Ken in Rome: Language that transcends

Have you eaten today?

Kennedy Bustos, Staff Writer

Kennedy Bustos is participating in UTSA’s “COLFA Semester in Urbino” program. She’ll be spending the semester in Urbino, Italy. She is thrilled to document her adventures in an exclusive column for The Paisano — her home away from home. Follow her journey @keninrome on Instagram.

Food fuels the body; food fuels the soul.

Food has always been one of my greatest passions. I began my journey in the culinary realm at a young age, spending hours in the kitchen lingering alongside my mother as she dutifully prepared meals for my family. I’d watch as she multitasked with seamless ease, the flames of the burners as illuminating as the fluorescents above us. I was fascinated by the food, enraptured by the concept of cooking as communication.

There are a multitude of methods of conveying our love to our family and friends, and the art of cooking is one of them. I admired my mother — I still do — and relished in the revelation that words are not the only way we communicate. We communicate with our actions; we communicate with our body; we communicate with our food.

You cannot immerse yourself in Italian culture without immersing yourself in Italian cuisine.  Food — wine and coffee included — is embedded in the culture, a transformative tool integral to preserving the splendor within the society. My time in Italy has reemphasized that food is so much more than physical sustenance; food is a language that transcends.

There is intimacy intrinsic in sharing meals with one another. When we share meals — when we’re present and intentional with our attention and where it’s directed  — strangers transform into friends, friends cement themselves as family. A meaningful conversation can be just as nourishing, just as fulfilling, as a well-balanced meal. Meaningful conversations, for reasons unbeknownst to many, often occur whilst sharing meals; vulnerability is somehow, miraculously, easier to access. 

Lately, my mind has been drifting to ‘the butterfly effect’ — a scientific theory emphasizing the significance of seemingly simple occurrences. In my life, the theory has proven to be true time and time again. Life is ultimately a collection of choices, and every choice I’ve made has led me to where I am now. There have been several serendipitous moments, moments that have defined my experience abroad, that were a direct result of a series of choices. Here in Italy, I’ve been keen on surrendering to spontaneity. Recently, spontaneity surrendered to me. 

Whilst walking down the streets of Urbino, my friend and I were invited by strangers to a dinner party. It was the most culturally immersive experience I’ve had thus far, an experience initiated by three simple words: “Have you eaten?” It was oh so Italian, a sentence etched with intimacy — not “What is your name?” or “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” but instead, “Have you eaten?” I’ve turned these words over and over again in my mind, examining them from every angle, in utter disbelief that these three words were the beginning of a magical evening I’ll never forget.

It was an enchanting experience unlike any other, epitomizing Italian generosity, Italian hospitality; we left the snow-capped cobblestones and stepped into the pages of a coming-of-age novel. We exchanged the traditional pleasantries that our initial encounter lacked: “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What are you studying?” 

The kitchen was alive with movement, atmospheric with sound: bottles of wine uncorked and emptied glasses once again being filled, mushrooms sizzling in copious amounts of olive oil and homemade tagliatelle dancing in salted water, voices toppling over one another, hand-rolled cigarettes ignited and shared, laughter echoing from every direction. Refreshingly, everyone devoted their attention to their respective conversations: not a phone in sight.

We quickly realized the common ground between us was more spacious than anticipated. We covered an array of conversational territory, lingering on various elements of culture. We talked about music, literature and life: the birthplace of the Blues, the legendary works of Mary Shelley, our mortality and its meaning. We talked about coffee, of course. I shared the amount of espresso I drink in any given day — a minimum of four, often more — and someone responded with an emphatic “I’m glad you are alive!” We talked about the universality of the human experience: how we tend to think our trials and triumphs are unique to us, but they’re not. Despite our cultural differences, we’re truly not that different. We’re born, we live, we die. It’s such a simple sentiment, but it’s true, is it not? Our lives are in our hands, and it’s up to us to make the most of our time here on this planet.

That night, time seemed to adhere to a different set of rules: hours accumulated as quickly as pasta piling on plates, yet the evening felt as if it’d last forever. We savored the food, savored the company, and it was all so awe-inspiring: how is it possible that strangers can become family in a matter of minutes?

Food truly is a language that transcends. Anyway … have you eaten?