Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Mediterranean Diet as a Way of Life with Cathy Volpone

The lovely Cathy Volpone, owner of Big John's Pacific Food Importers in Seattle, is guest-blogging this week in honor of yesterday's Go Red For Women Luncheon in Seattle. Cathy and her father, John, were Rosanna neighbors at our last warehouse and come from a lovely Italian family. Read more to hear about how the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet was their normal way of life growing up in Seattle. And be sure to visit their amazing store in SoDo!

When my father, Big John was growing up in Seattle during the 1930's and 40's, his family didn't realize they were on the "Mediterranean Diet" - they were just trying to survive. Typical of Italian immigrants, they raised chickens and goats, made their own wine, grew their own vegetables, and were naturally surrounded by apple orchards. They are very little meat, mostly fish and a little red meat for spaghetti sauce from the local butcher. At the end of summer, they canned what they could and hoped it would last them through the winter. They never wasted a single scrap of food. They lived lean and green by necessity.

My parents' wedding day.

By the time I came along in the 1960's, our Italian-American table had expanded. Unlike his father, who earned his living with a shovel, my father was in the food business! And although we still grew vegetables and made homemade wine, we had access to huge grocery stores and restaurants. We didn't eat out much, but when we did it was either at The New Italian Cafe or Top Spot Chinese Restaurant, both on Rainier Avenue South (and both sadly gone). Although Big John cooked on Sundays, our Croatian-American mom did most of the daily home cooking. She learned the Italian dishes as well as many American ones and everything was always made from scratch and delicious! Throughout the 1960's and 70's our Mediterranean Diet was still pretty much in tact.

The family around the table.

In the 1980's and 90's American life seemed to speed up and take out became the norm. We ran from our aerobics classes (my favorite was Belltown Ballet and Conditioning Studio) to grab dinner "to go" (I loved Pasta and Company and Rex's Deli). Luckily for the Mediterranean Diet, foods from Greece, Italy, and Spain went mainstream. It was no longer a challenge to get a Greek salad or a panini. But even with all of this access to healthy food, keeping the American heart healthy was still a challenge.

Big John today.

In this century, many of us have come full circle and have tried to go back to how my dad's family lived on Beacon Hill in the 30's and 40's. Now the garden is called "organic" and not wasting food is called being "sustainable." We have chickens, we make our own wine. No matter what you call it, it is all good news. The family table is getting a second wind. It is my hope that as we gather for meals with those we love, the Mediterranean Diet will continue to be a way to not only a healthy heart, but a satisfied soul.


  1. Hello, you have the best family and such a wonderful story to tell. I hold all of you close to my heart. -- Tammy Powers