food / travel

Killing The Art Of Cuisine, From London To Palermo

Master Chef and other TV shows celebrating fine food are all the rage. But in real life, both rich and poor are increasingly buying pre-packaged meals. Reflections from a London-based Sicilian.

Crime in the kitchen
Crime in the kitchen
Simonetta Agnello Hornby

PALERMO — I learned how to cook in Mosé, in Sicily, on my family’s farm. We made the tastiest of meals with vegetables from our own garden and the best that came from the chicken coop. Once around the table, each of us chose from the serving dishes we wanted, but always left enough for the others.

It was a moment of sharing, in every sense.

The first dish was always the same: pasta with tomato sauce, topped with pecorino cheese. The preparation of the sauce was always a long discussed topic, both in the kitchen and at the table. Is the tomato better skinned or not? Smooth, or chunky? Should the onion be added raw or already cooked into sauce? What about garlic? What kind of pasta should be used? Was basil to be added during or after cooking?

Afterwards we would eat vegetables and eggs, cooked in various ways, and, once a week, poultry. The cooking of the peasants was quite similar to ours, just a bit less elaborate.

At the table we would talk about the dishes that had been prepared, offering our own opinions and suggestions. The opinion of all — parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, laborers and barons — was considered perfectly valid. It was simple cooking limited to seasonal ingredients with the addition of some preserved elements: capers, jams and pickles. The question was not what to cook, as that was dictated by the season, but how to cook it.

Today, every household has a refrigerator and a freezer. In supermarkets it is possible to buy food from all over the world, whether in season or not, fresh, cooked, pre-cooked, portioned, or frozen. So, what’s the difference between how the rich and poor eat in my two cities: London and Palermo?

English cuisine is less varied and less tasty than Italian. The rich used to buy foreign foods as well as traditional ones, which the poor ate: woolly sausages, salty pies and a limited choice of vegetables. Everything has changed in the last 40 years.

Changing traditions

In London, people work hard, earn money and then spend it. At home, the rich people, well trained and conscious of the importance of maintaining one’s figure, consume frozen food or dishes prepared the same day by great chefs, while watching cooking programs on television. The most appreciated female celebrity chefs are curvy and flirty, while profanity and sexual illusions dominate the men’s category. British men have learned to cook — but only when guests come over.

Along the walls of the dining rooms, on the deep shelves, it is possible to find an array of TV chefs’ cookbooks, where you can find the perfect dishes to impress your friends and even seduce women. A banker from the City who serves first fruits and uncommon fish is cool; he becomes downright sexy as soon as he offers offal — the latest trend. Food porn has become normal.

These days, the pleasure of choosing what and how much you want to eat at the table has gone away. Each diner gets their own plate, often a construction of meats and vegetables decorated with squiggles of balsamic vinegar. Just like in the Renaissance, rare and expensive foods that are well-decorated are the symbol of the rich and powerful.

Many of my young clients in foster care survive thanks to welfare. The food traditions of London’s mixes poverty and isolation, thanks to the tremendous growth of unemployment. Today, there are pre-cooked and frozen solutions: they cost less than the fresh ingredients and they’re ready quickly thanks to the microwave.

Entire families have forgotten how to cook, and how to eat together at the table. Sitting on sofas around the TV, eyes glued to shows where other people cook, adults and children overeat fries, sausages and canned spaghetti. There are no vegetables, and very little fruit. Obesity has become a national health problem.

The family unit no longer consists of cooking together, and then eating and talking. The external misery has become internalized. On the other hand, rich Londoners have healthy diets; but like the poor they rarely cook fresh food, and tend not to eat with their children.

What about us Italians?

No matter where you go in Italy, whether rich or poor, the tradition of beauty, the taste of the food and good company is of the utmost importance. This is what British culture lacks. We Italians cook every day, yet our supermarkets are full of pre-cooked meals, soups and ready-made sauces. Currently they are still more expensive than if you make it yourself, but what will happen if they cost less one day?

Italian cuisine was born in the city, not in the countryside. My hometown, Palermo, has a long tradition of cucina povera, peasant’s food, that mimics the rich, competing in the creativity stakes. The copies are countless: “fish” made out of potatoes, pasta with canned sardines instead of fresh ones, and meatballs made with eggplant instead of ground meat.

Becasse farcie is a dish: baked fowl stuffed with raisins, breadcrumbs, cheese and spices. Those who couldn’t afford it substituted the fowl with a humble sardine, rolling it up with a similar filling and then putting it in the oven topped with breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

Perhaps the first step is to rediscover the traditional recipes from each city and encourage residents to rediscover them, introduce them to their children, and share them together with their extended friends and families.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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