When food tries to become a cure

The kitchen of a restaurant transformed for a couple of hours into an educational classroom, a sensory laboratory where you can touch, smell, play with food. The idea comes from the day center for eating disorders of the AUSL of Modena that has tried an unprecedented and brave experiment: to bring very young patients in treatment -from 14 to 22 years- in the kitchen of a restaurant, a decidedly difficult place for people suffering from anorexia and bulimia. The initiative aims to bring girls closer to the pleasure of food through a playful approach and is part of a rehabilitation process initiated by the center with the support of Luca Marchini, chef of the restaurant “L’Erba del Re”.

“They wanted to try to get our patients to have a real-life experience, hence the idea of ​​involving a chef,” said Roberta Covezzi, head of the Ausl Modena Eating Disorders Center. when a student asked us for a collaboration for a degree thesis we thought we would take the opportunity to realize the path we were already thinking ”. The first meeting went well and it is planned to reply with a second practice in the autumn, in which other patients will take part.

“It was the most difficult professional experience I’ve ever had,” Marchini confessed, “because I had to completely change my way of thinking about food, not to mention flavors, calories, taste.” I have a 16-year-old daughter who fortunately does not suffer from these problems, but she has helped me understand how to deal with it, it took all my sensitivity as a father to get in tune with these girls ”.

According to the doctors who follow the patients, Marchini has devised a path based on the activation of the other senses, starting with touch. “At first it was not easy because those who suffer from these diseases even consider touching food as taboo. To overcome their mistrust I started preparing a pastry, then I made a breeze and invited them to put their hands on the dough, to smell the tips of their fingers that smelled of butter and sugar.
We have prepared a very fragrant broth, with fennel, thyme and spices. Finally, the view. “I asked them to guess the ingredients of three colored sauces and then make up a plate, as if it were a painting. Everyone has added their touch and in the end the wall of distrust has been scratched.

But the most unexpected thing happened at the end of the lesson, when the girls first started talking about eating with each other, remembering the smell of the broth their grandmother was preparing or the puff pastry for Sunday lunch.

During the pandemic, the cases of girls suffering from food-related psychological problems exploded. In Modena alone, 425 patients are followed by the center, with more than 200 new cases a year. Learning from a young age to love and respect food is important and in this sense the school can become a virtuous example. The municipality of Castelfranco Emilia, a small town a few kilometers from Modena, is investing resources to improve school menus. In collaboration with Camst Group, a collective catering company, and under the supervision of Marchini, some dishes have been revised with the aim of making them more enjoyable for children. The result is a menu made of simple and tasty flavors, with the excellence of the territory as protagonists.

The “Starry Menu” project, which has been experimentally started in recent months, will be launched in November and will involve around 1,800 students. New dishes in the canteen will include tuna, cod and chard meatballs, gnocchi au gratin with béchamel and ricotta instead of summer lasagna and pasta with ham sauce and lemon zest, replacing pasta with eggplant.

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