Let food be thy medicine. Healing with food and cultural memory
‘Italians love to celebrate, it’s in our blood, life is a celebration. We have forgotten this in many ways; it is part of our rich inheritance to celebrate. When we sit with our families across the table, time stands still. It teaches us that this is where the heart of the table is’. International Sicilian chef, Carmela D’Amore.
Italian food is rejoiced and regaled the world over. It always has been, and will likely continue to be for eternity. Putting aside the value of the cuisine itself, the sentiments of one particular chef are delightfully refreshing in putting a new twist on an age-old culinary tradition. Carmela D’Amore, International Sicilian chef with more than 40 years experience, Ambassador to Sicilian food and cookbook author, shared her views on food, healing and cultural memory with me.
‘When I cook, I connect with my roots. To me it is a form of meditation, connecting, with the core of my being. I am aware of the dish I’m creating and it connects me with the person who taught it to me. In that moment time becomes frozen, and I am receptive to my energy that flows through me’, Carmela says. It’s this very notion of the power of food, not as a primary fuel source but as a means to ‘heal’, that Carmela is most intrigued by these days. ‘Food from your cultural soul heals your body from within. It’s connected to your memory, bringing you much joy and happiness when you are in this state. I express a sereneness and a feeling of wellbeing’. Carmela implores, ‘Open your memory gland to healing through food’.
Carmela isn’t touting an alternative view of eating or food culture. In fact, her views are fairly simple and straightforward. ‘My experience has taught me that cultural food can link you to a forgotten heritage; it can awaken the core of your being, bringing life, joy, peace, harmony and wellbeing into your everyday life’, she says. ‘From my experience as a child of Sicilian migrants, my entire life has been with food, celebrating through food. Looking back, I found that my family would commune with their land and family when they ate. Certain times we would eat in silence, not understanding this as a child, as it was their way of connecting themselves as they ate, it would comfort their soul. This is healing through my eyes. When they ate food, it reminded them of their homeland, it was a form of connecting with their roots, giving them the courage to continue in a new land. The table became the place to connect with their own cultural soul. This gave them the strength and courage to continue on their own journey in Australia’.
So, what’s at the crux of achieving healing through food and our relationship with it? Carmela suggests, ‘when we are in tune with our mind, body and spirit, it’s like a car that is travelling along the road with all its cylinders running smoothly. This is important for us, as food is our medicine. Eating food that is healthy only creates wellbeing. When we eat food that is nutritious, we will not have the clutter in our head, the fogginess in our brain. We get clarity. When we feel unwell, most of the time, it is our body showing us signs that we are not looking after ourselves. Our bodies are a temple and should be treated as such. It’s what we put into them that we become’.
Carmela tells me about the importance of eating with the seasons, as it’s a direct relationship between Mother Nature’s riches and our most basic primal need: sustenance. ‘The seasons teach us about our bodies, adapting our body to eating food that is seasonal is healthy. In Spring we want to eat food that is lighter, in Winter we want to eat food that preserves our energy levels, like thick soups, stews, and in Summer we love food that the universe gives us, like fresh stone fruit, green vegetables and fish’. This seems like simple enough advice, eat what’s in season, when it’s at its best. Sadly, the demands of today’s society and modern mentality make this near impossible. ‘From my experience’, she explains, ‘we have become a nation where we want everything now, and then we complain that it has no taste! Of course, it doesn’t. It’s not its season. Some of us don’t want to adapt to life’s seasons. We want everything now. Seasons teach us about time, patience and wellbeing’.
Carmela’s message stretches across cultures, and isn’t isolated to the Italian or Italian-Australian experience. It’s about sharing love and cultural memory together over food. ‘The table is a place where we gather and share our news, the news of a new child, a wedding, an engagement, a love; it is our investment for the future of our families and our communities. When we have strong connections, our communities benefit from this’. And for those Italian-Australian families Carmela has a beautiful parting sentiment: ‘The richness of our heritage is not one to be forgotten. It’s up to us to continue with our rich roots into the future, giving hope to our children and strengthening our communities with our heritage. We are in a new era today, where once we were labelled for being ‘different’, today we are celebrated for being ‘unique’.