For most of us, growing your own food, shopping for stuff without packaging and throwing feasts for your entire town would be quite out there. But, in the Italian countryside, living in a more minimal, more creative way is standard.
When Victoria, Australia based sustainable organic farmers and authors Matt and Lentil (their book, 'Grown & Gathered: Traditional Living Made Modern, is out now) decided to take a trip through the home of La Dolce Vita, they took a load of lessons on a more rustic life with them.
Our book "grown and gathered" just won best designed fully illustrated book under $50 at the 2017 @theabda awards! Thank you to our amazing team, esp. designer Daniel New! . This is an old pic of us, that brings back so many good memories. The image was taken for a cover test shot, after a long day of recipe testing - but it was still such a fun shoot, like all of them! We had the best time creating the book and are so proud of what we created :). Pic by @shantanustarick . #grownandgathered #thebook
"We felt very drawn to the Mediterranean lifestyle, and wanted to experience the culture properly. We went back to basics, and ate lots of good food," Matt tells us.
Their rented Fiat 500 covered 5500km in two and a half months, covering the Tuscan area, Sardinia, Lazio, Campania, Cisternino, Puglia, Bologna and more. Despite managing to tick off popular cities Venice, Milan and Florence, Matt and Lentil the main focus was on living simply and getting acquainted with life in Italian villages, by sampling the local produce and traditions.
"The experience was so personal, these people are inviting you into their lives. We hosted dinner parties in some villages for up to fifteen people at a time, but we never had to cook anything. They wanted to reward you for making the effort to visit their community. Everyone would just bring dishes over and we would hang out."
Although there are designated farming areas for the larger cities, pockets of communities in the Italian countryside are pretty much self-sufficient, keeping their own animals in small farms, making their own cheese and milk and growing their own produce.
This not only cuts out the costly and polluting impact of mass food production, but it allows you to be more attuned with the food, animals and environment around you.
A highlight was learning how to make polenta in Matt's ancestral home town: "There was this beautiful partnership between the villagers, the animals and the husbandry - although modern farming is making its advance, it's nowhere near the same scale. They're all still custodians of their own farms."
The biggest polenta in the world?!? . Festa with Matt's Italian family, in the north of Italy! 35 degrees, but dinner is still the traditional meal - tonight polenta (made the traditional way!), local fried cheese and sauteed mushrooms. . #traditionalfood #italy #italianfood #food #feedfeed #f52grams #grownandgathered
In comparison to the expendable, quick-fix methods that surround our eating routines, these Italian villages are entrenched in traditions of preservation. Recipes for salami have been passed down through generations, along with the instincts for the safest and tastiest dishes.
There's no concern for certain food making you sick, or doing things a more natural way, because these techniques have been fine-tuned through generations. Although the influences of modern farming are beginning to creep their way in, Matt is confident that it will not tarnish the simplicity and sustainability of daily village life.
"You won't see a loss of old cultures in these places, due to the strength of their heritage. So we wanted to learn these techniques for ourselves and incorporate them into our way of life."
It's my birthday. We went to the local markets, bought the best tasting organic spring vegetables, ate the best strawberries I've had in my life, chatted in broken Italian to some Italians, tried all the local salami, and ate the best pea and fish soup. . It's going to be a good year this one. X lentil
If anything, this way of life could be light years ahead of many Western cities. While major UK supermarkets are only just beginning to consider the impact of their plastic packaging and carrier bags, Matt recounts that Italian delicatessens and markets kept packaging as sparse as possible.
"Culturally, the tradition in these places is not to waste. Not to waste food, not to waste anything. It was very liberating to be a part of this."
And the best part is, it's so much easier than you'd think to follow in the footsteps of these communities. Growing your own herbs on your windowsill is an important and simple first step towards unleashing your inner Italian chef. If you've got pots of basil, oregano and thyme plants, and perhaps even a tomato plant, you are well on your way to the perfect Italian pasta sauce.
As well as insisting that growing your own produce is the most rewarding process, Matt says that he never saw a house in rural Italy without pots of home-grown herbs decorating numerous windowsills. Because their trip was in late spring, every little garden was filled with seasonal long beans, tomatoes and peppers.
"It is so ingrained into their culture that the locals didn't understand why we would write a book advising people on how to grow their own food. They deemed it completely unnecessary because it is such a central part of their life."
Having returned home to Australia, Matt and Lentil are now on a mission to incorporate as much Italian heritage into their daily lives.
"We want to recapture their traditions and make them our own. These people are so much more connected to where their food comes from. It's not a mystery to them, it's a huge part of their lives."