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6 Things Italian Women Can Teach Us About Appreciating Food

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WOMAN EATING SPAGHETTI
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Sophia Loren reportedly once said: "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti." Whether or not the Italian-born actress actually said that, the quote suggests that our Italian counterparts think very differently about food than many American women do.

Despite Italy's national obsession with la bella figura, and the worrying way women's bodies are portrayed in the Italian media, the country's attitude toward food seems to be pretty positive. In 2011, Megan Gadd visited Italy and wrote of her experience: "In Italy, eating isn’t a necessity or even a vice: eating well is a way of life."

This attitude is shared by Italians of both genders and from all walks of life. Chef Nadia Santini, who was named the Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef in 2013, explained what made Italian food and attitude towards cuisine so special in an April 2013 interview for Fine Dining:

Food overcame the frontiers a long time before politics. Its language is universal, its ethics transparent, if you cook you want to bring joy and health. Italian food is like music: a few notes can create a symphony.

We gathered pieces of wisdom from Italian chefs, food bloggers and writers to see what we could learn from them about approaching and enjoying food. Here are six lessons we learned:

1. Consider food part of your lifestyle.

Giulia Scarpaleggia of Juls' Kitchen doesn't just believe in this idea, she lives it. Scarpaleggia left her job in January 2012 to become a full-time food blogger. On her blog she explains how food is an integral part of her lifestyle: "I develop recipes for magazines and companies and I am a Tuscan cooking class instructor for foreigners and Italians. In other words, I cook every day, I take photos when there’s enough light, I write too much and I eat with pleasure. I have fun and enjoy every single moment, cherishing every day."

And making food an integral part of your lifestyle means truly enjoying yourself while eating.

"What is the service of food? The service of food is to nurture, to please, to nourish," chef Lidia Bastianich said in an interview with the Braiser.

2. Invest in what you're eating.

When it comes to food, you get what you pay for -- whether it's quality ingredients or a meal at a restaurant. Data from a 2012 Food Service Warehouse infographic shows that the average Italian person spends 14.7 percent of their income on food, compared to the 6.9 percent the average American spends. Yet the rates of obesity and diabetes are much lower in Italy. Clearly the extra investment our Italian counterparts make in fresh, high-quality food more than pays off when it comes to health benefits.

3. Eat locally and seasonally.

Food writer Marcella Hazan told Epicurious that she prefers seasonal, local food to imported organic fare:

Season is more important. But organic you know…I don't care about how they were growing. I care much more about the taste, always. I would like that [produce] doesn't come from too far. If they have someone that grows around here peaches, they could have peaches that are better because they don't have to travel so far, and they will arrive much faster, no?

4. If you cook, keep it simple.

"All Italians will tell you the best place to eat in Italy is at home," Tuscany-based ex-pat Judy Witt said in a December 2009 interview with My Melange. But home cooking is ideally not a complex affair.

In an August 2009 interview with The Scotsman, Italian-born chef and food writer Anna Del Conte explained that top-quality ingredients and knowledge of how they work is what's essential to good eating -- not a complicated recipe.

It is important to learn what happens with the cooking, the chemical reactions. Creativity is not all that important. You can produce very good food without it. If you are creative it becomes much more fun because you put yourself into it, but you cannot be creative until you have a base and then you can embroider.

5. Slow down.

How many times have you rushed through a meal, just to get it over with and on to the next thing? Eating can often seem like a chore, or something you need to do as quickly as possible to fuel up for the rest of your day. Slowing down means that you'll enjoy your food more and digest it better, and you'll also be more able to recognize when you're actually full.

"Great Italian food forces you to stop and take your time," journalist Pamela Berger wrote of her travel experiences in Bologna. And Nicki Heverling, program manager for the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, told the New York Times in 2009: “One of the basic tenets is the enjoyment of food, and respect and pleasure of food. When you’re in the Mediterranean, your meals are three hours and you savor your food.”

6. Eating with others makes most meals a whole lot better.

An estimate 58 percent of Americans regularly eat their meals alone -- and often enjoy their food less as a result. “When you dine with others, you converse with them, which provides the opportunity to slow down and savor your food,” Marisa Moore, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, told Forbes.

On her blog Un Tocco De Zenzero, Sandra Salerno wrote about how even a normal meal is often a celebration for those gathered:

"I love to cook, for the people close to me, for my friends, for everyone. I think that cooking for someone is a bit like giving them a part of oneself, every time. A little piece of heart, a little bit of love and passion, because without these things I don’t think cooking would exist. Even when you prepare a sandwich, you need to do it with love."

What other food lessons can we learn from Italian women? Comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter @HuffPostWomen.

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