Bringing Home Wellness: Souvenirs of Awareness


Pecorino cheese is the regional specialty in Tuscany


The gastronomic capital of the world has to be Italy. Everyday life seems to revolve around composing the next meal or, as you travel through the country as a tourist, finding the next market, ristorante, or trattoria.

A long-awaited vacation to Italy with my wife, Deborah, and our dear friends Carolyn and Donnie, created many wonderful memories, and also stimulated awareness of how much we have given up here in America, in terms of quality of food and therefore quality of life. We came back envying the fact that from one end of “the boot” to the other, people enjoy food that is fresh, local, hand-made, and protected from genetic modification, among other things. We came back realizing, that we could, and will modify the way we eat here in The States because a little more than a couple weeks in Italy really elevated our expectations of food.

In June I shared my series on how to really be a “Well Traveler”. (–-part-five/) Tip number eight was:
Well Travel Tip #8
The best souvenirs…well living ideas to bring back and implement. As you travel, anywhere, be a keen observer HOW people live. Bring home the best observations as ideas for how you can live your life in a better way.


Everything is fresh at this market in Tuscany.


After buying fresh fruit and vegetable at local markets where the prices were very affordable, and enjoying fresh baked breads, melt-in-your-mouth pastas, and regional cheeses, we came home vowing to find a better way to eat. While we came home with lots of ideas, the challenge will be, of course to implement them.

Italy is a country of about 56 million people and the vast majority do not live in big cities. Rome is only about three million. Milan, Naples and Turin are only a bit over or slightly under one million. It is a country of thousands of small towns. Even in the big cities, however, food is fresh, local and an integral part of living well. It is the remnants of the Feudal System, of just living on the land a long time and making it work that has organized the population, like much of Europe, into more dense living clusters and left most of the landscape open to produce food, if it is arable? On one side of the tracks as we hurdled along on the high-speed Eurostar we saw tightly packed apartments. On the other side, community garden plots in high production. Rooftop gardens in Rome. Window box herbs. We in the U.S. and Canada have sprawled ourselves out into communities that create isolation and total dependence on automobiles. We’ve inhabited basically uninhabitable places with totally artificial water systems (like Las Vegas and Phoenix). We can’t change geography, sociology, or economics overnight, but one of the blessings of travel is stimulating awareness of ways we can improve our own wellness lifestyles here at home.


Buffalo Mozzarella, fresh tomato, whole basil leaves and olive oil...Yum!


We’re already opening up these souvenirs of awareness in our lives at home. Last night as our good friend, Maria, visited us and took the lead in cooking dinner. She and Deborah made concrete plans for Maria to teach Deb and a couple of friends how to make their own fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese, as well as yogurt. Why not have organic, inexpensive and the absolute best tasting food when you can?

I’m delving into why the wheat in Italy did not stimulate my so-called “wheat sensitivity”. After weeks of no symptoms while eating far more wheat than I ever do at home, the first lunch I had here at a popular soup and bread chain restaurant, and I was coughing and sniffling like before the trip. Hmmm? What’s going on? Deb and I are looking at how we can eat less “fooled-with food”.

The “slow food movement” was perhaps birthed in Italy. If you are not in the part of the country that produces basil, or it is past the growing season for it, it will not be on the menu. However the peach you bought at the market was an heirloom variety, indeed tree-ripened, and tasted better than any you ever ate in your life.

Today people around the world are looking into the source of their daily bread, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. They are realizing that shipping food across hundreds, if not thousands of miles is not the answer. It’s an ecological nightmare and we end up with industrialized food that has questionable health qualities and just simply doesn’t taste very good.

As I recounted our journey with wellness expert, and good buddy Meg Jordan ( , she posited the idea that perhaps it is that very lack of flavor and freshness that results in Americans overeating. Perhaps because our senses and our emotions are not being satisfied by the food, like they seem to be in a place like Italy, we eat more to feel satiated. We also throw more salt on our food, or salty, sugary condiments like ketchup and BBQ sauce. It Italy salt was rarely on the table. Food was lightly salted in the kitchen and so packed with flavor that what came to the table was perfect just the way it arrived.

What have you brought back with you as wellness souvenirs as you have traveled? What did you realize you could, with fairly little effort, be doing differently in your lifestyle? Was it about food, community, movement, or what? Chime in, and leave your comments. Let’s stimulate a discussion about cross-cultural awareness that can work for us in living healthier lives.


About Michael Arloski

CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. ( Real Balance has trained thousands of wellness coaches worldwide. Dr. Arloski is a board member of The National Wellness Institute, and a founding member of the executive team of The National Consortium For Credentialing Health and Wellness Coaches. He is author of the leading book in the field of wellness coaching: Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed.
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4 Responses to Bringing Home Wellness: Souvenirs of Awareness

  1. Michael, you have captured the essence of “wellness” travel, which I believe includes the elements of keen observation, contemplation, and personal transformation. So often, travel vacations are experienced only as pure entertainment or a quest to find relief from stress and fatigue. There is nothing like stepping outside oneself into a different world to raise personal awareness of cultural or personal habits that keep us imprisoned in unhealthy lifestyles. The act of opening oneself to foreign (not necessarily out-of-country) influences can be a very creative act, drawing us out of ourselves and our highly-regimented routines and thinking patterns. As a friend once told me, “There are a thousand ways to wash dishes.” (What?….but my mother taught me that THIS was the best way!) When I travel, I am constantly jotting down notes in my travel journal, even drawing diagrams of projects or structures that inspire me with possibilities. These observations of how people live creatively and well are my true souvenirs of the journeys. When I was living for a summer in Spain doing an intensive language study in Spanish, I leased a room with an elderly couple in their third-floor apartment. All cooking was done on a double-hotplate in the kitchen, and the meals were unbelievably delicious; showers were only allowed twice a week, to conserve water in a drought-parched city. After returning to the U.S., I was horrified to watch my neighbors watering their lawns, realizing the absurdity of our “green lawn” values in this country, and the incredible waste of precious water. I have only been able to justify watering a food-producing garden since then, and give thanks daily for the water that flows so freely from our taps.

    The return to “old ways”of eating–homesteading arts, growing, cooking, and eating local, organic foods has new name: the Slow Food movement. It did start originally in Italy, and is “a non-profit member-supported association. Slow Food was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” This awareness of how food affects our health and wellness is a burgeoning movement in this country, with renewed home food gardening, cooking classes, CSA’s, farmers’ markets, and, thankfully, is even creeping into the hot lunch programs of our schools. This is an encouraging leaning toward wellness lifestyles in our culture. We can learn so much from other countries, as well, who have not embraced all of the industrial food practices that we have blindly accepted here. As an itinerant chef and cooking instructor, I observe how people respond to learning about the ecology of food and how it empowers them to change their lifestyle and consequently their diet into more vibrant, nutrient-based foods. And much can be said about the intangible satisfactions of cultivating, cooking, eating, and sharing those foods–a deeper “satiety” ensues, alleviating that unspeakable hunger for meaning and inner peace that we seem to be constantly seeking. Nothing restores me when I am out of balance more than turning a quart of milk into my own creamy yogurt, teeming with probiotics, or pulling a loaf of golden-crusted bread from the oven that I have shaped with my own hands. It is truly travel into the Mysteries of life, available on a daily basis, right in your own home.

    Looking forward to those cooking classes!

  2. Jason says:

    Hi Michael,
    Many thanks for this piece, food is one of my favourite subjects! I do love the research! In all seriousness. I believe its not just the food or even the quality of the food, but the company you keep, the times of day you eat and the social togetherness that can influence wellness. A number of years ago, I did a cross cultural study between the Philippines and Ireland, and one of the biggest similiarities was the importance of family and mealtimes, the need to eat together and the hierarchies involved around guests/elder family members eating first. Regardless of the menu, it was essential that family eats together, cultivated an environment conducive to openness, related the days events, laughing and joking. It also encourages younger members to be able to speak about any subject so that they can feel supported by the various family members, something that some people might say is difficult for the same group to do in Western Society- so remember as your young families grow and your current families evolve, enjoy your meals and your family’s company together!!

    • What a fantastic comment Jason! Thank you! You’re absolutely right about the EXPERIENCE of having a meal. We aren’t re-fueling a machine, we are nourishing a whole human being; mind, body and spirit! I love your comments about families eating together. Think of it. A family meal is an informal “meeting” of that family unit. It’s a vital opportunity to interact, bond, learn and grow, that is largely, or entirely missing otherwise.

      In many other countries when you go to a restaurant, your table is yours for as long as you like. The assumption is that you are here to do more than wolf down food and hit the road. The wait staff does not hurry you to vacate your table so they can “turn” it. I think it’s very funny that Americans are often annoyed to have to ask for their bill. The wait staff is not ignoring you, but is instead respecting your leisure.

      Again, let’s consciously live in ways that work to enhance our wellness, not work against it. HOW we eat is definitely just as important as WHAT we eat. Now…about lunch??

  3. Pingback: Real Souvenirs of Travel, and Returning to Basics By Maria Hodkins | Real Balance Wellness

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