Yesterday, four days after I returned home from three months in Europe, I asked my dad if I had put on any weight while I was away. “Give it to me straight, Dad,” I said. “You’ve always been honest with me, and don’t sugarcoat it.”
“C’mon, Dad,” I said again. “I want the truth.”
“Weeelll,” he cleared his throat. “Aidan, ah, I think you might have put on a few pounds.”
I looked at him again. “Dad,” I said. “You’re not telling me something.”
“Well,” he said again, trying to build up his courage. “You might have put on the Freshman Fifteen.”
“The Freshman Fifteen!?” I asked incredulously. “But, I am not even in college.”
“Then, call it the Foodie Fifteen,” he replied, before adding with an apologetic smile, “but, that’s what you’re supposed to do in Europe. You’ll take it off in no time.”
I glared at him and ran upstairs to check the bathroom mirror. From the front, I looked exactly the same. Maybe a little bustier, but no real change. Then, I checked the back. My dad was right. My butt was significantly bigger. Europe had given me an ass.
It all began in Italy. I fell in love with Italian food over my first dinner in Rome, and my love affair with Europe’s food didn’t end until I left Stockholm, Sweden just before Christmas.
In the wilderness, I ate to live. In Europe, on the other hand, I lived to eat.
In Rome, I finally found a dish that rivaled caribou heart when I broke my year-long vegetarian diet and ordered pasta all’Amatriciana— guanciale (cured pork jowl), pecorino cheese, and tomato sauce. In Florence, I mourned the death of American democracy and the election of Donald Trump as the airy crust of a real Margherita pizza melted in my mouth. In Switzerland, I learned that a backpacker’s budget doesn’t go far in a country of bankers and discovered the wonderful simplicity of a supper of Swiss chocolate and a plate of rösti (hashbrowns). And, in Budapest, I substituted Thanksgiving dinner for two cones of gelato and Lángos, a donut deep-fried in animal fat and topped with sour cream and grated cheese.
These days, as I sit eating my salads in my newly purchased curvy jeans, I dream of my European meals. I think of the pastas and pizzas and spiraling cones of gelato and my stomach gives a long mournful growl. I may be back to salads and long ski workouts, but I don’t regret a single pound. As I discovered in Europe, sometimes the best way to see a country is by eating your way through it.