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In Search of Diversity, Taste and Tradition

May. 22, 2014

By Sheela Prakash, Master Student, University of Gastronomic Sciences

I’ve been cheating lately on my intimate relationship—the one I have with Italian food. As a master student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I have an unfailing passion for food and relish the opportunity to indulge in the incredible Italian cuisine that surrounds me. Yet for dinner last week I swapped out eggy tajarin al ragù for Israeli shakshuka and challah, and a few days later, I opted not to have a morning cappuccino and freshly baked cornet to at the local Caffè Converso, in exchange for a Hungarian chocolate pastry called kakaós csiga. Should I feel ashamed? The traditionalists I live amongst in the town of Bra may question these out-of-the ordinary foods, but here at UNISG, it is all part of the learning experience.

UNISGCampus When I left New York City for the Slow Food–founded university last fall I thought I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into, having a fairly solid understanding of Slow Food on a local level. I was a member of Slow Food USA, I attended various events, frequented ‘Snail-Approved’ restaurants, and planned my weeks around visits to my local farmers’ markets and food producers. Now that I am on my way to becoming a fully fledged gastronome, I see my experience as only a small piece of the puzzle. While there is constantly something to be learned from class lectures, study trips, and day-to-day life in Italy, I have found that my exposure to gastronomy at an international level to be the most significant part of the education. This, of course, is thanks to my fellow classmates. The twenty-six of us form a United Nations of sorts, collectively representing sixteen different countries, from Australia to Ecuador to Japan to South Africa. We run the gastronomic gamut, and this diversity has been a very gratifying part of my experience at UNISG.

There are endless opportunities to share our perspectives and traditions with one another. In the classroom, whether we are tackling cheese-production technology or the sociocultural drivers of consumption preferences, there is always a lively discussion to be had. In a recent class on food sustainability, conversation broke out about cultural differences surrounding meat consumption. While I could never imagine consuming certain animal parts, such as brains and testicles, and which are practically unknown in the U.S., fellow classmates shared stories of growing up on them, shedding light on what I would typically turn away from.

UNISGStudents In such a close-knit community as UNISG, these exchanges always find a way of extending beyond the classroom. At a recent weekend get-together, four of my colleagues from Austria and Norway hosted a dinner featuring their representative foods and beverages, which they had generously toted back to Bra after the winter holidays. And though it was a casual Saturday night, we all stood quiet and captivated as they explained the history and significance of the dishes they had prepared, many of which I had never seen or tasted. I discovered Norwegian Gamalost, which dates back to the Viking era and literally translates to “old cheese.” I learned that a broken pancake is more delicious than its round counterpart after sampling Austrian Kaiserschmarrn, and I finally found a taste for smoked salmon.

These shared dishes and shared perspectives both in and out of the classroom have brought me to think about Slow Food in a new way, to see it at a more international level and to better understand its mission to preserve high-quality products and food traditions. I am developing a richer and more diverse interpretation of gastronomy each day, something I did not fully know how I’d do at UNISG until I arrived. This has allowed me to not only deepen my own relationship with food but also to bring to light how I, as a gastronome, can better communicate food to others. And for that, in large part, I have my classmates to thank.

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