14 May 2020

What is the future going to look like, as we move into the post-pandemic era? Do we imagine it to be better or will our environmental and social situation continue to deteriorate?

Beyond the immediate catastrophe, many of us have hoped that Covid-19 might offer an opportunity for change, for us to become more respectful of the planet and the ecosystems which have been mistreated for so long. And now as we see the single-use gloves discarded on the ground we ask ourselves if the virus might not infected more than just our lungs, but also our sense of civic duty, making things even worse.

In Catania, Sicily,  Mario Traina (a former student of the University of Gastronomic Sciences) founded the Gastronomic Educational Community of Etna in 2019, a group of students, teachers, producers, cooks, consumers and institutions who’ve formed a network engaged in numerous activities that have one thing in common: if we are to have a positive change once the crisis subsides, they’ll be part of it.


As for everyone, their sense of community and spending time together – “we used to spend 10 hours a day with our guys” – has been changed. Like so many, they’re asking themselves questions about the meaning of the future.

The core of this community is a group of teenagers between 13 and 19 years old, many of whom have come difficult social situations. Perhaps they didn’t finish high school, were suspended or failed, or lack the “classic” pillars of social support. Though they’re all from Catania, some had never seen the center of their city… yet they’re readily able to interpret the future by reading the present: not a common skill.


 width=For example, they clearly perceive the difficulty of starting again with “everything like it was before”, but ask themselves what sense that has, or if doing so would make us truly happy. They see that so many of us haven’t yet understood the opportunity this virus has given us to rethink our existence, to make the world a cleaner and more welcoming place. Despite that, they also see that the virus has given us some tools to implement change. “When we want to we know how to be united, from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, north and south, as citizens of the same world we’re all able to -virtually- join hands,” one of the girls writes. And they see that, on some level, the virus hasn’t just meant a change in lifestyle and relationships, but something deeper, something existential, something about our vision of our place in the world.

“It’s as if people were realizing that they’d been living in a dream, which in reality was a nightmare: the world we had before this crisis. I believe that humanity is receiving a message: a call for cleanness and simplicity, a return to reality, to the things we need: like our relationships, spending time together, and to feed ourselves with real food,” says Mario.



These values are the glue that holds communities together, which speak to people’s essential needs. “In our journey, and in the choice of our name, it was clear from the beginning. The essential needs are physical and spiritual: real food, real relationships.” There’s no need to add much more, besides the projects based on these values.

This is how the Gastronomic Educational Community of Etna has worked since the beginning, offering a new and solid social basis to all the young people involved. “We’ve organized lots of initiatives, some in collaboration with other groups like Libera where the guys planned courses and became teachers themselves; we came to Cheesewhere Simone, Luana, Jennifer and Domenico were the chefs at one of the dinners. And of course there’s a lot of excitement about Terra Madre. We want to take part, in whatever way possible.”


So what about the future? Once you’ve started, change is unstoppable. “Putting together food, the environment and authentic relationships, some of our ‘graduates’ have grown up to become farmers, herders and communicators. The lockdown hasn’t completely stopped us, because through our social channels we’ve started doing online sessions to keep ourselves company, sharing useful content.”

“At the same time, we hope to be able to establish more concrete projects. Right now we don’t have a physical workspace, but we’d like to create a stable meeting point one day. For example, a farm where the guys can come to build their projects, a place that becomes a sort of working hub. We’re working on the theme of sustainable entrepreneurship, and all the sacrifices that it requires. We’re convinced that investing in an economy that creates well-being is the only worthwhile investment there is.”


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