Program in Puglia Fosters Healthy Food Choices, Sustainability

Through hands-on instruction and visits to local farms, Cinzia Rascazzo helps people live healtheir lives.

Cinzia Rascazzo
By Elizabeth Bellizzi
Nov. 7, 2019 08:27 UTC
Cinzia Rascazzo

With a back­ground in finance, Cinzia Rascazzo didn’t have to do much math to real­ize that her fast-paced U.S. cor­po­rate job was not con­ducive to a healthy lifestyle. The chasm between her stress­ful posi­tion and her Southern Italian roots became so sig­nif­i­cant she knew she had to make a change. Yet, this epiphany was not just for her.

I wanted to help other peo­ple. I wanted to run a busi­ness that was sus­tain­able and go back to Italy to pro­mote my coun­try and its small pro­duc­ers,” said Rascazzo.

Eleven years ago, Rascazzo, who has an MBA from Harvard, founded Stile Mediterraneo Food and Lifestyle Academy based in Puglia, Italy, which helps peo­ple learn about food, with an empha­sis on the Mediterranean Diet.

European travel author­ity Rick Steves once said, If you like Italy as far south as Rome, go fur­ther south. It gets bet­ter.” Rascazzo knows just how good it gets when it comes to what is served on Southern Italian plates. I was lucky because being from Southern Italy we take all these things (fresh food) for granted. I was raised in a place where food has always been very impor­tant. Specifically, home­made foods using very high-qual­ity ingre­di­ents and fol­low­ing the Mediterranean Diet,” she said.

Rascazzo’s sup­port for the Mediterranean Diet is timely given research indi­cat­ing what many peo­ple con­sume is any­thing but qual­ity. A report in the September Journal of the American Medical Association shows that U.S. adults still make low-qual­ity carbs and sat­u­rated fats a high per­cent­age of their diets. But Americans are not alone at the nutri­ent-defi­cient table. Recent global met­rics high­light the poten­tial impact of a sub­op­ti­mal diet on non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease mor­tal­ity.

Using med­ical sci­ence to doc­u­ment the ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean Diet, Rascazzo teaches Academy atten­dees why this way of eat­ing has per­sisted. My gen­er­a­tion, we were all brought up by our grand­moth­ers, so almost all women know the ancient way of cook­ing that has been handed down,” she said. In the one-week pro­gram, peo­ple learn how to choose qual­ity ingre­di­ents. When they leave, I think they’re impressed with the fact that what we teach is sim­ple, so these are lessons and ingre­di­ents they can repli­cate at home. I think the main thing is that they learn the impor­tance of using their senses instead of rely­ing on mar­ket­ing,” said Rascazzo.

An olive oil som­me­lier, Rascazzo recounted an email from an Academy par­tic­i­pant upon return­ing home. She told me she had to throw away her olive oil because she now under­stood that they can tell you any­thing on the label, but your nose and palate can tell you more,” Rascazzo said.

The value of real food, instead of sup­ple­ments is another ele­ment of Rascazzo’s instruc­tion. Imagine going to din­ner and shar­ing a plate of (vit­a­min) pills!” she said.

Similar to the nutri­tional void found on a plate of tablets, Rascazzo reminds peo­ple that when they buy food with­out know­ing its cul­ti­va­tion process, they might be short-chang­ing their health.

To empha­size that point, in 2014 Rascazzo estab­lished Artisans of Taste (AoT). Her aim was to orga­nize edu­ca­tional trips to small farms to show peo­ple how sus­tain­able food is pro­duced so they can look for it at home. It’s about how these items are pro­duced that really mat­ters,” she stated.

Rascazzo takes AoT par­tic­i­pants to farms she has researched and vis­ited in Italy, France, and Spain. I focus on bio­dy­namic farm­ing meth­ods because that means they respect the soil. The con­cept is about mak­ing the roots of the plants very strong so they can defend them­selves and don’t require pes­ti­cides. So cer­tainly, organic is bet­ter, but it’s not enough.”

According to Rascazzo, the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most demo­c­ra­tic ways of eat­ing. My grand­par­ents were not eat­ing meat every day. They were eat­ing pasta, legumes, veg­eta­bles, but meat was really once a month because they were not wealthy. I think the mes­sage is that even peo­ple who don’t have a high bud­get can afford to fol­low the Mediterranean Diet.”


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