While tumbling out of the tree that I had climbed to pick olives, I thought “this had better be the best damn olive oil ever”.
I have never given much thought to the bottles in the grocery store, nor the olives in my salad. Truthfully, I had never given much thought to my food period: I shopped in large markets, occasionally using a farmer’s market in the summer, but I had a very superficial understanding of food and food sources. I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen or “at the table” and I would never wait in line for a meal. I really did not care what I ate and I never questioned my food sources. Food was a source of energy.
My Fulbright time in Portugal has certainly changed this attitude and behavior! Partly due to the delicious food but also the importance of food to family life: I have come to appreciate how food plays an important role in both nourishing the body and the heart. I’ve also come to appreciate how food is created and processed is important for the future of the planet
This was reinforced by a weekend of harvesting olives at the Almeida family farm (Katia Almeida, Portugal Fulbright, 1999–Lusofona University). Harvesting olives is hard work when you are a small farmer without machinery. We used a battery-powered “picker” but mostly it was climbing trees and brushing them with combs. After all the 100 trees are harvested, the olives will go to a local press. We joked that this was the most expensive olive oil with olives picked by people with advanced degrees, and that probably people in New York City would buy it! It was hard and dirty work but there was satisfaction in seeing the olives bagged and ready to go.
However, the best part of my experience was being part of a family and being at the table with them, speaking in both Portuguese and English. My tendency to “eat and run” has been greatly changed by watching people laughing and sharing stories at the table. I can understand why in a world full of “business” that it is important for families to make the time to come together to create a meal and to share it. This may not be a revelation to many of you, but to me, it was as I looked around the table at 3 generations. I also realized that if you are a pig in Portugal, you are not going to be herding sheep like Babe the Pig–you are going to be eaten. However, there is no waste in the food–everything is eaten, and what we did not eat, the cat colony did.