Students of the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) have traveled to far reaches of the world in the past month, from South America to Africa and Asia, on study trips to discover local food cultures, traditions, histories and ecologies. In addition to a line-up of local experts, cooks, farmers and producers, the students are now increasingly being greeted by UNISG graduates who, having returned to their homelands, offer a unique perspective.
In Ecuador, students met 2010 graduate Claudia Garcia in the country’s capital Quito, the starting point for their discovery of the national gastronomy. Between lectures on food security, seed saving and cultural influences on cuisine, students sampled seasonal fruit ice-creams; discovered local varieties of tubers and cereals; experienced the production of chawarmishky, a traditional agave nectare; and visited high-altitude Arabic coffee plantations, a tropical fruit project, sustainable prawn farming and several cocoa plantations.
“Accompanying the students on their trip across the Andes, I saw my homeland with different eyes, shaped by my own studies, travels and taste experiences while at the UNISG,” said Claudia, who is now involved in a national campaign for responsible food habits called ¡Qué rico es comer sano y de mi tierra! as well as organizing Ecuador’s first food film festival. “Seeing each ecosystem, from the highlands to tropical forests to mangroves, and tasting the foods produced in these environments presented unique learning experiences for the students, and reinforced my own curiosity and identity.”
In Kenya, students met several UNISG graduates who are currently coordinating Slow Food projects, including the association’s vice-president John Kariuki. John, who graduated in 2009, is working with local convivia (Slow Food’s local groups) and communities, primarily on the Thousand Gardens in Africa project and Presidia projects. He was able to give the students an insightful introduction to the local food culture and current problems faced by small-scale farmers.
“We took them to visit some of the activities we are engaged in, applying the knowledge gained at UNISG, and the students really enjoyed learning and sharing with the communities,” said John. “The students themselves were very open to all the situations and conditions we encountered, giving them a genuine experience of Kenyan life and food.”
Over the course of their stay, the students’ gastronomic experiences included meeting, and tasting, Kenya’s five unusual Slow Food presidia: Nzoia river reed salt, Pokot ash yoghurt, Mau forest dried nettles, Molo mushunu chicken and Lare pumpkin. Their exposure to local varieties and cuisines also came through meeting the pupils, farmers and communities involved in Slow Food gardens, and other producers such as local sugar cane producers in Emuhaya and coffee and tea producers in Kabazi.
“Despite our many nationalities and backgrounds at the UNISG, we are united by a shared commitment to change the way we relate to food,” said John. “These study trips build shared experiences among us, strengthen our networks and give us a foundation to truly understand what food means in different parts of the world.”
UNISG undergraduate and post-graduate programs include a series of study trips, taking students out of the classroom and into direct contact with the people and places where food is made across Europe and the world. Study trips give students the chance to learn about production – from scientific theory to traditional techniques – and food cultures directly from farmers and producers, processors and chefs. So far in 2012, groups of UNISG students have also traveled to Mexico, India and Uganda as well as various regions of Europe.
More detailed descriptions of these study trips can be found on the web site: www.unisg.it
UNISG was founded by Slow Food eight years ago, with support from the Regions of Piedmont and Emilia Romagna, and has welcomed more than 1,000 students from more than 60 countries.
Photo: Francesca Selvaggio