italians all understand this about each other and restaurants let people stay relaxing at the tables for as long as they want because that is how meals are supposed to be. Not rushed but enjoyed. The woman from the café also confirmed these suspicions for me when she told me “we like to sit, we like to eat, and we like to talk”. That pretty much summed it up.
With these two questions answered I was ready to make my final conclusions about the phrase that brought this all about. So, what does ‘A tavola non s’invecchia’ mean? To me it’s the idea that at mealtime one must slow down, take time to relax with family, forget about everything else, and enjoy a good meal. During this time there should not be multi-tasking; the meal is the main event and everything and everyone you need in life is right there, with you at the table. The woman at the café told me “Being at the table makes for a good life with smiles and a full belly” and I have to agree.