Can the island meet the seasonal demand for its typical food products? The answer is no, precisely because they are seasonal.
Consider the mathematics of the situation: Sardinia, the Grand Duchy of the holiday season, is home to about 1.5 million subjects. To feed them all, the island produces, in old measures, 200,000 bushels of grain, 33,000 measures of olive oil, 550,000 acres of vineyards – of which 10,000 are Cannonau – which produce 20,000,000 gallons of wine. The same goes for mullet roe, honey, the almonds and walnuts used for nougat, the ricotta that fills Sardinian ravioli, and finally the much-loved and coveted suckling pig, the iconic taste of a life in contact with nature, not unlike the old Marlboro Country ads.
When the hot season rolls around, despite the medieval ferry prices, people from all over the empire migrate to the island, a floating paradise that threatens to sink not so much from their weight as from their sacrosanct appetites. Suddenly, from May to September, the island finds it has to feed 15 million villagers instead of 1.5 million, and it does; by resorting to the traditional system of importing “local” products, not out of malice (perhaps sometimes), but out of necessity.
Experts say the problem lies not so much in the offer, but in the demand. Healthy eating, putting genuine food into one’s body, is a concern for only a certain portion of the population. To others it doesn’t matter too much, as evidenced by our crowded hypermarkets. The problem applies to those who consider snack foods to be weapons of mass destruction, who wander around looking for farmers who do not poison their fields, who do not apply Guantanamo-style farming methods to their animals, and seeking products that did not spend their infancy and adolescence in cyber refrigerators.
Let’s face it: these are things that matter today. The statistics show that their numbers are growing exponentially. Persecuted like early Christians by advertisers and hated by neo-consumers, they grope around in search of the few producers who do not infest their land with herbicides and pesticides, the few breeders – in Gallura there are still some – who allow their cattle to roam free, and the last few bottles of homemade wine.
Preparing a local delicacy in the traditional Sardinian way with imported ingredients is hardly a crime. It can be an economic necessity (authentic local products are more expensive than industrial ones and those from large retailers) or due to the island not producing enough of a particular ingredient, as we have already explained. But honey made in Sardinia is truly good. A very serious and certified organic producer from the Alto Adige region tells us that he has to use a greenhouse for plants that could be grown outdoors, because the rain would pollute the product, rendering it not truly organic. In Sardinia, far from the mainland and beaten by the mistral wind, this problem does not exist. The pollen that Sardinian bees buzz around is the cleanest one could wish for. The soil, untouched in terms of industrial pollution, powers plants and flowers with the best that a beekeeper could wish for, and us consumers too.
Taking advantage of the holidays to review our eating habits somewhat is not a bad idea. We finally have the time to rethink our attitudes as consumers and guardians of our own bodies. In the end we just have to follow what is now accepted advice: eat (much) less meat, avoid long-life foods, choose “good” manufacturers.
Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, says: “I need to know the history of any food. I need to know where it comes from. I have to be able to imagine the hands that cultivated, worked and cooked what I eat.”
Holidays in Sardinia are not just about loungers and sun creams, there is an excellent opportunity to be seized: travel around, taste the exquisite raw materials produced on the island, recreate a healthy relationship with food and flavours.