February 25th, 2016
PERUGIA, Italy — Understanding sustainability is an important aspect of every UVM student’s educational career. For this reason, three UVM students, Mariah Noth, Gina Cassara, and Megan Davidow, decided to dedicate their study abroad experience to the study of Italian food systems and sustainability efforts through the Umbra Institute’s Food & Sustainability Studies Program, or FSSP. The Umbra Institute is located in Perugia, a city in Umbria, a region often called “the green heart of Italy.”
To begin delving deeper into their understanding of different cultural perspectives, all three UVM students recognized that neither the Italian nor the American food systems are flawless, that both should be open to sustainable improvements. For example, when comparing and contrasting Italian and American sustainability efforts, Mariah was the first to note the difference in perspective relative to bottled water – while, at UVM, people are seen with refillable water bottles, never bottled water, Italians regularly purchase bottled water and rarely use refillable water bottles. “It is interesting to see a contrast and not just be in the U.S. mindset,” said Gina as she described the advantages of a multicultural perspective on environmental and sustainability challenges.
In contrast, while talking about Italian anti-GMO laws and quality organic culture, Megan shared, “One of the biggest differences between the food system here [in Italy] and in the States is that everything here is about integrity and quality, not profit and quantity”. She then went on to describe her experience touring a family-run winery of fourth generation farmers, noting that they were “not being organic for marketing purposes, but rather because that is the way farming has always been done”.
This semester alone, FSSP students have already had the opportunity to tour multiple, family-run, organic wineries and cheese producers. Through each excursion, UVM students expressed the similarities and differences between the landscape and food system in Perugia to those of Burlington, Vermont. Later this semester, they will tour a synergistic garden, local farmers’ markets and food producers, balsamic vinegar, parmesan, and prosciutto producers in Parma and Modena, as well as take other trips relative to every step of the food production process.
Umbra’s FSSP program requires students to participate in two core courses and a relative elective. Core courses include: STFS 330: Sustainability and Food Production in Italy (with a focus on the various perspectives relative to the organic movement, Slow Food, innovative food technologies, and the shift toward local food); and HSIT 350: History and Culture of Food in Italy (with a focus on culinary tradition despite constant political, economic, and social variables). Elective courses include: ANFS 370: The Anthropology of Food (addressing food related issues in the U.S. and Italy from an anthropological perspective); and BSFS 380: The Business of Wine: Italy and Beyond (a course that studies eco-friendly Umbrian wine production and how to internationally promote a sustainable wine industry).
About the Food & Sustainability Studies Program:
The Food & Sustainability Studies Program is an interdisciplinary curricular concentration at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Often called a “big university town in a small Italian city,” Perugia is the ideal setting to study abroad in Italy, with fine arts, business, and liberal arts courses. For more information about the Umbra Institute or its Food & Sustainability Studies Program, contact the associate director of the Program, Zachary Nowak (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also watch a short overview of the Program on YouTube.