From vermouth to Dr Pepper

By Hunter Sharpless for the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Hunter Sharpless is a University of Iowa junior from Dallas. He is studying abroad in Turin, Italy, and working on a memoir of a tour he covered as a journalist with the rock band Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers. He will be featured on the May 6 WorldCanvass show on Italian Art and Culture. Learn more.

In 2007, according to a Forbes article, Italy was the 111th fattest country in the world.

In Texas, we have five of the 10 fattest cities in the United States, which was, in 2007, according to the same article, the ninth fattest country.

In Italy, they don’t normally have a lot of national pride, but they’d die for their hometown.

In Texas, we have so much national pride that we’re still clinging to the fact that we were once our own country, from 1836-1846; we had embassies in London and Paris.

In Italy, they have aperitivo.

In Texas, we have chicken-fried steak.

In Torino, they invented vermouth.

In Texas, we invented Dr Pepper.

In Italy, Walter — a Torinese man I know — has just taken a shower before cooking our meal, he has put on slacks, a sweater over a button-down shirt, and he is wearing dress shoes; his hair is neatly combed and he’s sipping a glass of Dolcetto d’Alba.

In Texas, my dad is barefoot in the kitchen, cooking gumbo, listening to Pearl Jam, and he might have a glass of Maker’s Mark or Knob Creek on ice.

In Italy, Walter brings out one course at a time. It’s rude to eat bread while you’re eating pasta, but as soon as people are done with their pasta they slop the sauce off the plate with the bread.

In Texas, we put everything on the same plate: the brisket or steak, the mashed potatoes, the corn bread, the green beans; you can put any combination of the foods on your fork and it’ll taste good.

In Italy, Walter serves us each two lean chicken breasts, cooked in a light lemon-butter.

In Amarillo, Texas, you can get your 72-ounce steak free if you eat the whole thing in less than an hour. The website greets you with “Howdy y’all” and a video that is really just a slide show of still pictures. The video ends with, “Y’all come see us real soon.”

In Italy, Walter and Christina go back and forth giving me advice on my non-existent love life; they do this for about an hour.

At my home in Texas, we sometimes sit at the table, but usually we’re in the living room watching “Survivor,” “South Park” or “Top Chef” on TV; if mom’s not home, we’re watching “SportsCenter.”

In Italy, it’s our fifth course and we’ve been at the table for two hours.

In Texas, we finish eating before the first episode of “South Park” is over.

In Italy, Christina pushes a plate of fresh kiwis, blood oranges and strawberries in front of me, saying that I need my vitamins.

In Texas, we take Flintstones vitamins for our vitamins.

In Italy, even the desserts are fresh and clean feeling.

At the Texas State Fair in 2010, you could get deep-fried S’mores Pop Tarts and deep-fried frozen margaritas. There was deep-fried club salad, deep-fried beer and deep-fried chocolate. Also: deep-fried lemonade, deep-fried caviar and deep-fried Frito pie.

In Italy, it’s been three and a half hours and we’re just getting up from the table.

In Texas, I’m playing Halo with my brothers 45 minutes after the food was first served.

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