|Who We Are: The Story of the Una Vita Foundation|
Americans who visit small villages in Italy are struck by the radical difference between those lifestyles and the hectic, fast-food and fast paced lives we return to. Italian Americans who make pilgrimages to visit their ancestral home towns remark about family gravestones where life spans of ancestors who lived to 100 years or more are found. The Una Vita Foundation was developed to understand, protect and preserve these "small village" lifestyles which support excellent health.
At the Una Vita Foundation, we like to think of lifestyle not in terms of a marketing concept but in a larger, sociological context. People in Italy's small towns have developed, over many years, a "social capital" that sustains healthy lifestyles and longevity, one that includes women, men, children and extended family units in its net.
The local culture includes foods, and locally grown and locally created artisanal products that have been made according to age-old techniques, shared and developed locally. Unlike in the US, there is no need for labels likes "Organic," "Cage Free" or "Local," because these practices are the norm. Each village has a specialty, from cheeses and wines to fruit and vegetable dishes that are specific not just to a region but also to specific towns, which have yearly festivals for mushrooms, cabbages, berries or breads. Through a symbiotic relationship, the culture sustains the products and the products sustain the people. Regional foods are one expression of the local community's culture, to be savored and cherished, with family, friends and neighbors. Life is slowed down and this pace is conducive to "healthy living."
Italy is dotted with thousands of churches and cathedrals, and the Roman Catholic Church has been a cultural force for centuries. In today's small villages, the churches extend beyond the role of religion and belief to become a central force for local traditions. The local priest is like a part of each family and bonds families and the community together further. Each striking of the bell in the church tower every 15 minutes rings out a prayer of remembrance for local loved ones who have passed, so that these ancestors live eternally. All of this – food, family, traditions, sustainability and a "slowed down" and community-oriented identity is what we call the "social capital" that is the foundation for good health.
While Italy has the Health and Hospital systems and Government and Extra-Governmental health programs of any modern industrial nation, it also has "social capital" as a key driver of health. Some of the statistics that are aided by this sociological context are seen in the following statistics from Nationmaster.
Please observe the difference in suicide rates among those aged 15-24: 4.3 per 100,000 people in Italy, versus 13.7 per 100,000 people in the US. The younger folk of Italy's small towns are known by every adult in the community from the old men chatting or playing cards by the local piazza, to the local bar where community members of all ages go to have a coffee, play fuz-ball, listen to music, and share the latest news of births, engagements and soccer games. Although all adolescents experience growing pains, youngsters in Italy's small towns are strongly bonded from an early age. The sense of alienation, that makes kids feel like they have nobody to talk to is much less prevalent.
As the global economy continues to grow, cultures, communication, financial markets and societies operate on a 'global time zone' when someone is always working, communicating or servicing someone else. The "flat world" that New York Times Columnist and book author Thomas Friedman speaks of is part of almost every life. It appears that the "slowed down" culture of Italy's small towns – the very "social capital" that sustains such enviable health statistics is threatened.
There is an increasing a loss of the younger generations, who move to larger towns for work. The traditions, sense of belonging, and "slower" outlooks on life cannot be sustained merely on visits home. This is the objective of The Una Vita Foundation – to preserve the "social capital" of Italy's small villages – by understanding and engaging intergenerational populations in the small villages across Italy in a plan to provide an economic force for the future, and to and continue a sustainable environment for health as we have seen in Italy's statistics.