Overstuffed and Increasingly Ornery
September 14, 2023 11:23 PM   Subscribe

When you think about food too much, it becomes grotesque: meat in pools of its own juices, tangled spaghetti with clams like small scabs. I hadn’t felt hunger in weeks, but it was my obligation to eat. I felt heavy moving between kitchen and table as the guests got drunker and drunker, as they slumped in their seats but egged each other on to finish the crémeux. I watched Maria lowering a fat chunk of glistening steak into the dog’s mouth. The dog barely even registered the meat, just ate it dutifully. He was inured to it; every night he was pumped full of veal and velouté. Of course, the guests were also worried about the constant indulgence. They liked to look horrified as I brought out each new course, but really they were enthralled. They were paying for pleasure. They didn’t need to finish their plates or worry about what failing to do might signal to the kitchen. from La Dolce Vita
posted by chavenet (56 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Jesus, that's bleak.
posted by merriment at 4:40 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]

Honestly, it sounds like she had a sort of stereotypical view of what "Italy" was like - the kind of stereotypical view that a lot of non-Italians have. And the agrotourism place she interned at had decided to match that stereotype and give tourists what they wanted; and thus she was finding that the stereotype actually kinda sucked.

It felt icky and hollow because it was. It wasn't "the real Italy", it was Hollywood Italy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:56 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]

I started the paragraph about the birthday cake knowing how it would end and it was still a shitty gut punch. None of this is surprising -- I have trouble imagining that any of these agriturismo places work any differently -- but still, reading the reality is different from picturing it.

The way many Americans romanticize Europe -- sophisticated and "authentic" in a way that the US could never be! -- is funny to me. People are people everywhere you go. The accent might change, but similar experiences are probably available if you look for them.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:59 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]

It sounds like she never directly stated a single preference, and just waited to write a take-down while faking her delight on instagram.

I mean if Maria didn’t eat the cake there would have been a reason. If you are there to learn, ask why and don’t accept the excuse.

It sounds like judgements were made early and never unmade by both parties.

Also it sounds like everybody running the kitchen was doing a lot of work. My brother worked in kitchens for years, I also worked for a while. She writes like a person with very little regard for the work of others and huge desire to please for her own betterment. As a kitchen worker, those are not great qualities to bring to the table. Of course they were angry that she threw out her certificate she was there to learn and be the lowest member of the staff, and decided to demonstrate that she thought their whole process was bogus - I mean who cares what kind of paper the certificate was printed on, did she learn anything??

It does sound uncomfortable that they fed her like a prize pig. She could have addressed that honestly and ideally come up with a compromise (smaller plates, fewer courses) instead she sat and ruminated. I have no patience.
posted by MirJoy at 5:09 AM on September 15 [9 favorites]

I kept expecting it to evolve into an Italian version of Midsommar.

Also, I was reminded of myself as a nine-year old, going to the Zoo every day, and hoping the zookeepers would notice me and ask me to help them feed the animals. They probably noticed me a cursed the parents that had given me a season ticket instead of paying for the after-school club. What I mean is that I remember that feeling of being up in my head with my dreams and not really ready to deal with reality.
posted by mumimor at 5:21 AM on September 15 [12 favorites]

It sounds like she never directly stated a single preference, and just waited to write a take-down while faking her delight on instagram.

Honestly, I cut her a lot of slack for this because of her age and because of recognizing a fellow people-pleaser.

She may have not said anything because her inexperience was teliing her "well maybe this is just the way it is and I need to learn how to suck it up and take this" and she may have been doing the Instagram stuff because she didn't want anyone to worry about her, she didn't want to admit to everyone that "I'm really struggling here" and was coming up with this happy front of "everything's awesome!" so that her parents and friends wouldn't worry.

I did that when I was her age for sure. I had to go through a lot for me to realize that "oh, I'm allowed to admit to my friends and family that things aren't okay." And I am still working on realizing that "oh, I'm allowed to say 'no' to things." I'm literally right now in the middle of a situation which has the potential to turn into something that could be a challenge, and while it could be a good challenge, there's also that impulse I still have of just sucking it up if it turns into a bad challenge and trying to tough it out.

Consider - the thing ends with her still wanting to write to the head of the agrotourism farm sometimes and say "look, I'm sorry, I get it now, I did learn a lot from you really" - this isn't something that someone who just wanted to write a take-down to do. It sounds way more like a people-pleaser who got stuck in a bad-match situation and is still scarred by it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 AM on September 15 [14 favorites]

I am four weeks out from a trip to Italy, one weekend of which will be spent staying at an agriturismo (is it this one, who knows, there are dozens of them). I hope I'm not going to ruin someone's internship just by showing up. I also hope I am not force-fed ten courses a day.
posted by briank at 5:56 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]

It felt icky and hollow because it was. It wasn't "the real Italy", it was Hollywood Italy.

Yes, exactly. Everyone was pretending in order to cover up the actual power relations.

She wasn't getting paid and she had no leverage - that's a big piece here. They didn't have her there just for fun - she was doing work that they'd otherwise have to pay for and being an American presence as a backstop in dealing with American tourists. It's a lot cheaper to stick her in a spare room and make an extra portion than to pay cash money, not least because if you spin the whole thing as an enriching, authentic experience then your cheap labor will be totally unable to complain.

There's no structure so what is there to push back against? You're in Italy, eating authentic Italian meals - how very dare you complain when people just want to feed you, and feed you, and feed you until you're sick?

And if you start complaining, then you destroy what you hope to gain - you're here to learn and create something for your CV, to burnish your online image so you can get more work. Again, you can't push back because you're not really staff, you're not getting paid, there are no work conditions...and your only benefit is a social media benefit about how you're a beautiful soul. Start complaining and you'll learn that women who complain aren't beautiful anymore.

I mean, the agriturismo people have their living to make, everyone is under the gun, everyone has to produce this fake image for social media, but it's still really fucked up.

Money and structured working conditions are the way to go. Making people eat and eat and eat til they're sick is horrible torture. Putting them in a situation where being negative/saying no/standing up for themselves trashes the only benefit they're getting out of the experience is labor abuse.
posted by Frowner at 6:20 AM on September 15 [21 favorites]

I add that unpaid internships are well recognized as a scourge in the US, but apparently not when they're in the beautiful Italian countryside.
posted by Frowner at 6:22 AM on September 15 [12 favorites]

I’m not coming away from this article with too much disdain or praise for the author. Agree that it’s essentially a story where she comes up against both the inherent ugliness of the tourist trade, and the ugliness of a stereotype. There are some interesting things to explore here- how indulgence can seem comfortable when familiar, but disturbing when your perspective changes. How ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture can operate the same way in our minds and bodies — but the author seems more interested in keeping to the My Horrible Cultural Experience template endemic in creative nonfiction.

Too much salt, too much fat.
posted by q*ben at 6:43 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]

Also- Frowner, my spouse once took an unpaid internship under a relatively famous pastry chef. Long hours, hit kitchens, etc - making wedding cakes for the extremely wealthy. They once moved heaven and earth to create a beautiful 5 foot tall cake covered in a sculpted spun sugar cowl. It was eaten by drunk guests with their hands before they could get a picture.

My spouse lasted until she got to see the books. When she understood the compensation involved she decided that pastry was a great hobby and politely quit.
posted by q*ben at 6:52 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]

Don't throw out your comical Papyrus-font "certificate" in the kitchen recycling bin in Italy, dang! I don't care how food-drunk you are, that's a dumb move. Squeeze some loquat juice in your eyes so you can well up with tears in front of Mamma when you receive it, pack it in eight layers of cardboard and lay it lovingly in your suitcase, fly it back to Brooklyn, and recycle it there. Or better yet, hang it on the wall and laugh about it for the rest of your life. Or film yourself staring dead-eyed into the camera while you set it on fire so that later when you're The Bear or whatever, you can post it and make sure Mamma sees. Do you think that because you got stuck eating oversalted béchamel in a tourist hotel for a couple of months all of Italy is Buca di Beppo, now?
posted by Don Pepino at 7:03 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]

I spent a week at an agriturismo in Abruzzo. It was pretty much the opposite of everything described in this article. It was the experience of a lifetime. The source of every single ingredient used was within sight of the hilltop on which the cooking school perched. Portions were deliberately small so all the courses could be comfortably sampled. There were no American interns force feeding themselves. The cost was also less than half of the price quoted in this article. The maestro of the cooking school, however, often humorously mused about the fake authenticity of Tuscany. No certificates were given. It's sad that the author of this article fell in with a bad crowd.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:05 AM on September 15 [11 favorites]

I will never understand why people will spend thousands of dollars to fly halfway around the world to go to what amounts to a culture-themed amusement park. I like to travel, but my most favorite memories of it are random wanderings through the parts of cities that tourists rarely or never go to, visiting supermarkets and sitting in parks, trying to get a sense of the rhythms of local life, as much as I can as an outsider.
posted by rhymedirective at 7:20 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]

It wasn't "the real Italy", it was Hollywood Italy.

I dunno. I think she had a picture of Hollywood Italy in her head before she went, and what she experienced when she got there was (one of the many parts of) the real Italy, just like sweatshops where they fly in Chinese workers so that they can have "Made in Italy" labels with developing-world costs is (one of the many parts of) the real Italy.

I think that's true of pretty much any country in the world. "The real _____" is necessarily a simplified stereotype, while the real _____ is much messier.
posted by clawsoon at 7:30 AM on September 15 [13 favorites]

Despite the fact that the author plainly states that an Elf Bar is a vape pen, I must have skimmed that part and therefore thought it was just like….a protein bar she was somehow nursing for an inordinately long time. Whoops.
posted by 41swans at 7:34 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]

About eight years ago, for gasoline and boring reasons, we stopped at a gas station off a highway somewhere near Naples. For more boring reasons, we hadn't eaten near where we were staying, so we were really hungry and bought a couple ham and cheese sandwiches from this unassuming, boring looking, commercial gas station. They were absolutely delicious. Not the best food I've had in Italy, but they were truly very, very good, and inexpensive. It's a different country.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:36 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]

Siena isn’t like Southern Italy—she seems to have preconceived notions of the culture based on a careful dissection of old movies. That Guernica published this makes me wonder.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:54 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]

@frowner I absolutely agree with you re: structured working conditions. I think the author seems a bit naive but also the whole we don’t pay you but you get to eat (way too much) was very sus. I can imagine it was a really bad trip. I did re-read and I sound a bit victim blamey. I probably see a lot of myself in this as I was in my 20s and it stung.
posted by MirJoy at 9:51 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]

This reads to me like a young person trying to figure out what she wants to be taking a costly, international unpaid internship, where the very fact that it was an expensive unpaid internship that put her in a difference category as the other tourists but certainly not in the same circumstances as the paid staff. I mean this with zero criticism, as a person who has looked at writer residencies that are essentially pay to play operations, but this feels like a very expensive (and not terrible) way to find out that you are absolutely 100% a person who should not work in restaurants, and instead should go pursue your MFA in Creative Writing. Which is exactly what she did.

PS: I am a total hypocrite here. I would have killed for the privilege of being disillusioned by that kind of experience at her age. Or honestly any age. And if anyone would like to fund me not having to make money so I can go eat with tourists, take notes for my literary projects and occasionally cook something fancy in the Tuscan countryside for a few months, I am accepting all donations.
posted by thivaia at 10:01 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]

She wanted to be not-a-tourist (experience the real work of cooking in Italy) and also a tourist (have a great time).

Instead, she became not-a-tourist (serve the guests but never relax with them) and also a tourist (the damn certificate).
posted by What is E. T. short for? at 10:13 AM on September 15 [7 favorites]

"The real _____" is necessarily a simplified stereotype, while the real _____ is much messier.
Yeah, it's not going to be "under the tuscan sun" or whateverthehell because it is a real place on the real Earth and it is going to be staffed by real humans who will behave like humans behave under real Earth conditions, not how Disney-coopted-fairy-tale-type humans behave in rich people's best seller travelogues.

Also and plus too, and speaking of Buca di Beppo: let's remember that this happened after 2020. After the first couple of years of the ongoing pandemic. I think probably a big part of the reason her experience differed from that of her mentor chef was sexism/ageism/youdidn'tgraduatefromculinaryschoolism, but another and possibly bigger part of the reason for the decline in quality she noticed is probably that the place has had some of the wind knocked out of it for pandemic-related reasons.

I haven't been to Tuscany before and since 2020, so you'd think I couldn't comment from a place of authority, but of course you'd be wrong. Why? Because I am an American, and not some poor benighted Brooklynite but a real American. An American from the part of America where we have Buca di Beppo. Which, as is well known, is a magical portal that turns every visitor into a young Italian dude hanging in his friend's basement somewhere in Italy sometime in the 1950s being pummeled in the face by pure, unadulterated authenticity.

A long time ago four Americans took a trip to Ikea in Jacksonville, Fla. It was me, my boyfriend, our friend, and my mom. On the way back we went to Buca di Beppo, one of my boyfriend's ridiculous theme restaurant faves, presumably to ease our culture shock transitioning back to American ways of being after our long immersion in Scandinavian culture. My mom and I had never been there, and Mom, especially, was delighted with it because she ordered some kind of seafood medley and when they brought the hubcap plateful she beheld to her delight eightthousand mussels and like three other kinds of fish and shellfish. My mom is a food snob, it is true, but she is also All About The Value, so when she saw the abundance, her head flew off she was so excited. All in all, it was a blast. Huge menu, tons of options, everything yummy, if pretty basic, and the place fully seeming like the Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disney had been recast as a real live Italian ristorante. Fake, sure, but in a fun, exuberant way.

We tried to recreate the trip earlier this summer, but it turns out that Covid means you can't. Ikea was denuded of items. Where was the whole part with the fabric? Gone. Where was the insane wrapping paper? Gone. Where... ...OH GOD, where were the Sanelas? I spent the whole pandemic yearning for new Sanelas. That was the main reason I wanted to hit up the Ikea. But they had only two very boring colors of Sanelas, not the rainbow I'd come to expect, and those Sanelas were thin and sad, not sumptuous as they had been the last time I was at Ikea, pre-pandemic.

Oh, sure, it was still Ikea. I still experienced the gradual decline of sales resistance over the course of my trek through the "marketplace" that reliably results in my fondling random Scandified gadgets and trying to invent needs for them that shades into a total loss of control until I'm grabbing everything I can see and throwing it in my cart like I'm on Supermarket Sweep. But there were so many fewer random Scandy widgets, it was striking. And they were so much chintzier than before. Trying to invent reasons for them was so much more difficult. (No worries: I managed.)

Trying to get into the IKEA zone then was like trying to smell coffee now. We caught covid last week and it has destroyed our olfactory centers for hopefully not ever, such that everything smells either not at all or like a ghostly, very-far-away and maybe-underwater distant spirit of itself. Cheese is "milk solids," to use my father's phrase, which was actually his father's phrase. Toward the end, there, my father kept trying to get parmesan to taste like parmesan and blaming the cheese for his inevitable failures. But it was no fault of the parmesan. It was that he was dying.

In this case, though, it really was milk solids. Ikea was the ghost of Ikea. Buca di Beppo, same deal. The menu, formerly a tome, was a single folded laminated card like we were at a Denny's. We had about five entrees to choose among, and the only seafood option was "shrimp fra diavolo." It came in a hubcap, per yooj, but the shrimp were itty bitty, and there were only four hundred of them, not the eight thousand my mother had been hoping for. Buca di Beppo still looked like itself. It certainly acted like itself--our server should be president of the company based on her performance alone. But it was much, much less than it had been.

We asked our exuberant server what the hell, and our exuberant server told us exactly what the exact hell, never once letting her smile get fixed on her face, staying firmly in character and firmly upbeat, such that we did opt for the tiramisu after all, despite knowing, in my case, anyway, that it was going to suck ass, because it always does no matter where you get it, why do people love it, it's ice-box cake, it's boring, it has the texture of a wet dish sponge, I wish I'd never wasted an instant of my pre-covid nose's time on this bullshit desert.

So let's extrapolate from Buca di Beppo's pandemic sustainability response and see what we can learn about what this tourist place was doing while the writer was there vs what it was doing when her mentor was there. If a place needed to continue to make money off rich American tourists despite the fact that its staff was smaller because a whole bunch of them died because Italy got walloped as hard as Wuhan and entire newspapers were devoted to obituaries, what might it do? If it needed to get in basic supplies other than those available in neighboring farms but covid messed up supply chains and they're still not really up to snuff plus everything costs a planet, now, what might it do? Well. In that situation, Mamma might want to take a page from the holy book of the Golden Corral and fill everybody up on whatever was both abundant and cheap so that they don't notice that she's managed to manipulate and tweak a single cod fillet and some bell pepper rings to make them serve an entire table of people.

And it appears that is exactly what Mamma did. "It was like that scene in Big Night where a useless American diner requests a side of pasta with their risotto, but now it was being served willingly and with a zippy 'Buon appetito!' by an Italian family kitchen." Mmmhmm! Yeah! And, with all due respect, no shit, Sherlock.

Because her audience is American, this chef was in a uniquely favorable position to take advantage of the American notion of the authentic Italian tradition and fill everybody up on cheap, abundant wheatstarch--which is exactly what Americans expect to happen at an Italian restaurant, anyway. Shave some truffles now and then, sprinkle some "this is haute cuisine" sleight of hand on them, get some kid to cosplay a poor but deserving foodie willing to wash dishes for risotto. Pay them in room, board, and "experience" to eat wheat starch and parrot Top Chef to help the tourists suspend their disbelief and forget the difference between gourmet and gourmand so that they will continue to pay Michelin prices for what might once have been actual Michelin-quality but which has now by necessity been ever so slightly Buca di Beppo-ized. That is how you stay afloat another season in unprecedentedly trying times. I dunno what this kid's deal is and why she was so stunned to see basic restaurant dynamics in operation in Italy; maybe she's never been to a chain restaurant because she's right and the real Italy survives only in a few rarified pockets of Brooklyn, NY. But WTH, seriously, wake up and smell the ghost of coffee: this shit is everywhere, and I bet a whole lot of Brooklyn is every bit as much of a touristy simulacrum as a whole lot of Italy.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:14 AM on September 15 [17 favorites]

Eh Ikea has been getting worse for years, and according to the article, several guests had been many times, and one guest had been there 12 times. Maybe this was her last, but no complaints about the quality of the food from her are registered, only wonderment. Maybe Maria gave up a long time ago, or maybe this is just how she actually cooks.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:06 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]

This was very uncomfortable to read, and I typically resent writing that's in the style of "let me share my terrible experience in all its most awful details just so I can inflict the same awful feeling on my readers" unless there's some humor in it, which I can't find here. But I don't know, I can't really blame the writer in this case as the whole idealized American postcard view of Italy and Tuscany specifically does deserve a good kick in the butt.

Incidentally, when she says she found better fresh produce at her Brooklyn street market than at the Italian agriturismo, given the little depressing detail that the agriturismo got its supplies from a Carrefour (a major French-owned chain of supermarkets ubiquitous in Italy), I, an Italian married to an American, absolutely believe her. This varies from region to region and store to store but the fresh produce in Italian supermarkets can sometimes be shockingly poor quality.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:15 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]

better fresh produce at her Brooklyn street market than at the Italian agriturismo

Isn't there more rules on throwing out 'ugly' food in Europe than in the US? The better produce availability in Brooklyn could be due to the dumpster of not so great produce back at wherever the street seller got their food.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:21 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

Throughout this piece I was wondering whether I was simply experiencing a severe failure of empathy or was this truly as unhinged as I was thinking it was? And you know what, it's most definitely the latter. This article is unhinged. I feel like I've just read an article written by someone who has trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy, and has a runaway persecution complex to boot.

Like, okay:

- Did you all notice she NEVER ASKED for her 'employers' to teach her techniques or share their recipes? She just expected them to read her mind and start teaching her despite her expressing zero interest and indeed spending most of her time there actively avoiding them.

- Did anyone else notice she never actually claimed her 'employers' told her she was required to eat everything on her plate, to keep eating even after she was full, or anything to that effect? She just ~intuited~ that they were threatening and pressuring her based on supposedly meaningful looks or coded tones in their voice.

- Did anyone else notice the total lack of consequences she faced, and the total lack of even any reaction whatsoever, from her 'employers' when she did stop eating in the last few days? They did nothing, said nothing, and reacted not at all, proving that she had never in fact been required to eat everything.

This person imagined all of it: all the pressure, all the persecution, all the force-feeding, all hidden meanings behind the looks she was given, all the supposed threats concealed behind the interactions she had with the owners. It was entirely an invention, all of it! The whole time it was *she* who was punching herself in the face, nobody else.

And then she felt bitter and angry about how they had tortured her, and she acted hellaciously passive-aggressively towards her (quite likely bewildered) hosts, and then wrote this whole article pretending to have been victimized.

Look, I'm not saying she consciously planned to pretend she was victimized, I'm not saying she made a dastardly villainous plan to victimize herself and then blame it on others. But I have had the misfortune of knowing a lot of people who have the same tendencies as this writer (thankfully none to quite the same extreme degree as she does!) annnnd this is a pretty common delusion they all tend to share. They believe that the thoughts they are thinking inside their heads are obvious to everyone else. They hold others responsible for failing to respond to their thoughts. They also believe they can read other people's minds (often they call themselves HSPs or empaths or outright psychics) and hold others responsible for the thoughts they believe others are thinking. Sometimes these folks misuse the label "Guess Culture" to justify their unhinged beliefs and habits.

At the end of the day, even with the most generous reading of her actions and motivations, her failure to speak up is absolutely inexcusable. She could have said, at any time, I'm not hungry, No thank you, I'll join in for tomorrow's lunch, etc. But instead she expected her 'employers' to read her mind and just magically know that she was too full to eat, and also magically know that she needed them to give her explicit permission to stop eating. This is a fucking unhinged expectation. It is also obvious that SHE believed she could accurately read their minds: she just magically "knew" they wanted her to finish her plate based on nothing but a glint in their eye? That is also pretty fucking unhinged.

> She wasn't getting paid and she had no leverage - that's a big piece here. They didn't have her there just for fun - she was doing work that they'd otherwise have to pay for

That just means she had *all* the leverage! What are they going to do, stop paying her? You think they can afford to fire her in the middle of their tourist season and try to find someone else to do her unpaid job at short notice? And, like, come on, there is no enforceable contract and no possible leverage that grants anyone the capacity to force-feed a human being like a duck being turned into foie gras next month, and there is no sane human being who would believe they are under such an obligation.
posted by MiraK at 1:52 PM on September 15 [9 favorites]

Tanya Bush is a Brooklyn-based writer …

Huh. Never would’ve guessed.
posted by slogger at 2:10 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Eh Ikea has been getting worse for years,
Hah? Ikea has always been bad. That's the brand. My first trip there was before grad school in Pittsburgh in nineteen ninety and damn FOUR and I bought a garlic press that promptly broke and a terrible desk chair that was called something that started with P but I always called it Perfidy because it was a wobbly untrustworthy piece of shit. Every student's apartment was furnished by Ikea, and every party host laughed about how terrible and cheap and shitty all their Ikea crap was. So it's bad; of course it's bad. It always has been. However, in the ten or so years before Covid, whenever I went to Ikea, which I did a lot because I finally had what to furnish, they always had wrapping paper! They always had fabric! They had tons of sheets and duvet covers in tons of prints and styles, new every time. And they at least had some goddamn Sanelas in more than two colors to put your hands on! I'm not saying Ikea hasn't been getting worse; that would be insane. I'm saying it's changed, in an unnervingly new and entirely un-IKEA way. It's an eerie, dismal blue and yellow shadow of itself. Not even any new Raskog colors! Before covid every time you went there was always a fresh young Raskog to recruit for the home team. Now? A barren, windswept, Raskogless desert.

About the only new patterns since before 2020 are on their Ziploc bags, and nobody needed those to change, anyway.

this is just how she actually cooks.
That I can totally buy. But I bet it got even carb-ier still after food got a lot more expensive and harder to source. Because it makes good sense money wise and why not? The audience won't notice, and if they do, they'll be secretly glad about it. Who doesn't secretly prefer eating a whole lot of meat and pasta and dessert to eating a small amount of exquisitely prepared bespoke artichoke whateverthehell and learning why it is superior? Besides! Why make them choose? This whole business model is a genius win-win. It allows the chef to save as much money as possible and it lets the Americans belly up to the trough as if they were at a Sizzler all the while successfully convincing themselves they're learning Ancient Foodways and becoming discerning gourmets.

Making people eat and eat and eat til they're sick is horrible torture.
The paying guests all ate, by her own account, more ravenously than she did, and none of them was constantly "pinching [their] skin" and complaining of feeling "heavy." This was not Gitmo. It sounds like the conditions were better than most wwoofing setups and a lot of "come be our nanny in Paris!" horror stories. I would have more sympathy for her because of the unpaid labor aspect of it and the power differential had anything bad at all happened to her, or even had this all gone down in L.A. or somewhere similarly unrewarding where I wouldn't want to be. But her tragic indenture, during which she "made place settings, scraped flour from the workroom floor, and grabbed sparkling water and olive oil, then brought them to the table" so hard that she was reduced to "wiping my sweat on the fine linen napkin" didn't happen in L.A. It happened in Tuscany where the sunflowers obligingly bloomed for her and her Insta. The chef may have been jealous of her "young and blond and slender" status, as she seems to be trying very hard to imply. But she was not force-fed.

All I know is, hostels in Europe are not cheap and neither are meals. She got a month plus in Tuscany without having to pay for either one. She was probably at a vastly lower risk of taking home a bunch of bedbugs, staying there, which, in Brooklyn, is worth something. She didn't HAVE to eat all the pasta on her plate--as she proved the last week when she called their bluff and still got given the stupid certificate. She learned to make pasta--whatever she says about skulking in the back of the room during pastamaking time as if she never got any hands on. It's in the very next paragraph, just couched in "I was a thankless grunt" language. First she was born, then she learned she was entitled to the world, then she made a butt-ton of tagliatelle in Tuscany for damn free. She went truffle-hunting. I've never tasted a truffle and possibly now never will. And I've never been able to afford to stay anywhere in Europe longer than two weeks. Every tiny trip cost me more than her luxuriously long one cost her. Had this been my dumb ass at 26 or whatever she is, even dumb and snobby as I was and am, I have always known on which side my bread is buttered, and at the end of my stay they would've had to scrape me out of that "monastic room" with whatever she used to get the flour off the floor. But her no-gratitude ass loathes all the hapless New Jerseyites, cares more about not getting fat than about stuffing her face for free (anathema), burns the guy that recommended her for the internship, and, cherry on top of the oat scone, needlessly insults the chef by trashing her certificate at the end of the thing. After she nabs the MFA from Hunter she will without a doubt get a contract from Knopf for Down and Out for a Fortnight in Tuscany. Unsurprisingly, once again, the advantage goes to the slender youthful blond. Sorry not sorry she had to spend a month in Italy for the cost of airfare on the way to a successful career writing pinklit.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:11 PM on September 15 [11 favorites]

Is this not a classic case of Ask vs Guess culture? The writer assumed that the hosts wouldn't ask her to eat if they didn't expect her to. The hosts assumed that she would just stop eating if she didn't want to.
posted by airmail at 2:16 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]

It's obliquely amusing to me that somehow the posts about the dismal horrors of having to have read this essay are written in precisely the same tone and tenor as the essay itself.
posted by eponym at 2:17 PM on September 15 [10 favorites]

> Is this not a classic case of Ask vs Guess culture? The writer assumed that the hosts wouldn't ask her to eat if they didn't expect her to.

No, this is not "classic" Ask vs Guess culture. If your Guess Culture leads you to literally torture yourself by overfeeding until you feel sick - you don't understand Guess Culture and you're doing it wrong.

Spinning this as Guess Culture is as wrong and as silly as using Ask Culture as a cover to be outright cruel towards other people and take advantage of social norms for personal profit.
posted by MiraK at 2:46 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

But eponym, the author did not tell me I could stop reading! My eyes! My eyes!

More seriously, this is a flaw with personal nonfiction essays- can you criticize the piece without criticizing the author? All critiques become ad hominem when the essay is only about the hominem.
posted by q*ben at 3:11 PM on September 15 [4 favorites]

For Real Italy you have to go where the Italians go on vacation, not where the Americans go on vacation. Also, it’s true that Tuscan bread traditionally doesn’t have salt in it. So….not sure what her beef was. If you want amazing bread, go to France!
posted by bq at 3:21 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

I feel a lot of empathy for this writer.

Does the Real Italy exist anymore? Seems like a dream idea that went away with the advent of immigration, globalization, Chinese tourists ... I'm not being racist but a lot of people's idea of Europe is basically white paradise with vineyards and locals who are not commercialized.
posted by Didnt_do_enough at 6:09 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

This person imagined all of it: all the pressure, all the persecution, all the force-feeding, all hidden meanings behind the looks she was given, all the supposed threats concealed behind the interactions she had with the owners. It was entirely an invention, all of it! The whole time it was *she* who was punching herself in the face, nobody else.

.....Do you not have any memory of that time in your early 20s when you were doing your first real grown-up job and you were so terrified to not fuck it up and make people angry at you that you didn't DARE let slip that you didn't know what you were doing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Does the Real Italy exist anymore?

Yes, it does. I was serious. There are towns where Italians go on vacation. They are not geared at tourists. They are small towns about twenty minutes away by train from the tourist town that got featured in that beautifully shot movie ten years ago or that NY Times article about hidden treasures. Instead of large art museums there are tiny museums with a selection of Roman amphora. Instead of large ancient cathedrals they have tiny ancient cathedrals and large neoclassical churches).
posted by bq at 10:02 PM on September 15 [5 favorites]

I, for one, am enjoying the angry IKEA derail.

Also, all places are real, even Disney World (which is for me the worst place I have ever been). Italy is a wonderful place to be, but I think maybe some people don't want to be there, but rather in the Italy of their dreams, or the movies they've seen.

Obviously Italy is real and full of millions of people who are going about their daily jobs, shop at Carrefour, and cook the food they like, not the food the food police have deemed authentic.

I have a fond memory of having three different pasta servings once, as a sort of pasta-tasting thing, and I think that now I have gotten a pasta machine for my birthday, I shall replicate this grand gesture. Why not eat all the pasta all the time?
posted by mumimor at 10:20 PM on September 15 [4 favorites]

Argh. Actually articles like these make me so mad.
Why tf do undeserving fucks like this girl get Everything ... nothing so good has ever happened to me and I'm expected to just be happy like this?
posted by Didnt_do_enough at 11:32 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

tl;dr: hipster reality faceplant.

No, I couldn't stomach Eat Pray Love either.

The damage that the marketing industry has inflicted and continues to inflict on the malleable psyches of the young is a fucking tragedy.
posted by flabdablet at 1:19 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

What makes her undeserving?
posted by creatrixtiara at 2:25 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

.....Do you not have any memory of that time in your early 20s when you were doing your first real grown-up job and you were so terrified to not fuck it up and make people angry at you that you didn't DARE let slip that you didn't know what you were doing?

I see that you did not have the unearned confidence of a mediocre white guy. I always did, so I never experienced this feeling.
posted by clawsoon at 5:11 AM on September 16 [3 favorites]

...Do you not have any memory of that time in your early 20s when you were doing your first real grown-up job and you were so terrified to not fuck it up and make people angry at you that you didn't DARE let slip that you didn't know what you were doing?

I do!! I was terrified until well into my thirties, believe me I'm no stranger to this feeling.(Though I will say it never was so strong that I would have force fed myself to the extent that this woman did, idk.)

But since I was never spoiled and/or a weirdo, I didn't act like a passive aggressive asshole towards other people because I had decided that they were responsible for the torture I had put myself through! Somehow I never had enough of a sense of entitlement (or delusion) to think others ought to read my mind and that I could read theirs.
posted by MiraK at 5:15 AM on September 16 [5 favorites]

With more Americans to observe, I was arriving at the unpleasant conclusion that what I found most distasteful about them — their simpering idealism and penchant for exaggerated displays of delight — were my own qualities, the ones that had instigated the trip.
I wonder how much of that is going on in this very thread.
posted by clawsoon at 5:28 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

That's a great question. I suppose on a site like Mefi we are supposed to be self aware enough to be like. Oh ok there is no Deserves. And there isn't. All the old and worn out people on this site Do Know That.

It's just the old, oh god. My life is just going to be like This forever. Why can't it be like That?

In Sophie's Choice, Sophie does say at one point, watching some young Americans on a beach, Oh god, I hate this undeserved happiness.

And its not a knock on this girl. It's a scream into an indifferent universe when you're in pain that your life ... does not involve a job that you can like, trips to Europe, or writing careers.

I was having an extremely Bad week and having a Bad weekend where increasingly I am aware that I am trapped in a life where I am doing all the Things that I do not want to do.

So. That's why even a morsel of happiness that someone else has is. Strange. It's just going on around me in an endless carousel that I can't get on.
posted by Didnt_do_enough at 6:24 AM on September 16 [5 favorites]

IDK I kind of love us for our idealism and starry eyes and exaggerated displays of delight. Like, even if you find it grating, you have to admit that being gauche is a victimless crime. Skewer us for our actual sins! This is fine!
posted by MiraK at 6:24 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

I couldn't stomach Eat Pray Love either.

One my top ten least favorite books.
posted by bq at 7:07 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

I’ve always considered EPL a gender bent boner confessional.

I mean, a certain amount of narcissism is required to make a personal essay or memoir work. It’s the fundamental spice. The key thing is not to overindulge.
posted by q*ben at 7:33 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

I took it at face value, and then reading the comments here did make me consider that a more socially aware/tactful person could easily have spun this around and pushed back on the constant eating, while still playing up the deliciously stuffed intern angle who's overjoyed to be able to have even a bite at this table.

Like, make conversation with the tourists instead of eating, and make a show of how sad you are that you forgot to finish your tortellini but you have to be serving the next course now and that's even better.

The people change every week, nobody will remember, and you get to practice on new people if you do something that comes across as awkward. The Italians in the kitchen don't actually care and if you make the tourists happy then you make them happy by proxy. This isn't Bacchanal, you aren't expected to drink a jeraboam every night.

I will concede though that the whole internship was something of a bait and switch - yes she was kitchen help, but the role was really more of a hosting position and I don't think that was what she thought she was signing up for. She may not be someone who can make easy conversation with random people and didn't realize that was the actual job.

Ikea serves a purpose. I liked it more when I had less exposure to design and quality, but it still makes up half of my house because they have affordable basics in reasonable colors and quality. Also I stan their kitchen cabinets, amazing value. No point in getting anything else unless you can afford high quality plywood boxes with real wood faces at 4x or more the price. Anything below that is shittier than what you can get cheaper from Ikea.
posted by jellywerker at 7:58 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

There are towns where Italians go on vacation. They are not geared at tourists.

I want to believe that I really do but it really really depends what exactly you mean by "not geared at tourists", because if taken literally then well I can only think of places not geared at tourists for a reason, ie. not being places anyone would want to spend time visiting really, and there's a lot of those in Italy too, not just the postcard pretty places.

Also depends what kind of tourism we're talking about. But for both extremes of mass tourism and fancy tourism, the places Italians tend to go to within Italy are all well known and populated by other tourists too... if you know of any well kept secrets of Italian tourism in 2023 well I'd love to hear about them, in private.
posted by bitteschoen at 9:40 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

I went and read a bunch more and this "she is a newborn fawn in the world of work, have pity" thing doesn't survive the oeuvre. She's out there making bank in Brooklyn with this cute niche she's exploiting of the Instagram cronut. Everybody and their brother is screaming about her and her friends' fun zine about cake and she's getting published all over the place. So she's fine, work-wise. This essay was pretty enjoyable despite her having savaged the poor chef lady mercilessly, and the other stuff is fun to read, too, but I have to say, I think she needs to drop food and do something different for a minute because there's an unsavory ana vibe slinking creepily just below the surface and it's making the stuff too mean. And if she's going to insist on being a cake writer all her life could she please for the love of god please stop describing whipped cream as "supple." Cream can be a liquid emulsion; it can be an aerated liquid emulsion; or it can be butter and whey. "Supple" for desserts needs to die forthwith.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:46 AM on September 16 [4 favorites]

there's an unsavory ana vibe slinking creepily just below the surface and it's making the stuff too mean

Yes. I can't get into this for reasons, but I can tell you for a fact that there is a weird and fairly deep stripe of this running pretty deep in the baking/pastry instagram world, especially as it involves young women.
posted by thivaia at 10:50 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

What's an "ana vibe"?
posted by clawsoon at 1:17 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

I was literally describing the town I vacationed at in July, which I will not name.
posted by bq at 1:34 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]

What's an "ana vibe"?

"Ana" is sometimes used on social media amongst those who feel that anorexia isn't necessarily a bad thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]

I was arriving at the unpleasant conclusion that what I found most distasteful about them — their simpering idealism and penchant for exaggerated displays of delight — were my own qualities, the ones that had instigated the trip.

I loved this bit.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:21 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

I think the "ana vibe" thing is a bit of a stretch and kind of mean to bring up in itself. I didn't grow up in an agriturismo but in a regular Italian family, and I was a skinny child, and the amount of times I heard the words "mangia, mangia" and was expected to eat beyond what I was physically capable of nevermind feeling full enough... I'm very sympathetic to the author on this one really. I don't see any hint of glorification of anorexia, just a personal experience of discomfort with a particularly unpleasant manifestation of Italian food culture.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:09 PM on September 16 [6 favorites]

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