My whole life I grew up thinking that Europe was the seat of natural medicine. Homeopathy was a household word, pharmacies sold natural products and herbal remedies. All the conversations in my house that mentioned the state of health care in the US, contrasted the difference of the fantastic availability of natural cures in Europe. “At least there, you don’t need to worry about the FDA blocking the use of herbal medicine.”
Fast forward 20 years, I’m managing an acupuncture clinic, having a good rapport with several different reps from the top vitamin companies, being able to order just about any product sold anywhere in the world, and all the time I’m discussing how great it would be to live in Europe. I’m doing my grocery shopping at Whole Foods, picking up organic everything from fruit, nuts, oils, coffee to household products that don’t contain harmful chemicals. Knowing the sprouts guy at the Farmer’s Market and the butcher stand where the grass-fed beef is sold. All the while, thinking how much easier and cheaper it must be to shop in Europe because they don’t need to worry about where their beef comes from--it’s naturally natural.
Now, here I am in Sicily, thinking back on my life in Los Angeles, the health food capital of the world, and realizing that it’s not quite as I thought here in Europe. And that famous Mediterranean diet? They don’t know what that is here. Well, they know what it is, and they think they follow it (because they live in the Mediterranean). But that diet doesn’t include packaged croissants for breakfast, a pound of pasta a day accompanied with a pound of bread and to finish, a pound of ricotta filled pastries (I’m not exaggerating the amounts here, people). And that’s all on normal days--you won’t believe what they can put down during holiday meals! There are more overweight, hypertensive people with cholesterol levels through the roof here than anywhere else I have ever seen. It’s rather alarming.
Although, I must admit that other countries in Europe, even northern Italy, are light years ahead of southern Italy when it comes to diet, alternative healing, access to herbal medicine and availability of organic products. However, this is where I find myself for the time being, and I must admit that all the things I thought I would miss--I don’t. It’s what I thought I wouldn’t miss that has caught me by sheer surprise.
The question becomes: what do I do about it? Yes, I miss the convenience with which all things complimentary and alternative were available to me. To have local, raw honey suppliers, yoga classes and macrobiotic cafes at my fingertips. Whole Foods, herb shops and pristine, sparkling Integrative Medical Centers in every town. But does that mean I should run back to my health haven? Or does it mean that I should attempt to create a refuge here, and bring the beauty of accessible holistic health care to a culture set in it’s ways? And would it even be possible? No, it absolutely would not be possible. Not here. I am also learning that nothing can change here. Even a 19th century Sicilian poet, Giovanni Verga, said of Sicily: “Everything changes to remain the same.”
Living here, I have certainly become aware of all the little things I previously took for granted. Things I never thought twice about--like picking up a package of trail mix; ginger tea for tummy aches; buying organic berries, and simple, raw, unsalted nuts. Here, forget about it. I feel as though I have sent myself into health food exile. Oh, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, how do I miss thee? Let me count the ways: almond butter; maple syrup; quinoa; Zen household cleaner; Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap; black beans; almond milk; organic French roast coffee; cranberries (that one’s for Leo); coconut milk....Okay, I guess I’ll stop there.
So what do you constantly have stocked in the kitchen that you take for granted?