Meet The Gastronomes — And Learn About Their Mission To Increase Produce Consumption — At The New York Produce Show And Conference
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 12, 2012
Our piece, Food “To Die For” May Do Just That… Seminal Study Encouraging The Eating Of Bitter Vegetables For Health To Be Unveiled At New York Produce Show And Conference, highlighted two truly fascinating presentations that are being given by Professor Morini at the upcoming edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference and the co-located “Ideation Fresh” Foodservice Forum.
Professor Morini works for a University in Italy, which is a new member of the University Exchange Program that is a key component of The New York Produce Show and Conference. We wanted to know more about the milieu of this university that is producing such interesting research, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more:
Alice Noel Fabi
University of Gastronomic Sciences
(Universita Degli Studi Di Scienze Gastronomiche)
Q: Professor Morini provided a fascinating preview of her talk she will be presenting at The New York Produce Show and Conference. You will be joining her from Italy to participate in our University Exchange Program, along with students from this innovative school. Could you tell us more about yourself and the mission of your program?
A: I am a former student. I attended a master course and, after graduating, became a tutor, which has a different meaning than in the U.S. We organize all academic study trips. Then we accompany them. Students take part in five trips per year, which is an integral part of their learning. What they learn in theory in class, they put into practice, getting contact with food producers, restaurant operators, media and all sectors concerning the food world
The University is based in Pollenzo, a very small town in the Piedmont region. It is close to Bra, the center of the slow food movement.
We were founded in 2004 as a private non-profit institution to create an educational research platform for renewing farming methods, protecting biodiversity, and building a strong relationship to gastronomy, agriculture and science. The idea is that students learn food from all different angles, blending science and humanistic subjects; gastronomy, biology, chemistry, history, agriculture, anthropology, and sociology. Apart from that, we also do sensory training, tasting lectures take place in our sensory lab, and there is an important international component.
Q: What are the reasons behind the University’s development? Was there a real need?
A: The concept behind the school was to educate a new figure in the work field, a gastronome. This is a person who believes in a sustainable approach to agriculture, and seeing the world of food with a new perspective to help producers and consumers.
Having studied so many subjects, a gastronome can see the big picture and become an expert in consultancy for companies looking to take into account many factors instead of sticking with one mindset or narrow view. Employment is extremely high after graduation. Over 1000 graduates are now working in the food sector.
In our most recent graduating class of 100 students, 74 have found work within 6 months and 18 went on further study. Our university has strong contacts with different companies in the food sector, in Italy mainly, but our scope is broad. Half our students are international from 64 countries, and lectures are held both in English and Italian.
By sharing this course with people in different cultures, an exchange is already happening. Lots of students decide to open food production companies. Others may be working at a foodservice company wanting to put the attention on local and seasonal foods, or a media position to reeducate the public.
Q: What is the message you’re looking to communicate?
A: We’re trying to get the message across that food should be grown and consumed with ways that don’t destroy the environment, fairly compensate those working within the food chain and that it is a human right to have quality food available to everyone.
Q: Tell us more about the international travel component. Is your participation at The New York Produce Show and Conference connected to this part of the program?
A: The New York Produce Show is external but incorporates the goals of the program trips, which are both thematic and territorial. Thematic could involve spending five days in different companies producing pasta or coffee, and learning in depth about production, administration and marketing concerning one specific product.
For territorial, one leans to a specific region or area or country, discovering the gastronomy of an area, no one theme. We focus on different cultural and economic aspects, how different foods are consumed, and the history of the area. The program is developed around those segments.
It’s very social, getting in contact with people who produce and sell food, understanding the culture and the problems, and everything linked to those problems.
I took a master class one year in Italian gastronomy and tourism, where I visited seven different regions. The school is very multidisciplinary in its subjects. Courses vary from food journalism and media to micro biology of food. My program was tighter in one year, but this is what students do in three years as undergraduates. .
The focus is more on communicating these concepts through journalism and writing. It can be challenging conveying some of these issues to the public.
Q: Why? Do you find many consumers misinformed?
A: People don’t spend enough time on what they buy and eat. It’s not necessarily their fault. They aren’t thinking about how the food is produced. What happens is that most food is produced on a large scale, and the consumer becomes detached. Much of it is not healthy.
Our system has created a series of food insecurity issues. Yet, at the same time, there are people eating an abundance of food leading to problems of obesity and sickness related to food consumption. On the other hand, we have those who are undernourished, even though our system produces enough food that could feed the whole planet. The other problem is food waste. People are not aware of the economic issues related to the food world.
The solution I’ve come to believe as a student studying and working is to raise awareness through any media form so people understand what is behind industry and food consumption and linked to everyday life. Good quality food should not just be for rich people.
Q: With an international student base, are there dynamic perspectives on the issues?
A: For our master classes, the majority of students come from the U.S., which is one of the most represented nationalities at the school. When we have a debate, the U.S. is taken as an example for some of the biggest problems in food production. It is difficult to compare with Italy. The cultural importance of food in family here has become less and less with modernization, but food still plays a focal role in family, whereas maybe less in the U.S.
In terms of identity linked to food, it is very strong in Italy and so diverse by regions. Italians connect their identities with food demographically in what we eat and buy.
Q: I imagine students can assess these contrasts first-hand through the travel program. Could you describe some of the most enlightening trips?
A: One of the thematic trips we do is a retail supermarket focus. We also were hosted by a company dealing with importing and exporting fresh produce, a new trip we started last year. The students get in contact with industrial importers and exporters of vegetables in their third year. In the second year, there is a course in vegetable production and animal production as well, where students study all the scientific and practical implications of growing fruits and vegetables.
Q: Do students address the three legs of sustainability: environmental, social and economic?
A: Sustainability must encompass all three legs, but the concept has created lots of confusion. The term has been used in the wrong manner, especially with companies where they want to appear sustainable. The main point is to think of solutions to really achieve a sustainable cycle.
In essence, something sustainable doesn’t need inputs from the outside, which means not relying on external resources and trying to develop internal ones. It’s most practical in agriculture but also applies to other fields as well.
In Umbria, we visited a producer of high quality meat, where production is biodynamic. Through the manure of his animals, he can create all the necessary production. He also manages production of vegetables, olive oil and wine with limited external outputs. He reuses waste, parts of the plants not used for consumption for safe feed, composting, and giving more nutrition to the ground. all done in a scientific and proven way.
Q: Is there also a focus on food safety?
A: Food safety comes into the plan. A big link to our University is the Slow Food Movement, which is headquartered here in Bra. Food safety is a strong theme discussed during events. They are continuously in contact about contemporary issues, and in discussions to find solutions on these themes.
Q: What do you believe the biggest challenges are going forward?
A: Raising awareness is a key challenge. So is food serenity and protecting diversity of plants and animals. We’re talking about protecting traditional knowledge. We created a new research program that involves digital recording on trips, and gathering testimonials of older generations. It could be producers that might not have children to follow in their footsteps. We are risking losing a really important treasure of traditional knowledge. This research program aims to immortalize with recordings and videos for future generations.
We work toward giving back the value to farming and jobs linked to production of food, getting young people to be willing to work in the industry again. Students take this message with them when they graduate.
Our goal is to give value to food production so young people feel interested in going into the field.
Q: That is one of our goals as well through our University Exchange Program at The New York Produce Show and Conference. We are honored to host faculty and students from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Professor Morini’s presentation sounds intriguing.
A: Professor Morini has done lots of research in areas to bring children closer to consumption of fruits and vegetables.
In a recent event, our students organized workshops on reeducating students with food. There was tasting, giving classes to children, educating them on how healthy food can be, but also fun, tasty and interesting.
There is a big cultural leaning to fruits and vegetables in the Mediterranean diet, but looking at figures in Europe, there are strong problems of childhood obesity, probably a problem that hasn’t been talked about enough. People have the perception that in Europe people eat healthy,
In the U.S., what I saw during a trip to New York is that students are more involved in urban farming. In talking about the slow food movement, it’s the younger generations.
Q: How would you define the slow food movement?
A: It’s so many things coming from a basic philosophy born in 1989 in Italy. It’s now present in 170 countries worldwide. The slow movement is about preserving biodiversity, providing access to quality food to everyone, food security, raising awareness, working with people to open farmer markets, and create urban gardens, and the list goes on. It’s difficult to sum up but in one sentence I’d say, confronting social, economic and environment issues with food and understanding how they are interlinked.
Q: The University of Gastronomic Sciences sounds like a wonderful school… Who will you be bringing to the show?
A: We have a Russian student studying in Italy three years, who will be coming with us.
In New York, we also have about 10 alumni working in different sectors, and all different jobs, so we will have some of these visiting as well. These students are mainly American. A friend of mine from Atlanta who was in my course is now working at Eataly, We actually have two graduates working there.
Q: That’s great. Eataly was a tour highlight at our inaugural New York Produce Show, and attendees will be able to visit again if they choose as part of this year’s tour selection.
A: The first Eataly was in Piedmont, Italy. It started here, and a main investor is linked with our University. It’s a small world.
It certainly is… and it is a chance to mingle with such interesting people. Learning about interesting institutions and intriguing ideas is all part of what allows The New York Produce Show and Conference to deliver new ideas and thus enhance the creativity of the whole industry.
We confess that to an American, the idea of a university with a pre-determined position on substantive matters is discomforting. We have always thought of a university as a place for rigorous discussion of conflicting ideas. Harvard’s motto is Veritas, or truth; Yale’s is Lux et Veritas, or light and truth, the University of Chicago is Crescat scientia; vita excolatur, or "Let Knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched." This is very different from deciding, before the study has begun, that there is a certain value that is the correct one.
It also strikes us that the ideas the school looks to promote do not a priori suggest any policy response. So one can agree that people should be “fairly compensated” — indeed it is almost a truism — who, exactly, believes people should be “unfairly compensated” — but this consensus doesn’t tell us how much to pay a field worker in Africa or whether raising that wage will move production to a more convenient locale and thus unemploy the African fieldworker.
To an American, some of the philosophical tenants of the school raise questions. We typically define rights as negatives — things government should not do so to allow freedom. So it is written that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” But we do not have a tradition in America that obligates the government to provide each citizen with a newspaper so he can pronounce his opinions. Equally, our Bill of Rights states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” But it makes no provision for guaranteeing that there will be sufficient funds to ensure that everyone can establish the church of their preference.
So to an American to say that it is “a human right to have quality food available to everyone” raises lots of questions. Who, precisely, is obligated to provide this food — high or low quality? How did these people come to possess this responsibility to which they have not consented? Are there no obligations of the recipient of such food? Can he be obligated to work, to be prudent in his savings, to avoid wasting money on drugs or alcohol or cigarettes?
Of course it is precisely because these ideas challenge pre-existing American notions that we welcome Alice Noel Fabi, professor Morini and the students and alumni of the Universita Degli Studi Di Scienze Gastronomiche to The New York Produce Show and Conference. In addition to Professor Moroni’s talks, which we profiled here, Alice Noel Fabi will give a presentation about the school.
It wouldn’t surprise us at all if some attendees, or their adult children, wind up finding a way to do a year of study at the university. What a wonderful place to spend a year and how incredibly mind-opening an experience it would surely be.
Untill you get the Piedmont Region of Italy, at least come and hear Professor Morini and Alice Noel Fabi speak out.
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Come to New York in December. It’s the capital of the world, and it is filled with capital ideas to help your business grow.